12 Factors That Affect Student Retention in Higher Education

Countless students attend college for a period of time before dropping out without obtaining a degree.

Universities and colleges continue to look for ways to overcome this challenge and are developing strategies to improve student retention in their facilities. They benefit from investigations and studies regarding this matter, ones which are conducted by external consultants and well as faculties. These investigations and studies show several factors play a role in why a student might leave a higher education facility before they achieve their goal of learning a degree. Psychological and economic issues are two such causes.

However, there isn't a single factor that leads to students leaving the higher education facility. Australian Universities Review found that the reasons students leave are complex and come as a result of a combination of factors. A synthesis of UK research on this same matter listed several reasons why students don't complete their education. This information becomes of great importance as a school works to develop student engagement strategies and increase their graduation rate.

Why This is Important

A failure to graduate impacts the student's life, but it also affects the objectives of the institution. Students who don't earn their degree still benefit from their time spent at the school, as they develop skills during their coursework and boost their confidence. They gain new life experiences as well. However, institutions find low student retention along with high student attrition figures harm their institutions. They need to find ways to overcome these challenges and help all students achieve their objective of earning a degree and benefit from one of the most enriching experiences they will have over their lifetime.

Why Do Students Quit?

Many universities believe students quit because of their background or their motivations. However, this isn't the case. Griffith University conducted a study to examine the causes of student attrition. They identified the following factors in the course of their research.
Personal difficulties account for many students leaving college or university. They do so for family, health, financial, or work difficulties, although some state it is because they find it hard to fit in or make friends. Others feel they aren't prepared for the rigors of college when it comes to academics. They lack overall knowledge or the study skills they need to keep up in their coursework. Part-time students leave their college or university more often than those taking a full course load, and many students choose the wrong program and end up quitting. They may not have been given the proper information prior to enrolling to make an informed decision regarding their educational and career goals.

Some students drop out because they didn't get into their preferred school and their second choice isn't living up to their expectations. Other men and women lose interest in their program and quit, while some find they cannot keep up as they lack time management skills. However, some students leave because they feel the curriculum is lacking, the teachers aren't knowledgeable enough or they don't like the university experience. Nevertheless, some experts disagree with these findings and believe a student quits because they aren't mature enough to handle college.

Personal Issues Play a Role

According to a report in the Inside Higher Ed journal, students typically leave for personal reasons. Robert J. Sternberg serves as the president of the Federation of Associations in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. He provides twelve factors related to student attrition in higher education institutions.

  1. The disparity in formal academic skills and knowledge, particularly in STEM disciplines, leads to some students leaving the institution.
  2. Minimal knowledge of college student life often brings about disappointment in students, and they choose to quit college as a result.
  3. A lack of self-regulation harms the student out on their own for the first time.
  4. An inability to rebound when meeting with failure leads certain students to give up on college and pursue another path.
  5. A fixed abilities mindset rather than a flexible one leads to embarrassment on the part of the student when they make a mistake.
  6. Delayed gratification leads to better academic outcomes, but many students struggle in this area.
  7. A lack of ethics in students leads to many issues in a college setting.
  8. Students who aren't engaged in the university environment tend to struggle overall in the college setting.
  9. Students often load up on courses they are required to take their first year and lose interest as they aren't engaged. They need to take one course they find interesting to obtain relief from coursework they find bores them.
  10. A lack of an academic destination often leads to a student dropping out because they don't know where they are going or how to get there.
  11. Certain students struggle with psychological issues. They may use drugs to manage their symptoms or cope with daily life. Interpersonal problems within relationships often doom students to failure, and some students arrive at college with an undiagnosed learning disability or another issue that interferes with their ability to handle college courses.
  12. Financial issues may lead to a person dropping out of college even when they would like to continue with their studies. Colleges and universities need to work with students to ensure they receive all aid available to them. Doing so reduces the student attrition rate.

Students often report more than one of these factors when explaining why they will not be continuing with their studies. Colleges and universities must keep these factors in mind and work with students to overcome any challenges they are facing. This problem is not limited to a certain geographical area either. Higher education institutions across the globe struggle with these challenges, which is why the focus needs to turn on helping students succeed and achieve their educational goals.

However, there are variations depending on where the student attends school. A one-size-fits-all global solution won't work here. Colleges and universities must work with their particular students to find where the biggest challenges lie and address them. This might also change as the student body changes. Keep this in mind and find ways to increase student engagement. Doing so benefits the college or university in every way.