How to Retain Students by Creating Interventions.

April 4, 2019

By: Tonya Riney, Ph.D.

Reading Time: 3.6

17-year-old Kayla is excited about going to college; not only is it her first time, she’s also the first person in her family to go. She qualified for financial aid, but it’s not enough to cover bills in the house she shares with her aging grandparents, so she plans to keep her full-time job at a large retail store.

Her classes are harder than high school, but she’s determined to stay until her boss wants her to work more hours. Soon, she’s working 50 hours a week, and it’s hard to keep up with her classwork. She barely passes her classes, and she decides not to return the following semester.

Students stop attending college for a variety of reasons. Some, like Kayla, lack financial resources and have to choose employment over education. Others may lack motivation, get discouraged when trying to choose a major, have personal or family emergencies, or have helicopter parents who didn’t equip them with tenacity.

Instructors and administrators may never know why a student stops attending or participating. They may only see low attendance, lack of engagement, assignments left incomplete, and overall poor academic performance.

Measure Retention Effectively

So what is retention, and how do you measure it? It’s not attrition, which is the re-enrollment of students in consecutive semesters. It isn’t persistence, the desire and subsequent actions of students to stay in higher ed from initial entry to qualification completion.

According to Seidman (2012), it “refers to the length of time that students continue to study at a particular institution. The word is often used as a metric, measuring the percentage of students that remain in study until they have completed a particular qualification.

Although this way of thinking could work for a typical four-year university, it may not work for community and/or technical colleges, where students may leave because their objective has been reached — prior to any type of graduation, certification, or completion — and where one-year certificate or diploma courses aren’t considering in any metric due in part to the brevity of those programs.

The following is an effective metric because it counts students like Kayla, who later returns to school and fulfills her program’s qualifications:

Current total degree-seeking enrolled students – current year newly enrolled students


Past year’s EFTS* seeking enrollment (all semesters) – EFTS* graduates

*EFTS: Effective Full-Time Student or Equivalent Full-Time Study

Implement Proven Solutions to Increase Retention

Relationships are key to retaining students. The more social support systems and positive interactions a student has at the institution they attend, the more likely they are to stick with it.

Completion by Design, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, determined several strategies that institutions can implement to retain students:

  • Structured onboarding, including orientation for incoming students, high school outreach and pre-college advising, and first-year experience programs
  • Early interventions
  • Proactive advising
  • Academic maps that provide detail on the scope and sequence of courses required to complete a credential efficiently and transition to a baccalaureate degree program or the labor market
  • Instructional support and co-curricular activities, such as internships, career community activities, and clubs
  • Ways for students to build community with one another

Use IntelliBoard to Create Early Interventions

IntelliBoard makes it easy for instructors and administrators across campus to identify struggling students. Although there are a plethora of reports you can run to track student engagement, progress, attendance, and overall academic performance, here are three:

  • Inactive Users in Course(s), identify what it means to be in jeopardy for you
  • User Engagement: how much time they’ve spent in courses on activities
  • Learner Success & Progress: filter for grade ranges you want to look at, different classes/programs have different definitions of failure (like no less than B in nursing classes)

The instructor dashboard also provides a quick overview of learner engagement, including activity progress, grade averages, and the percentage of learners who engage in a specific activity.

Retention correlates with student satisfaction, better quality education, and, anecdotally, job preparedness. When everyone at an institution is building positive, personal relationships with students like Kayla and implementing research-based solutions and interventions, all of these correlations come to fruition, and everyone wins.

Learn more about running reports in IntelliBoard, play around in the demo site. If this information was helpful, let us know in the comments or email us at

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Tonya Riney, Ph.D.

Dr. Tonya Riney is the COO for IntelliBoard, Inc. Dr. Riney taught in a university classroom for more than 10 years and worked within several eLearning departments. Her PhD is in Training and Performance Improvement, with IntelliBoard being a clear passion for how it influences learning in a positive way.


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