Three Ways Data Can Streamline and Scale Your Retention Processes


Retention statistics are alarming. As many as one in three first-year students won’t make it back for sophomore year. More than 40% of students who start their college education don’t finish in a timely manner, if at all. On top of all this, colleges and universities are collectively losing revenue due to attrition in an amount close to $16.5 billion annually.

So much of the focus in higher education today seems to be about accessibility – giving students the opportunity to pursue a higher education degree. Along these lines, colleges and universities are often evaluated by their enrollment growth – that is, how many students are they letting in the door to, indeed, chase their academic dreams. However, increasing enrollment numbers, while impressive, really loses luster if the students enrolling are not graduating.

It’s time for a change. Higher education needs to reprioritize retention as an enrollment growth issue – it’s the other half of an institution’s enrollment growth story. Giving students ample opportunity to succeed academically is only part of the equation. Helping these students graduate, while also protecting an institution’s growth and sustainability, is the other. Recruitment and retention efforts must work hand-in-hand to make this a reality.

Tailoring your retention strategies so each student receives personalized support is a key factor in increasing retention. But is it realistic to be able to effectively scale intervention strategies and deliver the one-on-one support so many students need, especially given the sheer volume of students, competing outside factors, and limited advisor resources?  The answer is yes, if you have the right data analytics and processes in place.

Three ways data can maximize your retention:

1. Combine the Power of Data + Coaching

It’s no secret that data is an important element of a retention strategy, and it’s also no secret that human interaction is as well. However, neither of these integral components can be completely effective without the other – data has little impact without action, and coaches have little impact without relevant information. Combining the two in a retention strategy proves to be very powerful.

By arming your team with enrollment, academic and behavioral data, they have the power to identify at-risk students, and even more importantly, take action.  Prioritizing these learners, determining exactly what level of outreach they need, and automatically assigning them to personalized intervention communication plans can make all the difference in their success.

Also critical in this step is the timing in which outreach occurs. The key is being proactive. Enrollment, academic, and behavioral data assembled through predictive modeling allows you to tag at-risk students and connect with them prior to them disengaging.  The most effective retention strategies require outreach before students even show a sign of struggle, which is why it is so important for your advisors to familiarize themselves with data, create action plans, and connect with students right from the beginning.

2. Align Admission Data with Retention Data 

Retention data is one of the best indicators your team has to not only determine which kinds of students can be successful, but how to best match students with programs. However, due to resource limitations and lack of data visibility at many institutions, enrollment marketers and admissions teams don’t always have access to this information to align it with the kinds of traits they should be seeking in the students they are recruiting.

In order to make the most of your retention data, it needs live outside of a silo where it is accessible across the teams who are responsible for finding, enrolling, retaining and teaching students. Access to the information can help your recruitment and admissions team use data modeling to pinpoint success factors and discover at-risk correlations, which can help them predict who will likely succeed, who will need help to do so, and who would be better suited for a different path or experience.

This level of transparency can help your institution identify and attract students who are a fit with your institution and your programs, as well as increase the likelihood that those students will stay engaged. It will save time and money for you and your prospective students, and also ensures an ideal fit for both.

3. Use Big and Small Data

Data is the foundation for initiating both automated and personalized communication intervention strategies that motivate and support students. In fact, it comes in all shapes and sizes. “Big data” helps your team discover correlations between student information and student behavior, and “small data” helps you specifically target and support at-risk students as things change throughout their learning experience.

Big data is often based on a student’s historical and personal profile. It can include prior academic data, life events, financial aid information, and registration data. Small data, on the other hand, gives you a snapshot of a students’ current progress, telling you on a daily basis how engaged a student is at any given moment. It includes academic performance, classroom attendance, course management software usage, and grades.

Both big and small data give you the ability to understand students on multiple levels – their challenges and their successes, and how those contribute to their academic status. The insights derived from this information lets your team know exactly when and how to reach out.

Concluding Thoughts

Measuring growth by those coming in the door with less focus on what happens to them once they are inside paints an incomplete picture of an institution’s entire growth story. Rather, retention should be an equally important measure, and at the core of successful retention strategies is data.

Data can help ensure you are enrolling the students with the highest propensity for success, it can give your coaches and advisors the impetus to proactively reach out, and it can help your team understand students on a much more intimate level. It can transform your retention practices, streamlining and scaling outreach, while providing more personalized support along the way.

Kara Snyder

As the Director of Corporate Marketing, Kara brings nearly a decade of education marketing insights and experience to Helix Education. Before joining Helix, she worked in enrollment and affiliate marketing, undergraduate and graduate admissions, and student affairs. Kara earned her bachelor’s degree from Temple University.