How to Retain More Students to Graduation: Embed Success Science

Samiha is a college freshman. Despite coming from a home with limited financial resources, Samiha was able to develop her artistic talents through part-time work in a local shop where she made weekly changes to the display window.

With the help of a school counselor Samiha created an art portfolio and was accepted to a college with an art program. Now she is a freshman there and on academic probation. A friend of hers is a client of mine. But Samiha cannot afford to pay anything, no matter how much she wants what her friend is having. I’d like to change this story.

What’s Working

By some standards, college attendance in the US is a remarkable success story. After all, nearly 4 out of 5 high school grads will enroll in college within 8 years of their high school graduation. That’s 80% of them. Sadly, retention of these students is quite low.

Nearly a quarter of the undergraduates in the United States are placed on academic probation at least once during their college tenure, and of these students, close to 40% do not go on to graduate from college.

The High Cost of Student Failure

Many undergraduate colleges and universities–maybe yours–have first-year programs in place to prevent academic struggles. These may focus on remedying academic under-preparedness; reluctance to seek help; interference from known disabilities; and financial, family, personal, or social challenges. But many students–as many as 25% of freshman–still end up on academic probation. The costs of this are high–in raw dollars spent, defaulted loans, and unrealized dreams. Families, colleges, lenders, employers, grant providers and government are all affected. To the student, the costs stretch far beyond the financial.

New Pathways to Success

Fortunately, we know some things about what works. Large-scale studies, especially in elite institutions, have found that high graduation rates are correlated with proactive and intrusive advising programs. Early warning systems to monitor student performance result in higher GPA’s the term following academic probation, and a higher likelihood students will return to good standing and eventually graduate. The gold standard, however, is working with a highly skilled 1:1 coach. But these programs are expensive. It’s time to infuse them with Positive Psychology success science and bring them to scale and affordability. One such project I’ve authored is now a curriculum that can bring 52 weeks of success science, potentially to every youth athlete in ANZ/Oceania, for under $30 USD per person. It launches this month.

As the world’s leading expert in applying positive psychology for students of all ages who have learning challenges, I’ve studied at UPenn with Martin Seligman and numerous experts in the field. I have over 30 years of experience working with struggling students across the age span, including college students who are in academic difficulty. They may have many reasons for struggling, including undiagnosed learning challenges, lacking necessary skills, or being emotionally under-equipped to self-motivate. And that is the short list.

What Works?

By teaching students to identify the strengths and resources they already have, and helping them also reach out to new resources of which they might not be aware, the result has been that every one of my struggling students has gone on to succeed and graduate from college, and even professional schools. I am currently exploring whether and how what I have learned about embedding positive psychology can be made more broadly applicable to help students who cannot access a full 1:1 coaching engagement. Find out more.

Could Your Institution Be First?

My first goal is to find a group of students like Samiha who are currently enrolled in college or university and struggling to succeed. Since I have never lost a client student to dropping out, I’d like to see this work extend more broadly, beyond my own work as a successful coach and consultant. Who can benefit from this more broad-based approach that embeds positive psychology success science into best practices the college or university already offers? Perhaps you!

Your input is needed in customizing the design for this new approach. What can be most helpful and engaging to students, and in what form, while potentially maximizing the value of their college education? I look forward to input from a variety of stakeholders, especially students. Are you or your college or university struggling with retention? Let’s get started. Contact me here.

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