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Strategies to Promote Retention and Persistence

Retention and persistence are at the forefront of higher education. For some educators, the word “retention” is academic-speak for lowering standards so all learners can pass. Not so. As educators, there is an opportunity to impact retention by developing a positive learning experience for our learners.  While learners can and should take ownership of learning, there are small adjustments educators can make to classroom management techniques and teaching practices to increase engagement and foster community. 

Who is at risk? 

Horton (2015) described learners at risk of not completing their courses as those who show signs of being academically under-prepared. Additional identifying risk factors include: 
  • First-generation  
  • Low socioeconomic status 
  • Learning disability 
  • Unrealistic expectations of college

Manageable techniques to increase engagement 

  • Take attendance. Who is missing? Why have they missed? Reaching out to absent learners with a positive tone increases rapport and demonstrates your interest in the student’s success (Frisby et al., 2014). 
  • Speak up early. For learners who are struggling and/or absent from class, connect with an adviser or use CMU's Take CARE process
  • Establish clear expectations while also being flexible for learners who struggle to grasp concepts.  In such cases, extra time to complete assignments may be key to retaining a learner who may feel like giving up. 
  • Discussion-based learning. Utilize discussion-driven learning to foster a sense of community. 
  • Connect with a success coach. Conveniently located in a variety of locations around campus, success coaches assist learners to achieve both academic and personal goals. Per internal data, 95% of learners coached would recommend the support to a friend or classmate. 
  • Know your student resources. The Office of Student Affairs has provided a list of student-facing resources (e.g., Counseling Center, Math Assistance Center, Writing Center) and their area of oversight. Consider sharing this information in your Blackboard shell and syllabus.

Be an advocate 

Create a culture of inclusion, one that is welcoming and supportive. While you deliver the best-in-class support, be intentional about holding office hours to individually mentor learners. As you identify gaps in learners’ performance, connect learners to campus services for additional support. Your advocacy will graduate more learners, at a reduced cost, with better outcomes.    

Additional resources

Lang, J.M. (2016, Jan.). Small changes in teaching: The first 5 minutes of class. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Learning Students’ Names. (n.d.). University of Nebraska. Retrieved from 

Lunde, J.P. (n.d.) 101 things you can do in the first three weeks of class. University of Nebraska. Retrieved from 

Building Rapport. (n.d.). University of Nebraska. Retrieved from 

Twelve Icebreakers for the College Classroom. (2018). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from


Elliott, D., Gaminio, M., Jenkins, J.J. (2016). Creating community in the college classroom: Best practices for increased student success. International Journal of Education and Social Science, 3(6).

Frisby, B.N., Berger, E., Burchett, M., Herovic, E. & Strawser, M.G. (2014). Participation apprehensive students: The influence of face support and instructor-student rapport on classroom participation. Communication Education, 63(2).

Garibay, J.D. (2015). Creating a positive classroom climate for diversity. UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development. Retrieved from  

Horton, J. (2015). Identifying at-risk factors that affect college student success. International Journal of Process Education, 7(1). Retrieved from 

Meyerson, D., Weick, K. E., & Kramer, R. M. (1996). Swift trust and temporary groups. In R. M. Kramer & T. R. Tyler (Eds.), Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research (pp. 166-195). Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.  

Vesely, P., Bloom, L., & Sherlock, J. (2007). Key elements of building online community: Comparing faculty and student perceptions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3(3). Available online at