With three years of increasing dropout rates and 6.4% of young undergraduates not progressing into the second year of their studies in 2015/16, university retention rates are certainly not being painted in a positive light. Even mature students have high non-continuation rates at around 12%.
But what’s to blame for such challenging retention rates?
There is a multitude of reasons for this, with suggestions in the media including a change to perceptions of value for money as a result of increased fees, and the increase in student numbers from more diverse educational and social backgrounds. These students may have different support needs from the ‘traditional’ university student, and, the thinking is, that unless these needs are effectively met the student’s chance of success is reduced.
One key to strong retention is ensuring you are communicating effectively with your prospective and enrolled students throughout their higher education journey. And far from needing to fulfil a traditional, high academic-achieving, school-leaver profile, there are opportunities for all different kinds of people to successfully complete their higher education.
And what can we learn from our friends across the pond?
Summer Melt campaigns are a hot topic over in the US and provide some interesting examples of how you can keep your students engaged with your institution from application through to enrolment and their first year at university.
Georgia State University’s Pounce campaign sends personalised text messages to applicants and freshers to help them navigate the admin required to enrol at university, answer any questions they have about their course or accommodation and generally make them feel welcome on campus.
Data for success
We caught up with Natives Global Consulting’s Lead Conversion Strategist, Alex Calder for some top tips on how to use the data at your disposal for retention success:
“From our point of view, there are two key areas where institutions have the potential to improve their post-enrolment activity. Conversion strategy is all about nurturing potential students, but that shouldn’t stop once they’ve made an application.
Firstly, there are so many ways that you can keep the connection between your institution and the applicant strong over the summer months.
Coming to University is a fundamental shift in their lifestyle, and it can be something that isn’t really acknowledged by the institution themselves. I remember really worrying about the transition during the summer between sixth form and starting at University – thinking, ‘maybe I should take a gap year, maybe I should stay at home and get a job’ – all these concerns weigh heavily on your mind. If I were to be receiving a series of communications to address these concerns, it would have gone a long way to relieve my own nervousness.
Secondly, they could look at the messages they deliver after the student arrives on campus. There’s always so much going on – so a tailored program of emails to nurture them through week one, month two, prep for second year and so on would be a really powerful strategy. One, non-educational organisation that does this brilliantly, is the NHS that delivers a series of emails to new parents at key stages through their baby’s development. Something modelled on this for a new undergraduate would be really unique in the sector.”
Alex and Katherine Nicholls, Head of Global Consulting, ran a recent webinar offering seven top tips for nurturing long-term leads to conversion which will have some great takeaways to apply to your own recruitment and retention strategy. Listen to the webinar here.
If you’d like to speak to our experts on how to use your data to keep students engaged and drive strong retention, get in touch.