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Student Outcomes

5 Moves to Boost Student Success

silhouette of college graduates

Education firm EAB has introduced a new "playbook" of strategies for improving student outcomes and institutional sustainability in higher education. Its goal: to highlight changes that colleges and universities can make fairly easily to achieve real results.

"Schools often fear that improving graduation rates will require massive, expensive and disruptive institutional changes," said EAB Managing Director Ed Venit, in a statement. "While transformative change may still be necessary, EAB is suggesting a number of surprisingly practical strategies schools can execute quickly to make meaningful improvements."

Here are five of EAB's key recommendations:

1) Remove registration obstacles. This means getting rid of logistical and financial barriers that prevent students from reenrolling, such as bursar holds requiring students to pay small balances or complete paperwork before registering for classes. "These barriers unintentionally deter reenrollment, especially for first-generation students who are unfamiliar with higher education policies," EAB said. "Schools should also consider raising the threshold amount that triggers a financial hold and establish emergency microgrant programs to help qualified students pay off small balances."

"While students should be expected to pay their bills, it makes little financial sense to let a balance of a few hundred dollars prevent a student from achieving a degree and an institution from collecting several thousand dollars in tuition revenue," noted Venit.

2) Send a personal note to students who haven't registered. As an example, EAB cited the case of Kennesaw State University: When an academic adviser e-mailed students to ask if they needed help, he received more than 1,100 responses. Many of those students were facing "relatively minor personal, financial or administrative obstacles" — and when the university stepped in to assist, it was able to increase reenrollment by 3.4 percent (resulting in $2 million in additional net tuition revenue).

3) Provide structured early guidance that builds momentum toward a degree. In order to encourage students to take enough credits each year to graduate in four years, EAB recommended two actions: promoting a "15 to Finish" campaign (the idea that all new students should take 15 credits in their first semester), and requiring all incoming first-year students declare a major or meta-major. Meta-majors "group individual majors under a larger academic umbrella," EAB said, and "are one of the best ways to streamline academic planning, reduce the burden on advisors, and provide students with a productive framework through which to explore a broad academic area of interest."   

4) Leverage technology to enable a more proactive approach to student advising. Technology can help advisers identify and contact students at risk of dropping out, EAB noted. "This proactivity, often missing from advising, engages students who most need assistance and helps keep them on track."

5) Expand pre-enrollment programs to foster a sense of confidence and belonging. To help students make the transition to college, the playbook recommended bolstering summer pre-enrollment programs. These programs "offer training designed to build social confidence or an understanding of when or how to ask for help," EAB said, and "are an excellent way to introduce students to the support services available on campus."

"Even students who did well in high school can doubt their ability to complete college-level work," said David Bevevino, EAB senior director of strategic research. "Add that to student concerns about fitting in, especially for underrepresented students, and it's clear institutions need to do more to ease the transition to college life."

The full Student Success Playbook can be found on the EAB site (registration required).

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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