Re-thinking retention: Getting started with orientation

A three-year data analytics project in Navitas University Programs recently delivered some remarkable findings, with one college in particular increasing retention from 77% to 97.5% in just two years.

We’ll look at what made a difference to student success in this project but also in a number of other initiatives, covering a range of aspects from orientation and attendance to curriculum design, assessment and student support. If this is a key issue in your area of Navitas, stay tuned and share your own thoughts and experiences as we delve into this fascinating and complex topic.

First things first: Getting on-board

As many of our courses get underway for 2016, we’ll start by looking at what the project can tell us about orientation and enrolment as strategies for student success. The first experiences a student has at a new institution are hugely determinative of whether they will succeed there; that much we all know. Studies from as many as four decades ago have found that the first few weeks of a program are crucial for determining whether a student will be successful as their course progresses. But how do we use this data and analysis to come up with creative strategies to keep students on track?

At QIBT, all students who have not completed their enrolment by the end of the first week of term receive a personal phone call to find out more about their enrolment intentions and offer assistance with the enrolment and orientation process.

The solutions developed in this project focus on understanding a student’s educational experience as just one part of their life story. Missing enrolment or orientation sessions isn’t just a factor for predicting ‘retention risk’; it’s a lived experience that can make students feel isolated and confused. By understanding these experiences, we can develop strategies that target the human side of retention. Such strategies include re-connecting students with their college to help mitigate feelings of isolation and dislocation as a result of late enrolment or missed orientation.

retention maze

Extending orientation

The project also found success with strategies that don’t just target students who match the typical ‘risk’ criteria, but focus on all students. This means extending the standard ‘icebreaker’ model past week one, and making it a priority throughout the term.

PIBT has broken orientation into four sections spanning the first part of term, from introductions to key staff to fun activities like beach trips. Facebook groups for students united by common courses and end of term class visits are also in place to refresh relationships throughout the educational experience.

This research could have many applications for us at Navitas. Some of the key recommendations focus on accurate, holistic data analysis, and prioritising student success as a ‘whole of institution’ issue. This and other strategies can help us think differently about how we work together with students to help them reach their goals, whatever their background or circumstances.

Retention has many contexts and aspects to explore, and we want to hear from you! Tell us which aspect of retention you find most challenging in this quick poll and we’ll tackle these topics in future articles on this site:

If you have insights, personal experience, or some hypotheses of your own about retention and student success, come and be part of the conversation by commenting on this article or contacting