Unsurprisingly, student retention is one of the biggest strategic concerns in Higher Education these days. With 30-50% of university and college students withdrawing from their studies before completing their degrees, finding a remedy to this costly problem has quickly become a priority.
So, where does this leave you as Higher Education providers? What tools exist today to tackle such a mighty and multifaceted issue? The good news is that the solution might be simpler and more accessible than you think.
This is where student feedback comes in. This practice will provide you with powerful data and make your students feel connected to their academics and – more importantly – heard. l This article will cover the four main ways student feedback contributes to retention and actionable strategies you can employ.
1. Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement through student feedback
Engaged students are more likely to attend class, less likely to feel isolated, and more inclined to participate in all facets of their learning journey. These are all major contributors to retention.
You will establish a learning community by cultivating a continuous improvement culture through student feedback. According to the University of Texas, learning communities build a sense of academic and social community and increase engagement among students and faculty. These may include improved academic achievement and self-reported learning.
A learning community teaches students that their learning journey is a two-way street. One balanced by acquiring new knowledge & skills in exchange for information about how to improve the Teaching and Learning (T&L) experience. This improvement, in turn, enables more efficient and effective knowledge & skill acquisition, and so the positive feedback cycle continues.
Creating this type of culture doesn’t happen by itself and must be carefully planned to flourish. Here are some strategies to promote it:
- Create a survey schedule: If students know in advance when their feedback will be requested, they’ll be more prepared. The regular nature of feedback gathering will also signal to them that this is a core part of your institutional culture.
- Feedback loop: Make sure to make decisions based on the student feedback you gather and communicate them as such. The quality of feedback you receive will naturally increase if students feel like their voice is properly considered.
- Provide a safe feedback environment: Giving your students a safe, anonymous, and convenient way to provide feedback is crucial. Nowadays, this means having a dedicated student feedback-gathering platform that is mobile and accessible for a few days during survey season to allow students to fill it out when it is appropriate for them.
2. Improve Curriculums with Course Evaluations
Regular feedback collection will better equip your institution to serve students’ ongoing needs & concerns and ensure that expectations are being communicated and met in a timely manner.
Workforce readiness and overall educational return on investment are growing trends that are very important to students nowadays. If students feel like their ongoing education isn’t contributing to their future careers, they might cut their time at your institution short.
Furthermore, by optimizing the T&L experience, you’ll help faculty convey their valuable knowledge & skills more effectively and efficiently. This, in turn, will help improve the efficiency of student learning by helping faculty avoid repeated oversights relating to methods of instruction and teaching approaches.
Regular polling will also enable instructors to tailor their methodologies to the constantly shifting needs of a rapidly changing population of students (with diverse backgrounds & priorities). This will not go unnoticed by your student body, as doing so will further augment their perception that your institution cares about them as individuals.
Students will no longer see course evaluations as a means to improve the education experience for their classroom successors; instead, regular in-term surveys & polls will be perceived as tools to improve their current classroom experience (further reinforcing the inherent value of learning communities and the culture of continuous improvement).
Here’s how you can achieve this within your institution:
- Course evaluations: Leverage Blue’s course evaluation data to increase the frequency of in-class surveys at times that matter (e.g., midterm reviews). This will also increase the amount of feedback provided by paying closer attention to the trends forming during a term.
- General surveys: Leverage Blue’s survey capabilities and widen the net of the feedback data collected from in-and-around campus (in addition to in-class feedback). A great way to identify key student concerns and to facilitate improvement from multiple perspectives within your institution is to ensure a broader surveying strategy that accounts for multiple aspects and perspectives of student life (student services, library services, gym services, etc.)
3. Involving Students in The Decision Process
A growing trend within Higher Education institutions is to include student representatives directly in the course evaluation process. Having this additional perspective is a game-changer when trying to improve student retention. Even the best accurate data needs to have the right analysis to be worthwhile.
Student representatives within a decisional committee think about and evaluate what they’re trying to get from their education experience and what might impede them from achieving their goals. Questions such as, “Do I understand the course materials / are they preparing me for my future?”, “Am I getting value from the lab sessions?”, “Which learning resources should I spend most of my time on?” and “Am I getting the help I need?” should begin to surface, and administrators would be ill-equipped to answer them properly.
Here are a few ways to include students directly in the feedback process:
- Bring students to the table: Having a student representative on your decisional committee shows a solid commitment to student feedback and will make your cohorts feel like their institution really cares about their insights.
- Have your students pick questions: Either by consulting your student representatives or via a survey, ask them to come up with a question they would like their peers to answer. This will show you which issue to focus on and might unearth trends you didn’t know about.
- Include open-ended questions: Open-ended survey questions are crucial because they allow students to express themselves freely and in their own words. Unlike closed-ended questions with limited response options, open-ended questions allow students to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions more personalized and nuancedly. Traditionally, freeform comments have been challenging to analyze at scale, but AI-powered text analytics tools like Explorance BlueML enables institutions to categorize massive amounts of feedback into relatable terms.
4. Data-Informed Decisions
Regular student feedback means your institution is building a major data set that can be referred to whenever you want to make new investments. Most student bodies are incredibly diverse, and making decisions that make everyone feel included can be nearly impossible. Showing the data behind your measures can be helpful by providing the overall context.
You are sitting on a wealth of pre-existing institutional data that could be used – in combination with your student feedback data – in order to reveal hidden gaps for improvement. Insights that could not only help you improve multiple facets of the T&L experience but also help you identify specific issues relating to different at-risk student demographic groups/profiles (e.g., 1st Gen Students, 1st Year Students, etc.)
Here are some good ways to rely on the data you collect:
- Communicate results: After each round of student feedback, ensure the results are communicated back to all students. This will give them a good overview of what their peers think and prioritize. Use multiple channels like your student portal and quarterly newsletter.
- Employ machine learning to analyze data: Some of the most insightful data comes from open-ended questions. Using a machine learning tool like Explorance’s BlueML to analyze these answers can unearth unexpected trends and provide context for everyone involved.
Student Retention Starts with Feedback
While the problem of student retention is a cause for concern, the outlook is not entirely gloomy. In the battle to tackle some of the most prominent influencers on student retention (poor attendance, student isolation, low engagement, etc.), the solutions might be closer and more readily available than you think. As cliché as it sounds, the answer lies not in what tools you use but in how you use them.
Couple this with a revolutionary shift in how your institution views and promotes the knowledge-feedback exchange, and you will be well on your way to building a culture of continuous improvement whose foundation is built on the premise of friendliness and care. Soon, your institution will start to be perceived as an environment that values the student voice, open communication, and collaborative problem-solving, where a student can truly feel like they belong.
Blue•Course evaluations•Higher education•Student insight solutions•