Strategies For Student Retention In Higher Education – Australia

Posted: 24/04/2023

Retaining students in higher education is a challenge in Australia and worldwide. Student attrition is always a concern, and in order to ensure student success, tertiary institutions must continually evaluate their practices and explore new management and teaching techniques. This article explores some of the key strategies for student retention.

Key Takeaways:

  • Effective student retention plans typically focus on engaging students, reaching out to students experiencing academic, personal, or financial difficulties and creating an overall positive student experience.
  • Careful tracking and analysis of student performance and program effectiveness can help identify potential problems before student attrition rises.
  • By employing an experienced higher education consultant like DVE Solutions, tertiary institutions can help ensure student retention goals are met.

retaining student in higher education


10 Ways to Increase Student Retention

Many students in Australia face economic pressures, increasing student fees, academic difficulties and other factors that lead to student attrition. Universities and colleges need to develop student retention strategies that foster academic success.

Below are ten retention strategies for Australian tertiary institutions:

Improve Student Retention By Building Community

Students often abandon their studies because they feel isolated on campus, especially first-year students. Building an active student community is pivotal to connecting students and immersing them in learning. Increase student engagement through student-led activities, student clubs and student societies.

University student support networks, like clubs (sporting, social and discipline) and student organisations (guilds, unions), can create a sense of student belonging at the institution that can help students get through challenging semesters, improving student retention rates.

Build Strong Faculty/Staff and Student Relationships

Again, having a solid support system on campus is essential. Faculty members and student advisors are vital to any university’s support system.

Advisors and faculty members have direct contact with students on a regular basis. Therefore, they sometimes spot students who are struggling and are in the position to lend assistance.

In addition to identifying students who need help, advisors and professors are critical to student motivation and can inspire students to stay on track for graduation. Higher education staff members should be available to guide students in person and online throughout their studies.

Identify Students Who Need Assistance

While faculty and staff are great resources for identifying at-risk students, additional outreach is often needed.

We recommend talking to students regularly to gauge student satisfaction and identify those at risk of attrition. Once you have identified at-risk students, connect students with targeted resources for success.

Make sure support services, like counselling, student health and student wellbeing programs, are promoted widely across campus to familiarise students with available resources.

Also, in addition to contacting students and building good faculty/staff relationships, encourage students to reach out independently when they need assistance.

Whether struggling students have academic performance issues or personal problems, higher education institutions should provide resources to enable students to succeed.

Use Technology Wisely

Technology is at the forefront of student life, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant rise in remote learning. Fortunately, technology is an excellent tool for educators.

Tertiary institutions can utilise digital tools like student portals, course management systems and student tracking software to monitor student progress and offer student guidance. Staff members can set up alerts to inform them when a student is struggling, so they can intervene promptly.

Students should also have access to these tools, allowing them to easily track their progress and determine whether they need to reach out for assistance.

In addition, higher education institutions can offer a range of campus resources online to support students regardless of location. Mental health counselling, tutoring, academic advising meetings and other parts of the student journey can be made available using apps and video technology, making the student experience much more convenient.

Put Student Success First

Some students need additional support and resources to achieve academic success, so institutions must be willing to provide student support wherever possible. Make student success the main focus of retention efforts.

To begin, get ideas from faculty and staff on how to contribute to student success. Also, make student feedback an integral part of student success initiatives. Ask your scholars about the student experience at your tertiary institution.

Try to find out what you are doing right and what you’re doing wrong, so you can move forward with full knowledge of your performance as an institution.

Student success improvements often include additional tutoring, financial assistance, career advice and more. It may also mean creating communities on campus or online that focus on student support.

Set Achievable Goals for Students

Students faced with unachievable goals or unclear expectations are more likely to fail. It’s almost impossible to accomplish a goal that takes years, like completing a university degree, without clear direction. Scholars should have definable, achievable goals for success in individual classes and their overall degree.

For example, the GPA required to maintain good standing should be clearly stated. That way, students know when they’re in danger of falling below academic standards and can seek tutoring or other resources.

Students may also need direction regarding their future career and life goals. Tertiary institutions play a significant role in students’ goal development and should take that role seriously, helping students identify and set reasonable goals for themselves, inside and outside the classroom.

Review Resource Allocations Regularly

When evaluating higher education practices, always take stock of what’s working for your students and what isn’t. Once you collect data on the success of varying programs, adjust resource allocation accordingly.

For example, if students report tutoring as a major benefit and a significant part of their success, consider extending tutoring hours, hiring more tutors or offering tutoring for a broader range of subjects. Alternatively, if students report that the school’s social programming has helped them integrate into campus life, you may want to invest more in social programming initiatives.

The goal is to redirect funding from underperforming areas into the programs and support systems that drive student retention.

Provide Career Planning Support

Many students pursue a degree or certification for a specific career. A good career services team can help prepare students for success in their field, suggesting internships/externships, job shadowing programs, resume assistance and more to add to their skills and knowledge and prepare them for the job market.

For those who haven’t chosen an exact career path–or those who are unsure their major is right for them–career services teams can help by administering tests to point learners toward a career path that suits their personality and goals.

Career tests prompt students to think deeply about their desires for the future and the career that is right for them, so they can be invaluable when considering new career options.

Finally, career-focused staff can organise job fairs for scholars nearing graduation. All this makes career services vital to student success and an important piece of the puzzle for student retention.

Create Flexible Programs

University and college students are typically adults with busy lives outside their studies. Students may have jobs, family obligations or personal pursuits that conflict with classes or program requirements. In some cases, those conflicts could even prompt students to leave school altogether.

By creating flexible programs that acknowledge and account for students’ busy schedules, tertiary institutions can make obtaining a degree more feasible.

Institutions can offer online or hybrid options, evening or weekend classes and part-time or accelerated programs to add flexibility. When creating flexible programs, discussing desired flexibilities directly with the students in a forum or classroom setting or by taking an online poll can be helpful.

Support All Types of Learners and Students

Australian tertiary institutions serve diverse student bases, and if you want to retain students, it’s vital to meet their varying needs. To do so, create resources for all types of learners and people of all backgrounds.

A robust disability services program, for example, ensures those who need accommodations get the services required to succeed. Similarly, a well-funded counselling centre enhances access to mental health services so scholars stay mentally healthy while learning. And diverse cultural and religious campus groups help students find connections and community.

Basically, think of ways to appreciate and support people of all backgrounds so that everyone feels comfortable on campus and eager to engage in student life.

Implementing Student Retention Strategies

While there’s no sure-fire method for ensuring students finish their education, retention strategies undoubtedly improve your chances of seeing your students through graduation day. But to implement strategies effectively, administrators need to have their ducks in a row.

Having your ducks in a row means:

Getting Faculty and Staff On Board

When implementing any change in how you serve students, having faculty and staff on board is integral. As the front-line team who deals with students on a daily basis, the staff and faculty can make or break strategies to increase student retention rates.

That said, most faculty and staff members are working in higher education for a reason. They likely want to give excellent service and support to scholars and are your greatest resource for keeping students at your institution.

Have an open dialogue with faculty and staff regarding student retention. Ensure your team and faculty understand your initiatives and encourage questions and suggestions.

Tracking Data Diligently

Invest in staff members who can evaluate and act on any data you obtain.

The technology and data for student retention efforts are at your fingertips, but student retention rates depend on the institution’s ability to use the technology creatively and interpret and apply data appropriately.

Pivoting When Necessary

No student retention strategy is perfect. Certain methods may work better with some student groups than others. When this happens, don’t hesitate to adjust your student support accordingly. Pivoting strategies, when necessary, can make a massive difference in student success.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, pivoting to online classes and support was a necessary step for tertiary institutions.

Hiring a Consultant

Higher education consulting firms, like DVE Solutions, specialise in creating efficiencies and implementing improvements in tertiary institutions.

From supplying project management to delivering personalised technology and system support, consulting firms can help institutions better understand their population and take appropriate steps towards improving student retention.

FAQs About Student Retention

There’s a lot that goes into retaining higher education students in Australia. We’ve answered a few frequently asked questions about student retention below.

What Is an Intervention Program?

Intervention programs are student support initiatives designed to identify struggling students and assist them. This could include tutoring sessions, peer mentors or other support.

Identifying at-risk students quickly is vital in aiding them to succeed. With the collaboration of educators, staff and administrators, these students can be given the support they require to improve their academic situation.

Developing a systematic evaluation and intervention plan to find and support these students with targeted services is one of the best approaches for improving student retention.

How Can Administrators Increase Student Autonomy on Campus?

Student autonomy is critical to consider if you want to improve student retention and graduation rates for your tertiary institution. Nurturing independence is fundamental for a student’s growth and academic performance. Students need internal motivation, and leaders can foster individual autonomy using multiple tactics.

For example, administrators can increase student autonomy by offering student-led activities and student-selected learning opportunities and allowing students to have a say in student initiatives and life decisions.

Administrators can also motivate students to make use of available resources. An effective mentoring program can prove instrumental in this endeavour. A faculty or peer mentor can provide guidance and support while facilitating student autonomy.

How Can a Good Orientation Increase Retention Rates?

A good orientation program can be a student’s first step to success. An effective student orientation program familiarises students with their new environment and prepares them for the demands of student life. It should include student-centred activities and academic guidance and connect students with support resources.

Student orientations should also help scholars form friendships and support networks, which can improve student retention.

Achieve Your Retention Goals with DVE Solutions

At DVE Solutions, student success is our number one priority. We partner with tertiary institutions across Australia to drive positive change tailored to the student body’s needs.

Contact DVE Solutions to find out how we can help you achieve better student outcomes and reach your student retention goals.