According to Education Dive, about 1 out every 5 students will drop out of college before they finish their second year. The article explains that the college retention problem is at least partially caused by lack of academic and social preparation and The Hechinger Report tells us that grades and academic success are not the biggest contributing factors to student dropout rates.

This is important information for colleges who want to stop the financial bleeding and protect the future of their institutions. To improve student performance and retention rates, universities can focus on effectively engaging students in the preparation for and adjustment to life in college. This is most effective when done from the outset of freshman year or even before students arrive.

Predictive modeling that incorporates non-cognitive factors early in the freshman college experience helps universities better understand student needs. Following are a few areas colleges can focus on to work toward improved student performance and retention.

Build Community

Schools that emphasize the importance of social gatherings and participation in activities foster a sense of community among first-year students. The goal is to create a tight-knit group of peers within the larger student population, creating an environment where students support each other, build friendships, and help ease the transition from living at home to living on campus.

Use Success Coaches

Students commonly have an academic counselor to help them manage schedules and oversee their academic progress. A success coach goes beyond that. They provide advice, advocate for students, and help create good study habits in an environment of academic challenges.

Encourage Meaningful Goal Setting

College students are more successful when they work to achieve a set of goals that have deep meaning for them. This goes beyond the practical issues of class selection and juggling coursework to include creating a sense of self-worth and a feeling of competence. That takes support and encouragement from faculty, student affairs staff, and other school employees.

Seek New Perspective

Academic advisors and residence hall staff are typically consulted on student affairs, but some colleges have started gathering information from school personnel who are not traditionally part of the student engagement process. These are university employees who have firsthand knowledge of the day-to-day lives of students, from dining service and operations employees to facilities and administrative staff. This is one place that non-cognitive factors in predictive modeling can help colleges understand student needs.

Develop Student Leaders

Some students lean toward leadership and adapt quickly to the college environment. Encouraging these students to work with others helps them provide a positive example and support other students who are struggling. This improves self-esteem and helps the student engage in his or her community in a meaningful way.

Understand the Student Population

Incoming classes of college students are more diverse than they have ever been in the past. Cornell University reports that the class of 2020 is the most diverse ever on the campus, with 700 students who are first-generation college students and more than 1,700 self-identifying as underrepresented minority students. This presents new challenges for colleges that want to increase engagement and support higher student retention. A deep understanding of the student population and their unique needs can help solve this.

In order to improve student performance and retention, colleges and universities are hiring data-driven companies that use an analytical approach to identify and help at-risk students. This analytical approach has been making a big difference in industries such as healthcare, retail, and manufacturing, and now higher education is realizing how this tactic can help increase student retention rates and close the gap between enrollment and graduation.