(#144) College Retention and Persistence: Ask the Correct Questions

Audience entering the room

Audience entering
the room

Before we can solve a problem
we have to ask the right questions.

Today I facilitated a workshop session at the 32nd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience.  We examined why students stay in college and why they might leave college. As I like to do with my on-campus classes, I raised a series of questions for the participants to address.  My premise: Before we can solve a problem, we have to ask the proper questions.


These same questions can be crafted to fit a business environment as well. Instead of “students” consider “clients” or “people served.” Below are the eight questions I posed at today’s workshop. Beneath each question, I provide a correlation to the business world.

Image: digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: digitalart/

1. How do you define retention?

  • In higher education, this means understanding if we are measuring completion of a course, a term, a certificate, or a diploma.  In business, you might look at repeat customers; or referrals from current satisfied customers.

2. Who “does” retention? That is, who is responsible for retention at your school?

  • At the college level, retention is not the job of one office. A lot of players have to be brought to the table.  It’s hard to consider a retention initiative without the involvement of financial aid, librarians, faculty, admissions, coaches, bookstore and cafeteria staff, custodians, and …. In other words, all hands have a role in this.  For sure, someone has to be “in charge” but everyone must be involved.  In business, the front desk (front line) worker is every bit as important in customer retention as the salesperson.  You could make the point, that this initial point of contact is the most important.

3. Connected to the definition of retention is the question of what are you measuring?

  • Simply stated, what are your analytics? How will you know what rubric is the correct one to gauge your success?

4. Is your institution “data-driven” or “data-informed”?

  • I’m reminded of what the Heath brothers have said in their books: You can have all the statistics in the world and they can be TBU. True But Useless! What are you doing with your data?
Image: renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: renjith krishnan/

5. What plan does your school have to stop, keep, and start doing with regards to retention?

  • This is the simplest strategy I have ever encountered.  When you look at your business model, what should you stop doing (it is sabotaging your mission), what should you keep doing (it is supporting your mission) and what should you start doing (because it will advance your mission)?

6. What’s working at your school—and how can you do more of it?

  • Don’t obsess on looking for the negatives.  Identify what is working in your shop—and do more of it as much as possible. Play to your strength.

7. Why do students leave?

  • Do you have any way of capturing data on why people do not come back to your product or service? What can you do about these factors?

8. What assumptions does your institution make about retention issues?

  • Look at your attrition rate—why you are losing business. Are you operating on false assumptions about why this is happening?  Where can you gather additional pertinent information?

Bottom line. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle.  Recognize what you can fix, what you cannot fix—and then take action.

Make it a great week…and HTRB as needed.

Register for my March 13 webinar, Critical Thinking for Success: In School, Business, and Life!  Click here to register now.  Or go to my website for registration information. 


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please share it (and any of the archived posts on this site) along to friends and colleagues. You also can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli).  If you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment. Make it a wonderful week!

©2013. Steve Piscitelli.

About stevepiscitelli

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1 Response to (#144) College Retention and Persistence: Ask the Correct Questions

  1. Hello! I’ve been following your site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from New Caney Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the excellent work!


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