If you’ve ever taken time to reflect on your achievements, you’ve probably noticed that the key ingredients in your successes are things like clear focus, direction and purpose. Not only did you know what you wanted to achieve, and how you wanted to achieve it, but most importantly you also knew why you were doing what you were doing.
That ‘why’ question is a crucial ingredient to student success and therefore to student retention. A person entering university may know what they want to do, and they may know how they want to do it, but if they don’t know why they are doing it, the chances of them dropping out are greatly increased.
Universities can therefore improve student retention by taking steps to ensure their students know why they are doing what they are doing. Put another way, they need to give direction, as opposed to giving directions. Simon Sinek helpfully distinguishes between these two concepts, saying that whereas directions are “instructions given to explain how,” direction is “a vision offered to explain why.” So how can universities do this?
A key part of the solution lies in demonstrating to prospective students and existing students where a degree can lead them in terms of career options after they graduate. This is not, of course, to deny the value of the education as good in itself, but it remains the case that students will begin a career after graduation, and so giving them clear, evidence-based career direction can be used as a big motivator.
Achieving this is not as difficult as it may sound, but can be done by linking degrees to labour market insight, particularly data on occupation demand, salaries, and careers that require a similar skillset. By using such information, a university can give students clear direction, help them to answer that crucial ‘why’ question, and so make them far more motivated to continue their studies.