The Secrets to Successful Completion Rates

Posted: 17/03/2023

Starting university is an exciting time for many students, but it can also be overwhelming and challenging. Universities have implemented various strategies to support student success and make the transition smoother, such as orientation programs and peer mentoring, but sometimes more strategising is needed.

Key Takeaways:

  • Many strategies exist to help higher education providers improve completion rates
  • Outreach and communication are key to reducing attrition, especially among at-risk groups
  • Completion rates may improve with targeted communications, campus-wide announcements, and events that showcase student services and resources
  • Collaboration across your organisation is critical to creating, managing, and promoting programs to support a higher completion rate

What Causes High Attrition Rates Among Students?

Before improving completion rates at your university, you must understand what causes the students to leave university in the first place. Whether at research-intensive universities, public universities or private institutions, a range of problems prevent the ultimate goal of educational institutions: graduation.

Potential issues include:

  • High cost of tuition and fees
  • Insufficient academic preparation
  • Lack of support services
  • Poor engagement and connection
  • Mental health challenges
  • Lack of clear educational and career goals
  • Demographic and socioeconomic factors


students graduating from university


What Issues Do Universities Face with Completion Rate Strategies?

Not all students are the same – some may come more prepared and engaged and have a support structure that enables success in higher education. Students may not be aware of the programs available to them, may be hesitant to seek help or may feel like they don’t belong.

Too often, the students who engage are the ones who least need the programs. Getting to all students is critical.

The Secrets and Solutions to Keeping Students Engaged

Higher education providers may need to go above and beyond to be proactive and creative to engage with all student groups and increase completion rates. This can involve implementing outreach programs, targeted communication, and marketing, providing immersive learning opportunities, and creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Some examples of higher education initiatives that aim to improve engagement and support for first-year Bachelor degree students are:

  • Using ‘near real time’ data to implement early-identification systems to analyse behavioural factors such as attendance, assessment results, and engagement with online systems to flag students who may need extra support
  • Providing cultural awareness training for staff to ensure key student cohorts feel welcome and supported
  • Connecting students to a personal Success Coach who can provide academic and personal support, with the appropriate referrals when needed
  • Providing 24/7 peer-to-peer mental health support via apps such as Vygo and TalkCampus
  • Gamifying study (e.g. GradeCraft)
  • Increasing equity; providing additional scholarships and financial support

While universities have made strides in implementing programs to support at-risk first-year students, there is always room for improvement. Data shows that successful completion in Australian universities averaged 85% in 2021 but is as low as 49% in some institutions. Universities must take a proactive approach to ensure that at-risk students are aware of the programs available to them and feel comfortable seeking help.

In our experience, the best way to do this is collaboratively. Success should have many owners. Bring together experts across your organisation to examine how to implement programs and use data to proactively identify and support your students.

FAQs About Student Completion Rates

Many strategies can potentially result in better retention rates in your higher education institution, especially with commencing students. However, implementing strategies to improve completion rates can be challenging. Also see our article on student retention strategies.

We discuss a few frequently asked questions about strategically boosting completion rates below.


What Targeted Communications and Marketing Strategies Can Higher Education Institutions Use?

Institutions can employ various targeted communications and marketing strategies to increase awareness of programs and support services.
Here are some useful strategies:

Personalised Emails

Sending personalised emails to students based on their interests, academic programs, or identified needs can effectively communicate information about available programs and improve outcomes.

Social Media Campaigns

Social media platforms allow institutions to reach a broad audience. Engaging content can promote programs and encourage students to seek assistance. Institutions can also utilise targeted advertising to reach specific student demographics, like those with indigenous status.

Campus-wide Announcements

Leveraging campus-wide announcements through bulletin boards, digital signage, or newsletters can create awareness. Institutions can strategically place information about support programs in high-traffic areas, such as residence halls, libraries, or student centres.

Student Ambassadors

Enlisting student ambassadors or representatives who have benefited from the programs can work wonders at achieving a higher completion rate. Ambassadors can share personal experiences, serve as role models and encourage peers to utilise available support services.

Targeted Events and Workshops

Organising targeted events and workshops focused on specific student populations or academic programs can raise awareness about relevant support programs.

Collaboration with Student Organisations

Partnering with student organisations and clubs allows institutions to leverage their existing networks. Institutions can collaborate with groups to organise events, guest speaker sessions or workshops related to university programs.

Alumni Engagement

Involving successful alums who have utilised student support programs to complete a Bachelor degree can inspire everyone from commencing students to those nearing the end of their university experience. Alums can participate in events, share their success stories and provide mentorship, emphasising the value of available programs.

Bachelor degree students are embarking on a long journey, and it can be helpful to see a tangible result of higher education study.

Why Is Increasing Completion Rates Difficult for Many Institutions?

There are several challenges institutions face when trying to increase completion rates, including:

Diverse Student Profiles

Institutions enrol students with diverse backgrounds, experiences and support systems. Some students may face financial challenges, lack access to adequate academic resources, or struggle with personal circumstances that affect Bachelor degree completion rates.

Barriers to Seeking Help

Students often face barriers to seeking help, such as stigma surrounding mental health, fear of judgment, or uncertainty about where to go for assistance. Institutions must create a supportive and inclusive undergraduate study environment that encourages students to seek help without fear of negative consequences.

Limited Resources

Institutions may face resource constraints when implementing and maintaining support programs. Adequate funding and staffing are essential. Limited resources can hinder the development and expansion of programs that could positively impact university completion rates.

Transition and Adjustment

The transition from high school to university can take time and effort. Many commencing students need help with academic demands, time management and the new social environment. Institutions must provide targeted support during this critical period to help students complete their education.

Addressing these challenges as a higher education provider requires a holistic and collaborative approach involving the institution as a whole. By identifying and addressing the barriers that students face and implementing effective university programs, institutions can work towards improving university completion rates and supporting student success.

What Role Does Leadership Play in Fostering Collaboration?

Leadership plays a vital role in fostering a collaborative culture in higher education. Leaders can set the tone for collaboration, prioritise student success initiatives, allocate resources to support collaboration efforts and encourage cross-departmental collaboration.

Leaders can also provide the necessary support and recognition to empower stakeholders to engage in collaborative efforts that result in the highest completion rate possible.

Learn More About University Completion Rates

Want to know more about student retention and hear some best practice examples? Eager to improve the experience of commencing students at your university? Watch DVE’s FREE webinar on Ideas for Delivering First-Year Student Success. You can also contact us, and we’ll be happy to share what we can.