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What Would You Do With $1M to Support Student Persistence?

Female business person reviewing content on a laptop next to a coworker reviewing notes on a note pad.

We recently hosted a book club focused on the work of Dr. Vincent Tinto, with the most notable discussion around student retention and persistence. Dr. Tinto has spent the majority of his career focusing on why students leave college, but his work from the past few years shifts the conversation from student retention to student persistence.

It’s time for higher education to shift as well … focusing on why students persist rather than why students leave.

The Difference Between Retention and Persistence

Universities have spent years (and millions of dollars) implementing initiatives that focus on how to keep students enrolled at their institutions. From the university perspective, what’s been important is identifying why students leave and solutions that might reduce the number of students who make that choice. But let's, for a minute, follow Dr. Tinto’s lead and shift to thinking about student retention in a different way. Let’s think about it in terms of persistence.

  • Why do students stay enrolled in college?

  • Why do students keep going?

  • What motivates students to persist?

What is important to students is not necessarily where they complete their degree, but rather that they do actually persist towards degree completion.

Universities focus on how they can keep students at the same institution, whereas students focus on persisting at any college to achieve their goals. They are not committed to you as an institution, but rather committed to themselves and their success regardless of the degree they earn and where they earn it from. Students want to persist to graduation and they will do it at the place that makes it possible for them to do so. Universities need to focus not only on what they can do to keep students enrolled, but what they can do to align their initiatives with student motivations.

A Grant to Support Persistence

Despite historic efforts focused on retention, as many as 6,000 students dropout of college each day. Additionally, it is clear that student wellness plays a role in student persistence, and that students from certain racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to experience decreased wellness and, therefore, less likely to persist.

Black, Latinx, and American Indian students are retained, and persist, at levels lower than their White and Asian counterparts. These populations of students experience food insecurity at higher rates, which then contributes to poor mental health and lower academic performance, three of the biggest indicators of student persistence in a post-pandemic world.

If we know that student wellness and financial insecurity lead to lower academic performance and lower rates of persistence, then we are obligated to identify solutions to address these barriers to persistence.

The College Completion Fund for Postsecondary Student Success is an opportunity for colleges and universities that historically support black and brown students to implement new initiatives that support student persistence.

Modern Approaches to Improve Student Persistence

With up to $1 million in funding available for each recipient, the goal is to prioritize initiatives designed to directly impact the retention and persistence for both currently enrolled students, and those who are not enrolled, who are close to graduation. It’s time to identify the work that needs to be done to overcome the barriers of student persistence and drive students closer to graduation.

  • Connect with students, of all ages, where they are by using relevant technology to provide support. By engaging through the student’s phone using AI and SMS, students can find the support they need at their fingertips and without a lot of searching. They are more likely to access resources sent directly to them than to hunt those resources down in a campus office or on your website.

  • Food and housing insecurity and mental health concerns are often barriers students don’t want to admit to facing, and AI and SMS provide a way for students to get the information they need without openly exposing themselves. You know these students exist on your campus - use the technological tools available to you to share resources in a way that allows the student to control how they choose to share their story and seek those resources out.

  • With 40% of students experiencing food insecurity and a third of students facing housing insecurity, enrollment managers and student success teams simply don’t have the human resources to provide the needed support on a 1:1 level. By using technology, and leveraging partners who can provide information and data-informed recommendations, you are able to get the resources and services to students in a 1-to-many ratio.

Should your institution be an HBCU, HSI, Tribal College, or Community College who needs assistance in identifying solutions to support student persistence as part of your grant application, please complete the form below and a member of our team will be in touch to support.



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