Decades of research into student attrition offer a bevy of conflicting causes and cures for dropouts. However, the consistent factor most research identifies as a key antecedent to student persistence is faculty.
Considering the faculty connection to student persistence, I conducted focus group research with faculty at two universities that specialize in adult higher education to discover best practices for fostering adult-student goal commitment. Combined with an extensive review of retention literature in traditional higher education environments, the research suggests that universities with a myopic focus on institutional-centric "retention" initiatives may only make matters worse.
Mindshift from retention myopia to student success
The findings suggested that attrition issues must be considered from a system level, with the understanding that attrition issues often have causes unrelated to the institution or directly related to the institution's marketing and onboarding practices.
Institutions with successful student success programs shift from a myopic focus on retaining students so they can make more money to persistence programs that attract, develop, and promote student success while helping students recognize and meet their needs for a life-changing education with a diploma that represents knowledge, skills, values, behaviors, and networks necessary for professional and life success. In short, organizations that build successful student persistence programs align all of the activities of the institution to communicate and deliver value to students while developing graduates that meet the needs of employers.
Based on my paper, "Exploring faculty connections to student persistence in an adult higher education environment" (Duncan, 2007), this post reviews key lessons and limitations attrition literature suggests for meeting student retention initiatives in adult higher education environments, summarizes results from focus group research into best practices for helping adult students to achieve academic goals, and proposes practices and research projects for discovering antecedents and barriers to adult-student persistence.