By Alexa Silverman
Campus policies on degree planning, academic progress, scheduling, and withdrawal can often unexpectedly hinder student progression. When overly lenient, these policies can make it difficult to intervene with off-track students; when overly strict, they can create roadblocks for otherwise capable students.
In many cases, these obstacles occur because students do not fully understand the policy or how it affects them. Below, we share how two institutions have changed problematic academic policies to assist students before small obstacles turn into larger retention problems.
Learn strategies to realign resources to meet changing enrollment patterns
1. Restrictive bursar holds
Small unpaid bursar balances may block students from course registration, making it more likely that the institution will lose students and revenue. Yet surprisingly few institutions inform students of financial hurdles prior to course registration. Since it is typically parents, not students, who monitor bursar statements, students are frequently unaware of an unpaid balance until the moment they are blocked from registering.
Retention staff at Xavier University audit student records for bursar holds two weeks before the start of registration. These students receive an automated email that notifies them of their status, suggests steps for resolution, and extends an offer of assistance. If students need additional support, advisors step in to provide counseling and can make small emergency grants available for the most at-risk students.
After enacting this policy, Xavier saw an 8% increase in year-to-year retention.
We also recommend that universities set a threshold below which bursar holds do not block registration. Typically, institutions set this threshold between $100 and $500, depending on the institution’s typical fees.
A data-driven approach to improving course completion
2. Unnecessary withdrawals
Students often drop courses for the wrong reasons, without fully understanding the consequences. Struggling students might just need support from a tutor to earn a C, while a student who withdraws to save money on tuition might not be aware that they qualify for additional aid.
Pennsylvania State University was able to reduce withdrawals by 40% (estimate based on 2012 data) by requiring students to complete a series of online prompts before they withdraw from a course. Students must read about the consequences of withdrawal and the resources available to them. This automated, self-service tool was enough to convince many of them not to drop.
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Academic Policy Audit