Retention is often discussed in adult education as program administrators, instructors and support staff plan and integrate retention practices designed to lower student attrition. What are the elements of a strong, research-based and successful retention plan that is realistic to implement? It begins with defining retention, creating a marketing plan, developing a student screening and placement process, implementing a comprehensive orientation, and connecting instruction to student goals. When combined, these individual components fit into a solid, organized, and detailed plan that will foster student success.
Define retention. This may sound like a simple statement, but a data person may consider a student retained when he or she has reached 12 hours of instruction and can be counted for federal reporting. A teacher may consider a student retained when he or she reaches a specific instructional goal and a program administrator may consider retention based on High School Equivalency attainment. If everyone has a different definition of retention, it is virtually impossible to achieve it. Once retention is defined, appropriate benchmarks can be set to measure attrition and retention.
Marketing is another key role to retaining students. For example, if a program advertises the ease and quickness of getting a High School Equivalency diploma and a student enters the program who needs significant instruction, getting the High School Equivalency diploma is not quick. This creates a disconnect between the student’s expectation and the reality of a high stakes test.
Choosing the marketing slogan carefully and indicating that students can join the program and work toward their goal with a highly trained and caring staff can present a more realistic picture of the process. Questions to consider when creating a marketing plan that builds retention include: “Who is your target audience? Are your program goals defined in the marketing campaign?”
After retention has been defined and the marketing is in alignment with expectations, it’s time to look at the screening and placement process.
The purpose of screening is much more than identifying a student’s strength and weakness, it should identify barriers to attendance in class. Screening is not designed to eliminate students from participation, but rather address issues upfront so that appropriate plans and referrals can be made. Then, students are placed in the class. Orientation is the next step before actual instruction begins.
Orientation provides students with a clearly defined set of expectations. Does active participation in class mean periodic attendance? Or, does it mean attendance at least 85% of the time class is offered? How does the student know this? An orientation, which outlines the expectations of the teacher, student and program, gives the student a road map to goal attainment.
After the upfront planning, the student is placed in class and instruction begins. In order to keep students coming to class, the instruction must provide a bridge beginning with their existing academic strengths and connect to their ultimate goal. Strategies such as identifying the muddiest point or what I have learned enable students to clarify confusing points and monitor progress by tracking their learning. Assessment drives instruction and this type of ongoing assessment helps teachers adapt instruction as well as help learners identify that they are on target toward their ultimate goals.
Programs that have high retention rates follow a well-developed plan that includes marketing, screening and placement, orientation, and instruction that is aligned with student expectations. Try these strategies and watch your student retention improve.