University Planning

Student Retention Tips

High Impact Practices

High Impact Practices (HIPs) have been shown to increase student persistence, graduation rates, and learning outcomes. Almost any student experience can be high impact with the right combination of elements. One element of a HIP that can be used in a variety of settings is the Public Demonstration of Competence. Example: An oral presentation to classmates that is evaluated by a faculty member, or an oral narrative presented to an adviser or work supervisor about accomplishments in an internship, practicum, field placement or campus work assignment. For further reading on High Impact Practices click here:

Know Your Numbers and Benchmark

Improving student success starts with knowing the important numbers associated with your program or institution. What is the first year student retention rate? How many students persist in the program after declaring a major? How many students graduate and how long does it take them? Is this typical of programs like yours at other institutions? What are the retention and graduation rates at benchmark institutions? For institutional numbers, visit the fact book at Also, visit with your supervisor. They may have more specific numbers your program is tracking. For benchmarking purposes, two websites can be very helpful: and .

Know What Successful Students Do

“Successful students use all the resources available, they get involved in research, they participate in extracurricular activities, they are engaged with faculty,” says Eric Moschella, director of the Student Success Center at the University of South Carolina. A similar message comes from Andy Person, executive director of Student Success and Engagement at Mercy College in New York City. What do successful students do differently than their counterparts? They “take 15 credits each semester, take the right types of courses, focus on life after college, respond quickly to issues, and take initiative to use campus resources.” Everyone across the institution can help students succeed by helping them understand what resources are available, and where to find them.

Create a Learning Community Among Online Students

Interaction among online students help build the learning community. This can be done by providing good, thought-provoking responses with guidelines for appropriate online etiquette. Also, repetition is key and students should be prompted to interact with one another often. Allow students to respond to each other, but require in-depth responses, not just superficial agreement or social acknowledgement.

Avoid Cognitive Overload

Avoid cognitive overload by “chunking” content into manageable sizes. It may be helpful to ask those outside of your discipline to see if pages of content seem reasonable.

Be Proactive

Frequently monitor participation and follow-up with students if they haven’t made their online presence known in some time. Both proactive contact where the instructor takes the initiative to reach out to the student or reactive contact that involves responding to student-initiated communication are effective. Proactive contact with a student or interventions from the institution can have more of an impact on the retention of online learners. In studies, proactive contact is gaining more attention because students who do not make contact with available systems may be more likely to drop out. For further reading on this subject, see O. Simpson, (2004) “The Impact on Retention of Interventions to Support Distance Learning Students,” Open Learning, 19(1), 79-95.

Provide Opportunities for Students to Ask Questions

Consider adding an instructor question area for students where they can ask questions. Ask if it is “okay” to share submitted questions with the rest of the group.

Connect Outside of Class and Offline

Just because students take courses online does not mean that they cannot come to campus. Strive to make students feel connect to the University and each other. Consider inviting distance students to events happening in student organizations and the department.

Give Students a Compass

Layout expectations for deadlines and time management. Make these readily accessible.

Technology Matters

Be mindful of the age, outside commitments, and technology skills of individual students.

Fostering “Belongingness” within the classroom and larger University settings.

When considering the concepts of “belongingness” or social inclusion in the classroom, many of us conjure parables such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling or more overt behaviors such as peer bullying and social stratification.  Belongingness in the individual involves much more subtle attributes however, and is dependent upon how one’s self-concept “fits” with her environment.   For many students, this fit can undermine their sense of confidence, motivation and ultimately, academic success.

Feelings of uncertainty in this area often lead individuals to monitor their environment for cues of non-belongingness.  According to Garcia and Cohen (2012), [People] tend to become vigilant in environments where their identity is engaged . . . They monitor such situations for cues related to whether their identity is relevant to their outcome.”   In this vein, educators should use the classroom as a tool to foster not just passive inclusion among students, but actively recruit each student’s “Self” into the learning environment. 

This can be accomplished through simple role-playing exercises, in which students assume a teaching or mentoring identity with the goal of helping others.  Alternatively, including a class discussion regarding students’ perceived threats to success, and tools with which to address those threats, will help to create an air of inclusion and social support.  These methods can be incorporated into all classes and disciplines, without the need to single-out individuals, or divert large amounts of class time.  The results of empowering students’ sense of belongingness should ultimately increase classroom efficiency for students and instructors alike.

Retention at WIU