Faculty roles in student retention strategies


Prior to the global pandemic, the primary focus in higher education analytics involved enrollment and student success rates. Post-pandemic, the focus shifted to retention and completion rates. This is especially true for institutions in Texas, thanks to the 2023 implementation of House Bill 8. Funding models are now heavily based on retention and completion metrics.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, postsecondary retention rates in the United States declined most in the community college sector (-2.1 percentage points) during the pandemic. The decline proved more dramatic in Texas, where community college enrollment fell 11% during the pandemic, representing a loss of about 80,000 students, according to data from the Texas Education Coordinating Board.

Community college leaders surveyed in 2021 reported increasing student retention rates as one of their top two priorities: a comprehensive approach including flexible scheduling of courses and enhanced support services is a common strategy. While student retention is dependent on external factors — work demands, finances, personal motivation, health, childcare, etc. — research also shows a direct correlation between distinct online course elements and class retention. Executive leadership often discusses the topic of retention; yet faculty and instructional designers hold the keys to building relationships and retaining students for an institution.

Tarrant County College (TCC) is an urban, Hispanic-serving institution with six campuses. TCC Connect Campus, formed in 2014 and entering its 10th year, is the centralized provider of online courses and programs for the college. TCC Connect Campus continually exceeds the national student retention rate. In spring 2023, the retention rate was 90%, up from 88% in 2021.

This data reflects an understanding that empowering faculty is paramount to successful student retention. We employ academic strategies and campus processes directly supporting faculty efforts to retain students in their online courses, including:

  • Online instructor certification
  • Peer-developed courses
  • E-faculty coaching
  • Online faculty performance indicators
  • Supplemental evaluation feedback
  • Adoption of Quality Matters (QM) review standards
  • Data dashboards
  • Campus data team
  • Faculty and leadership resource repositories
  • Course readiness checklist

Alignment of academic strategies and campus processes is paramount. For example, the course readiness checklist:

  • Ensures that a course is student-ready and includes fully accessible content organized into sequenced modules with a Start Here page, per peer-developed course design principles. This aids student retention by offering students a consistent navigation experience. Students can focus on content rather than learn how to locate information or interact with the learning management system.
  • Includes criteria based on QM standards to check prior to the start of a course. This aids student retention by including all policies, student support services, links, handbooks, etc. Students can quickly locate the resources they need, minimizing frustration.
  • Automates requests to an instructional designer, e-faculty coach or department chair. The faculty member has instant access to support in preparing their online class. This allows them greater opportunity to focus on pedagogical elements and interaction, prioritizing their student-centric role.

Retaining students at the community college level requires collaborative, innovative and fluid thinking. Understanding the data — why students leave and why they stay — is the first step. Acknowledging that faculty are a great asset in building relationships — one student and one course at a time — comes next. The community college leader must support faculty and include academic initiatives in the comprehensive approach to increase overall student retention.

Quality courses, delivered by enthusiastic educators, motivate students to stay and progress towards graduation.

About the Author

Carlos R. Morales
Carlos Morales, Ph.D., is president of Tarrant County College Connect Campus (Texas) and a board member of the American Association of Community Colleges.
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