November 29, 2022

Stopping Student Stop out: The Latest Data and How to Address It

Amid the broader context of declining college enrollment, the increasing number of stop-out students is particularly concerning for institutions of all types. The latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse suggests that there are a massive 39 million Americans who have started college but not achieved a credential — a population of similar size to California or Canada. Worryingly, this number has grown by more than 5% since 2020.

The problem is complex, and solutions are both nuanced and multi-faceted. Below are key insights which can help you start to tackle stop-out challenges in a more systematic and scalable way.

Why do students stop out?

There is a long list of factors that can lead students not to continue with their degree; however, after working with colleges and universities of all sizes, our aggregated data indicates that “had to work” is the clear leader in why students stop their education.

Pie Chart showing why students stop out

As a recent article in Inside Higher Ed reports, “had to work” can be comprised of a host of related challenges for students. Naturally, this includes financial challenges — which have grown as a result of the pandemic — and rising student concerns about the cost of college. But perhaps more troubling is that some students are questioning the value of higher education for their career and choosing to fast track their path into the workforce.

How can the stop-out trend be reduced?

Stop-out rates ultimately reflect the full student experience — from teaching and learning to support to social factors — as well as personal factors that are beyond the institution’s control. Given the insights mentioned in the previous paragraph, having financial aid and career support that is easily accessible for students of all backgrounds, when they need that support, is a fundamental step for any institution to build persistence. By augmenting their support and IT services to provide 24/7/365 access for students, Anthology has helped the University of Central Oklahoma dramatically improve student access to support and boost retention in the process.

But no matter what systems you have in place, there will always be students who are at risk of stopping out. It is essential to have processes to identify and engage these students if you wish to see meaningful growth in retention.

A data-led approach to identifying at-risk students

If stopping out reflects the full student experience, so too must your data to address it.

Your LMS is a great starting point. Understanding how students are progressing through their courses not only reveals how they’re performing academically but can often reflect challenges outside of the classroom as well. Within Blackboard® Learn, we are constantly working to make in-line insights available for instructors and administrators to quickly understand the progress of their students.

But don’t stop there. Building a holistic picture of a student’s well-being requires you to understand the why behind the data — what are the specific challenges that could lead the student to leave your institution? Anthology® Beacon is a great example of a data source that can be valuable in this respect. It combines robust student survey data with advanced visualization tools and predictive analytics to create a profile of student progress both in and outside the classroom, identifying not just at-risk students but the reasons why they have a high-risk profile.

Timely intervention is key to driving re-enrollment

It goes without saying that the faster you can address a student’s challenges, the more likely that they will continue at your institution. However, this isn’t the only factor that can drive a positive outcome.

Multi-modal outreach is not only required but expected by your students. Including digital channels such as text and email allows for efficient, mass outreach, and most students now prefer these means of communication. Lastly, employing aligned messages across a range of mediums will improve overall responsiveness — we see great results when a text message precedes a phone call and when a phone call is followed by an email, for example.

That said, the trusty telephone should remain at the core of your outreach strategy. Our data suggests that students are 3X more likely to re-enroll if you can engage them via phone. Leverage automatic dialing technologies for efficiency, and focus your calling activity between 4-9 p.m. on weeknights for the best results. Of course, this is always a two-way street, and responding to students who contact you within 24 hours is absolutely imperative as well.

Learn more about Anthology’s solutions to build student success and retention.

Topics: Retention

Jason S. Smith

Senior Director of Strategic Consulting

Jason S. Smith is a former enrollment management professional with over 15 years of experience working in higher education and a long history of partnership with higher ed institutions. At Anthology, he specializes in tackling institution enrollment and retention challenges.