“Making students feel valued is an essential part of solving the student retention challenge.” – Michael Mathews, CIO of Oral Roberts University
“Over the last five years, education has become a very competitive place with institutions aggressively working to keep their student numbers up,” says Mathews. “We can have ten stellar students on one end and ten others who are really struggling on the other end of the spectrum. It is difficult for faculty to modify course work to address the low performers and to know when to intervene. Students, on the other hand, are wondering ‘do I really belong here?’ So the challenge for the education institution is to accommodate and hit the sweet spot so that all students, regardless of their starting point, are on the right path and feel valued.”
Mathews points out that across the United States many recent graduates actually regret taking their degree and many other students in the national education system find themselves second-guessing where they are going. “Freshmen are influenced by many external factors, such as family. They don’t have a compass to help them plot their career path or to help them change gears,” says Mathews. “So what happens is students pack up and make a move, into a new program, or often to a new school.”
Mathews believes that retention and persistence issues create consequences for the educational institution. “First, there’s the issue of lost revenue. Then there’s the issue of lost credibility, which starts to impact the institution’s ability to recruit. As costs rise, institutions that can’t keep their population high enough will shut down. That’s why the focus on retention is so great.”
So, how is ORU tackling the challenge of student retention? What strategies has the school put in place to foster student success?
Mathews asserts that the very best answer to the retention challenge is great customer service. “If you treat people—students and their parents—right, they will stay with you and be loyal.”
Mathews says it all pivots around the experience. “When you walk into our university, the first thing you encounter is an IT concierge service. For every parent who sets foot on campus, there are four people there to help them with anything they need. Our students and their family members feel valued through acts of customer service.”
ORU’s IT organization is also leveraging advanced technologies to broaden its customer service and help students develop the “whole person” with attention paid to the mind, spirit, and body. ORU recently announced a partnership with Garmin to integrate Vivofit®, a wearable technology, into the curriculum and further enhance the ORU student experience. The Vivofit activity tracker will support students’ aerobic and fitness goals and can be synced with ORU’s cutting edge online portal, which serves as a one-stop resource for online students. Additionally, ORU reports that it is experimenting with virtual reality technologies to help students immerse themselves in simulated environments and better visualize their future educational and career paths.
Finally, ORU is leveraging D2L Insights™ to get an accurate understanding of their retention rate, provide instructors with data to monitor student engagement, and help design targeted interventions for those at risk. Mathews shares, “In less than one semester of use, D2L Insights has helped ORU get a much better handle on our student retention rate. The university has been able to move its student retention rate up from a previously believed 61%, to 75.5%. The more precise data from D2L Insights has helped us understand we were actually doing better than we thought.”
Is retention one of your institution’s concerns? You’re not alone. Learn more about the retention challenge and what you can do to improve it at your institution today by downloading the eBook Staying on Course.