I've been doing some work recently on student retention and student attrition in higher education. You might have seen me writing about a Tribal presentation on data sources for inputs on student retention business intelligence systems. That work has also included an analysis across a number of different studies into student retention in higher education, and what is clear is that there are some common factors to student retention, and causes for student attrition, that are used by every project that I've read.

So based on six studies, which also contain a number of meta-studies, amplifying the sample, here's the top five factors affecting student retention.

  1. Academic performance at entry - in Australia, a student's ATAR score
  2. Socioeconomic background
  3. Ethnicity
  4. Gender
  5. Highest level of education achieved by the student's parents

In each study, there are a mass of other characteristics – between a total of seven and 37 depending on the depth of the analysis, but these first five appear on the list for every study that I have read so far. Which means that with an effective combination of institutional business intelligence and CRM, you could forecast your student retention rates across different courses and faculty before the Academic year has even started, and start to improve it from the same point.

The challenge of student retention in higher education is not significantly different to other industries, but at the moment it seems that we're further behind in applying systems to help manage and improve student attrition rates, and in identifying and clarifying ownership of the challenge in each institution.