Enhancing graduation and retention rates for student success is a multifaceted challenge requiring a holistic and integrated approach. academic advising and AI

Enhanced academic advising and AI integration can empower student success

Enhancing graduation and retention rates is a multifaceted challenge requiring a holistic and integrated approach

Key points:

In my journey through higher education, now spanning a decade and venturing into my second Ph.D. in Education at Capella University, I have become increasingly concerned about the pressing issue of low graduation and retention rates across higher education institutions, particularly for-profit schools.

This concern is not unfounded; the statistics paint a grim picture. As highlighted in my 2021 dissertation for a Ph.D. in Management, the graduation crisis is alarming, with only 59.8 percent of students graduating within six years in the United States. For-profit institutions fare even worse, with a paltry 23 percent six-year graduation rate. This crisis undermines the value of higher education and poses significant challenges to societal progress and the realization of individual potential.

In my academic journey, I have encountered a spectrum of advisors, from those whose guidance was invaluable to those who seemed disengaged or needed more training to offer meaningful support. As a student who has navigated the complexities of higher education, I have realized the profound difference a dedicated and well-trained advisor can make in a student’s academic journey. Their role extends beyond administrative tasks to being a mentor and advocate, underscoring the urgent need for institutions to prioritize and invest in the professional development of their advising staff.

The variance in the quality of advisement has directly impacted my educational experience and that of my peers. Joe Cuseo, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Marymount College, emphasizes the empirical connections between academic advisement and student retention, advocating for systemic interventions. He suggests that effective advisement is not merely about course selection but involves holistic support, including career guidance and personal development, which are essential for student retention and success.

The potential solution to this crisis is to reevaluate the compensation models for academic advisors. Aaron Lacey, Chair of the Higher Education Practice at Thompson Coburn LLP, discusses the intricacies of compensating academic advisors based on graduation rates. Despite the legal and ethical complexities, the underlying principle of aligning incentives with student success merits consideration. If academic advisors are rewarded for seeing students through to graduation, could this not foster a more committed and student-centered approach?

However, this proposition has its challenges. The Department of Education’s regulations and subsequent court decisions highlight the nuanced debate surrounding incentive-based compensation, cautioning against practices prioritizing enrollments over genuine educational attainment. However, the Department of Education’s current position now offers a glimmer of hope, acknowledging the lack of evidence that completion-based compensation schemes serve as proxies for enrollment-based incentives. The Department suggests a pathway for institutions to design compensation plans that genuinely reward the promotion of student success, provided they are implemented with integrity and transparency.

Also, coupling the compensation of academic advisors with the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and platforms like ChatGPT presents a promising solution to enhance retention rates in higher education. AI can personalize the learning experience, offering students tailored academic and career advice, thus alleviating some burdens on human advisors. Incentivizing academic advisors to incorporate these technologies into their advisement strategies could lead to a more supportive, responsive, and effective educational ecosystem. This synergy between human insight and AI’s capabilities could revolutionize student advisement, significantly boosting retention and graduation rates by offering a more adaptive and comprehensive support system.

In reflecting upon these perspectives, it becomes evident that enhancing graduation and retention rates is a multifaceted challenge requiring a holistic and integrated approach. Academic advising, underpinned by a philosophy of student-centric support and empowerment, emerges as a pivotal element in this endeavor. Simultaneously, revisiting the compensation structures for those directly involved in student retention and incorporating AI platforms could incentivize practices that genuinely contribute to student success.

As I delve deeper into my research and studies in the field of education, my conviction strengthens: We must embrace innovative strategies and systemic changes to address the graduation crisis. The future of higher education and its capacity to fulfill its role in society hinges on our ability to ensure that students not only enroll but also succeed and graduate.

The journey toward improving graduation and retention rates in higher education is complex and laden with challenges. Nevertheless, the stakes are too high to succumb to complacency. We can pave the way for a more inclusive, effective, and transformative educational experience by championing academic advisement and exploring new paradigms for incentivizing student success. Let us remain steadfast in our commitment to this cause for the benefit of future generations and the betterment of our society.

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Dr. John Johnston

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