Data-driven strategies around the student experience can help higher education institutions proactively buoy student retention rates.

Improve the student experience to maintain student retention

Data-driven strategies can help higher education institutions proactively buoy retention rates

With higher education enrollment trending down and economic uncertainty on the rise, retaining enrolled students is vital to the financial health of higher education institutions. That’s a tall order at most colleges and universities given student wellness challenges, financial fears, and pandemic-related impacts.

Indeed, first-year student persistence rates have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Administrators know that student retention is a complex issue affected by many factors. But as they work to fine-tune faculty support and financial aid offerings, they’d be wise to also center the need for a modern digital student experience that can help learners thrive, both this term and through graduation.

High-quality digital experience matters to students—a lot. Ninety-six percent of full-time college students rate it as important to their satisfaction, according to research from Accenture. But that priority is at odds with the outdated systems and bureaucracy many students experience on campus.

Moving from a friction-filled to a frictionless student experience can help move the needle on retention rates—and not only by lessening student frustration. Here are four ways higher-ed leaders can leverage technology and decision-ready data to deliver on what their students want and expect.

1. Empower students to easily chart their way to success

Keeping students engaged has proven increasingly difficult amid worsening mental health challenges. From 2013 to 2021, college students experienced a 135 percent increase in depression and 110 percent increase in anxiety, according to data from the Healthy Minds Network.

Colleges and universities that have made students’ digital access a priority are already seeing the success of those efforts. For instance, Furman University recently replaced a decades-old tech system with a cloud-native platform that unifies campus operations and student services systems. That move means students can now access transcripts, make counseling or tutoring appointments, and complete work-study time tracking from one streamlined, mobile-friendly interface. And it’s transformed student registration from several days into a digital-first experience that can be knocked out in a matter of minutes.

Wellesley College made a similar investment in modernizing its student systems, and students feel the impact of the improved experience. “Under our previous registration system, you would be frantically copying and pasting course codes and you never knew if you were going to get your classes,” one student explained. “Now everything is super streamlined.” Meanwhile, streamlined dashboards also help students track their academic progress toward a degree and indicate which courses are still necessary to complete, helping to minimize the risk that confusion impedes momentum.

2. Give real-time focus to student needs to maximize resource alignment

Misalignment of resources and student requests (i.e., when students can’t get into specific courses or access their academic advisor) can, at scale, pose a retention risk. But when colleges and universities know what their students want—in real time—they can keep their resources aligned.

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