Today’s students face very different life realities than their predecessors. Because of this, higher education leaders are learning to prioritize student persistence over retention. But it’s not easy.
Educators (including faculty, administrators, advisors, career counselors, etc.) will need to pay close attention to the social-emotional concepts that drive persistence. Let’s explore four reasons college students might persist in their education:
1. College students persist because they believe they are capable of success.
The mind is a powerful thing. A student who believes they’re capable of setting and accomplishing their goals is more likely to succeed. In fact, how capable and successful a student believes they can be is just as important as actual academic performance. Think of it in the context of career opportunities after graduation. It’s rare for potential employers to check a candidate’s GPA, but they’ll surely assess things like confidence and motivation. Both are facets of self-efficacy.
If educators want students to succeed academically, they’ll need to help foster self-efficacy in their students. Some faculty may argue that’s not part of the job description, but North Central Texas College’s Dr. Cherly Furdge calls on her colleagues to think differently about it:
“I remember sitting in a division meeting with my faculty and one professor stated the students in his class couldn’t write. I asked him why in that case, he was giving so many multiple-choice exams. When we identify a weakness that our student population is experiencing, it should be our goal as educators to address it. I can hear the response now: ‘but I’m not an English teacher!’ You don’t have to be. Give the assignments and advise the students to use the writing lab. Implementing assignments that are more pleasant for you may be setting the students up for failure in that area.”
2. College students persist because they are genuinely interested in what they learn.
Research shows that when college students understand and follow their own interests in school, they’re more likely to get through the challenges of higher education, earn better grades, and finish their degree programs. Interest assessments and career path tools are a great way to make this happen. A fascinating study by Dr. James Rounds and Dr. Rong Su found that college students’ interests are:
- 21.7% predictive of college persistence
- 26.6% predictive of grades in college
- 35.4% predictive of degree attainment
When students can identify their unique interests and align them with their course loads and majors, they’ll be more likely to persist. In fact, interests are powerful enough to predict career success. Which leads us to the next point . . .
3. College students persist because they are confident this will lead to their ideal career.
A recent survey by Gallup and Lumina Foundation found that 94% of respondents’ ideal job requires at least one credential after high school. That same survey found that 56% of students who withdrew from college over the last few years have considered returning to school. And 40% of adults who never attended college said they would consider enrolling to earn an associate degree or certificate of some sort. So even though college enrollment has fallen, there’s this potential uptick to consider.
To help students persist, advisors and career counselors can equip them with tools that let them take ownership of their college-to-career path. One way to do that is through self-awareness assessments and/or career exploration platforms. These tools can open students’ eyes to career possibilities they may not have been aware of – and help uncover the practical steps to get there. More on that here.
4. College students persist because they feel a sense of belonging at their school.
The college years are fraught with unfamiliar responsibilities and less parental support than some students are used to. This, paired with the trauma of the last few years, has translated to a staggering mental health crisis within colleges and universities: more than 60% of students meet the criteria for at least one mental health issue. Additionally, the highest rate of mental health treatment for Asian, Black, and Latinx students is at or below the lowest rate of treatment for white students.
Educational persistence cannot happen if students are disregarded, stressed to the point of burnout, or so mentally unwell they can’t attend class. On-campus mental health support must be accessible to all students. For more information about how to amplify mental health services at your institution, be sure to read this blog post.
Support isn’t limited to the counseling office. The University of Texas at Austin’s Steven Mintz makes a compelling case for faculty involvement:
“I worry that too many faculty members (myself included) feel frustrated and annoyed by the demands that students place on our time. Too often, we begrudge their impositions. We regard their need for advising and guidance as a nuisance and a hassle. We treat the effort spent developing their basic academic skills or providing feedback as a burden and a waste of our precious time. We especially resent the social justice demands they raise . . . mentoring students doesn’t come with the job. It is the job.”
That last sentence is powerful. Stay tuned for the next post about other ways to prioritize persistence, especially for at-risk students.