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Student retention

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How to set up a retention strategy

There are clearly a great many ways to foster retention. However, the advice of Napier University, which carried out research through its Student Retention Project (Johnson, 2002), is to avoid a scattergun approach, but to develop a proper strategy which includes both academics and support services. The strategy will involve obtaining high quality, academically credible data on which to base one’s case, and ensuring embedding by assigning responsibility for coordinating retention strategies to individuals within faculties. There are no quick fixes, and fundamental change will need to be made, especially to teaching and learning.

The Center for the Study of College Student Retention advises on identifying the problem you wish to solve, and deciding on your definition (for example, are you concerned about all students, or just those who are full time? Or retention of students on a particular course/courses?). It is also important to compare yourself with your peers, and decide what model you want to adopt. You can then decide on your plan and assign responsibility. The plan should have review points after which it may be modified.

It is very important that the plan has the support of senior management and that the whole organization is on board. Staff development will also almost certainly be required.

No doubt, many HEIs are adopting many of the strategies described here. What is certain, however, is that there are no quick fixes and that as Seidman says, for programmes and services to be successful they must be powerful enough to effect change. Also that no retention policy can be successful without teaching and learning strategy being adapted to suit the requirements of widening participation. Gone forever are the days when academics can be researchers and not teachers. Will all be ready for this change of role, and will HEIs be prepared to support them with the necessary resources?