The 10 Must-Haves to Prevent Student Melt

Right now, college faculty and administrators are trying to help students tie up loose enrollment ends, reopen campus (if possible), all while navigating a pandemic. It’s a tough time. Miranda Benson, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Helix, talks about our high risk for student melt this fall, and 10 ways to mitigate your risk through proven student engagement practices.

Why Students Are More Likely to Drop Out This Fall

Students have told researchers how they feel.

Their mental and emotional health is impacting their academic progress. Students are struggling with time management while working, possibly homeschooling their children, and taking care of other household responsibilities. They are also concerned about finances and whether their education is worth the expense. 

Even prior to the global pandemic, students named working and paying for expenses as the top two challenges that impeded their academic success. We also know students who have less privileged identities, backgrounds, and experiences are experiencing these stresses and worries about the COVID-19 pandemic even more acutely.

Finally, some students really truly desire the campus experience. They were okay with taking one or two online classes, but they did not envision being a completely online student. 

The risk of student melt is high. How can we prevent it?

Higher Ed’s 10 Must-Haves to Prevent Student Melt

1. Forge a connection through your university swag.

Sweaters, tee shirts, water bottles, and laptop stickers are more important than ever this year. The goal with sending swag to new students is twofold:

  1. 2020 might feel a little lackluster, and we want to get the student excited.
  2. We want the student to feel pride in being a part of your community and connecting them to your brand. 

Ideas for uniquely 2020 swag include pop sockets, masks, hand sanitizer, cell phone holders and cleaners, but don’t hesitate to send tee shirts and backpacks, too. And also make sure that you capture photos of students in their swag, and post those on social media.

2. Create a connection through your content.

Use student feedback to determine your content and ramp up your strategy. Set a goal for the amount of time you want students to spend on your site, then work backwards to brainstorm content that’s going to drive that result. 

Don’t forget social media. Posting and sharing links to your virtual one stop on Facebook and Instagram will draw students in. Also, be sure to look at the comments for struggling students and make sure that you’re responding promptly.

3. Involve your faculty.

Research has shown that the quality of faculty as teachers and mentors is one of the top five most important attributes for students and their parents when choosing a college.

It takes time to build a meaningful relationship, so it’s a fantastic idea to get your faculty members to connect with students before school begins versus waiting until classes actually start. A student who gets to know a faculty member may want to study with that professor and can likely re-inspire those students who made their commitment to attend months ago. 

4. Get seniors and alumni involved.

College students and recent alumni are often the best recruiters because they’re about the same age as prospective students.  

If it’s conversational and informal it really creates a very relaxed environment for your students.  You can also create community here by highlighting student blogs on your .edu site or having current students post hashtags to showcase some of the best features of your university.

5. Pull parents into the mix, too.

Students are not the only decision makers in this educational experience. Make sure that you’re tailoring campus events for parents of first-generation students, especially, for whom all this is a novel experience. One good idea is creating and sending out parent newsletters to highlight events and information sessions to explain what parents can expect from their student’s first year of college.

6. Figure out who is struggling.

Create extra points of contact and engagement with first-generation students and those admitted on probation. 

Another idea is to reach out to all of your projected starts and registered students with a tech strategy. You could give students three options to respond with: Text a “1” if you are all set with your classes and do not have additional questions or concerns, text a “2” if you have questions, and text a “3” if you have questions and concerns. Follow up with your 2s and 3s very quickly with a phone call.

Lastly, have some way to continue to flag or identify at-risk students so that you’re following up and nurturing them until that risk is no longer present.

7. Provide optimal virtual service.

While safety is a priority, it doesn’t mean that we have to accept subpar service.

When students register for virtual events, there’s an opportunity to collect information and insight for them. Use that information to dig into the student experience, ask about their top worry, and then follow up to schedule a conversation to talk through those concerns.

8. Be guardians of the student experience.

“Customer service” didn’t used to be a term that you would hear when referring to higher education. However, more and more institutions are beginning to look at students and parents as customers. So consider launching a customer service program. Be especially vigilant about response time, and perhaps use a chat bot or an interactive Q&A on your site.

9. Hold a gold-standard orientation experience.

This generation of students spends more time on their screens than any previous generation, and much of that time is spent connecting digitally with friends and peers. There’s a ton of ways to be creative with your orientation considering this technically savvy generation of students. For instance, some institutions are using interactive Instagram stories or Facebook Live.

10. Give voice-to-voice with students during the start week.

Researchers have found a strong positive correlation between building relationships with students and academic achievement. 

One idea is to have faculty members invite each student to a 10-minute meet-and-greet. By reaching out, the faculty advisors are saying, “I care about you, first and foremost, and I want you to be successful in this class.” 


This post is based on a podcast interview with Miranda Benson from Helix Education. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.