Guiding Student Choice to Promote Persistence

Tools, Technologies, and Policies That Support Retention and Timely Completion

This study profiles 10 innovative tools, technologies, and policies that institutions have used to improve student retention and completion rates.

Colleges and universities often have hundreds of rules, policies, organizational structures, and curricular requirements that hinder student persistence and completion. If institutions were to remove every obstacle to graduation, however, they would sacrifice the comprehensiveness and rigor that a postsecondary degree signifies.

In this study, we profile innovative tools, technologies, and policies that institutions have used to improve student retention and completion rates, each exemplifying the idea that smarter institutional design can prevent a significant share of student problems that might otherwise require advisor intervention, and that it can do so without any sacrifice to rigor or curricular breadth.

Seemingly small student choices can derail long-term plans—what's the solution?

By exploring institutional "choice architecture," academic leaders can make large strides in addressing attrition. Behavioral economists have shown the impact that relatively minor changes to policies or incentives can have on societal outcomes; allowing employees to opt out of retirement plans rather than asking them to opt in, for example, tends to result in much higher plan enrollment.

It is difficult to identify the root cause of every non-completing student’s eventual withdrawal, but in many cases, the cumulative impact of seemingly minor logistical or academic choices adds up to severe consequences. Behind the academic symptoms surfaced by an early-alert system (several missed classes, poor midterm grades) are underlying problems relating to labyrinthine support services, delayed degree progress, and cumbersome graduation requirements.

The solution progressive institutions are using to create a student-centric approach to success

By applying lessons from behavioral economics, including "nudging" students to better decisions through subtle cues, a student-centered university can retain and graduate many more students though relatively minor alterations to its structure and service portfolio.

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