Mr. Assem Elsayad is the academic affairs and training manager at Saudi German Hospitals group in the UAE, he is responsible for establishing an education system within the institution with its relevant governance, and improvement policies and procedures. He has 15 years of working experience in higher education, his areas of expertise include creating policies and standard operating procedures, academic data analysis, students’ records, students’ advising and support, quality assurance, accreditation, and academic collaboration. Mr. Elsayad holds a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and is currently an MBA student at the University of East London, he has attended various development programs and conferences on higher education administration, quality assurance, accreditation, and sustainability.
Student support and retention are two critical components of higher education systems that can significantly impact on a student’s academic and career outcomes. Student support can be defined as assisting students with academic and non-academic factors in a way that leads to a better student experience and academic achievement, while retention refers to the ability of students to complete their degree programs while remaining at the same institution.
In this article, I will emphasize the importance of promoting student support and retention for both students and institutions; give examples of academic and non-academic subjects, and provide examples of strategies that education providers can use to improve student outcomes.
Focusing on student support and retention is highly important for students as it significantly impacts their overall experience and academic progression. For example, students would prefer to stay in an institution that considers their academic and non-academic issues, listens to them, provides solutions, and takes steps to get students more engaged and better supported.
For institutions, this focus on student support and retention will positively reflect on an institution’s reputation and sustainability as the institution will be able to attract higher caliber students and retain them until they finish their degrees, resulting in improved funding. In addition, the positive outcomes and feedback obtained from students about their overall experience will position the institution better within the community as student experience is a metric used for evaluating educational institutions.
To provide a better understanding of how student support and retention can contribute to a better student learning experience and improved reputation for the institution, several tools, academic and non-academic can be used.
- Program rigor is one of the critical factors that impact on the student’s learning experience. Offering challenging and relevant courses should prepare students for better results in their studies and improve their career opportunities, but it also requires institutions to prepare their students properly to succeed by utilizing appropriate support and resources and having regular reviews on their programs considering input from academic staff, feedback from students and input from external stakeholders (e.g. employers).
- Academic advising and support are one of the initial academic support services that institutions should offer even before students enroll in their studies. Academic advising should help students make reliable decisions about their courses, academic success, and career planning. Academic support also focuses on services such as counseling, tutoring, and supporting students with special needs or learning difficulties. Throughout my career, I have had an experience when one institution established a unit that is dedicated to students’ (academic) advising and support and I have seen the positive impact on students when this unit started to operate, the unit used to provide counseling services on academic progression, university regulations, learning difficulties, and future employment opportunities.
- Departments should allocate an Academic Tutor to each student to help identify and support students who struggle academically and help with the early identification of ‘students at risk’ of achieving poor results.
Talking about the overall students’ experience, we should also consider the non-academic factors as critical factors contributing to student’s success and retention.
- Extracurricular activities can lead to emphasizing that students are part of the institution. Encouraging students to be engaged in campus activities such as clubs, community services, and sports promotes a sense of student belonging. It also helps keep the students motivated and allows them to utilize their skills and use their different abilities without worrying about results and grades.
- The more students feel they belong to and are part of the institution, the more they will persist in completing their degree inside the institution. Student counseling, allows students to freely express their concerns, life challenges, and personal problems within a welcoming environment that assures confidentiality and diversity.
Looking at the factors contributing to promoting student support and retention can help us identify different strategies that institutions can use. For example:
- Early identification of at-risk students: Institutions should use data analytics to monitor academic progress and intervene early with targeted support, based on a proper analysis of the collected data.
- Institutions should provide a range of support services including counseling, career services, financial aid, and services to students with special needs, to ensure that students have the resources they need to progress. These services can help students overcome academic, personal, and financial challenges that can negatively impact their experience and as a result their retention.
- Faculties can also play a critical role in promoting student support and retention. Engaging the faculty in student support initiatives and providing them with training and resources to identify and support struggling students can improve student outcomes.
- Institutions should also create a supportive and inclusive learning environment that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. This can include providing access to resources, promoting cultural awareness, and fostering a sense of community among students.
- Leveraging technology can be an effective way to promote student success and retention. Technology can be used to provide personalized learning experiences, facilitate communication and collaboration, and track student progress.
- As we live in the era of Artificial Intelligence, it is obvious that the young generation has become more attracted to modern technology and is more motivated to use it with their studies and other aspects of their lives.
There are various AI technologies that can be utilized for leveraging students’ experience, such as personalized learning, adaptive assessments, early warning systems, predictive analytics, virtual assistants, and intelligent tutoring systems. AI personalized learning can provide personalized recommendations on the best learning style for each student and these recommendations are based on analysed data on a student’s academic progress and personal needs.
AI adaptive assessments are another data-driven tool that can recommend the best assessment style for each student and it can also provide feedback on the student’s strengths and developmental areas. AI early warning systems use analysed data to early identify possible at-risk students who might be moving towards withdrawal or dropping their academic performance. These systems will be helpful for tutors and administrators in detecting the best support for these students at an early stage.
Virtual assistants are wonderful tools as they provide students with real-time interactive support and these tools are AI-based and can respond to students’ queries and provide personalized recommendations for them.
Student support and retention should be a critical part of any institution’s strategy and methods for promoting these areas should not be established on an ad-hoc basis but should exist from the beginning. Institutions should promote a culture where both academic and administrative staff understand the importance of continuously finding ways to promote and improve the students’ experience and train them on methods for achieving this purpose. Staff should also be able to share their views and ideas about the challenges they face and possible improvements.
It is also vital to include the use of technology in the institution’s systems for promoting students support and retention, with the continuous growth of AI, AR, and VR, it is obvious that these tools can help and can motivate students to be part of the improvement plans