Amelia Herring

Student Retention: What Do You Do When “Life Happens”

Student Retention: What Do You Do When “Life Happens”
Amelia Herring

When adult educators get together and discuss their concerns, student retention is always mentioned as a major issue. This should not come as a surprise, though, because adult education is tasked with serving those most in need.

Adult students come to your classes for a multitude of reasons:

  • To get their GED
  • To learn to speak English
  • To help their children with homework
  • To go to college or get training
  • To get a job or job promotion
  • A judge has ordered it
  • They dropped out of school and now want to finish

No matter what level a student is at – Literacy, ABE, ASE, or ESL – he wants to reach his goal. However, as we say in the field, sometimes “life happens,” and the student drops out. Student retention is not only a problem in adult education; it is also a problem for high schools, training programs, and higher education.

Why did she drop out when she was doing so well? Why did he quit coming when he had completed two levels and always had great attendance? Here is what it means when students say “life happens,” in their own words:

  • “My child got sick, and I couldn’t come. Then it just was too hard to come back.”
  • “I had to start working overtime and just did not have time.”
  • “My mother got sick, and I had to take care of her.”
  • “I lost my job and had to look for another one.”
  • “My friend quit, so I didn’t have a way to get to classes.”
  • “My husband didn’t want to me go to school anymore.”
  • “I had to get a second job to pay our bills.”

What steps are working to help your program with student retention? Some programs have classes that run for a semester; they feel the start/stop date helps retention. Other programs feel charging a small book fee gives students a “buy in” to the program. Many programs have attendance policies in place, and others have a counselor who works with the student from orientation to completion.

Do you have an admissions risk profile assessment that gives your staff information about potential risk factors that often contribute to a student dropping out? The results provide your team with the information needed to get additional support for the student – childcare, extra tutoring, transportation help, etc.

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