Messaging to Improve Student Retention


Student retention is one of the major issues in higher education with the undergraduate graduation rate hovering around 60% (NCES). Freshmen arrive on campus excited and ready for a great experience. Once the welcome week is over and classes begin reality sets in.

Communication is the key to success in any relationship including the relationship between a university and its students. With class schedules in full swing, communicating students can be more challenging. When students start to struggle, support resources available to them are forgotten and difficult to find. A strong communication strategy that keeps students engaged will have a positive impact on student retention.

Student Transition

What if student retention was increased? A recent study looked at the ripple effect of increasing student retention rates by 15% for a single class entering two- and four-year universities.

The findings show that raising the graduation rate for one class would:

  • Increase employment by 107,400 for just this class
  • Increase annual wages for 730,000 additional two-year degree holders by an average of $4,849
  • Increase annual wages for 520,000 additional four-year degree holders by an average of $19,034
  • Reduce the number of people in poverty by 48,000
  • Over the course of their lifetimes increase the amount of local, state, and federal tax revenue by more than $90 billion.

These findings are significant! They show positive impacts on individuals as well as society as a whole.

By contrast, students who take out student loans but never finish are three times as likely to default on their loans, earn lower incomes throughout their lives, and have higher rates of unemployment.

Universities already implement a variety of retention strategies including orientation programs, welcome week activities, service projects, first-year seminars, academic advising, and learning communities.

While these strategies are important in student retention, are different strategies needed?

Common Reasons Students Dropout

Students give a variety of reasons for leaving school. The most common reasons fall into five categories.

  • Financial—Students can struggle with the cost of higher education.
  • Homesick—Students miss the comfort and security of home.
  • Academic—Students aren’t prepared for rigorous course work.
  • Social—Students have trouble making friends, fitting in, or may get into the wrong group.
  • Unclear direction—Students lack a clear direction and don’t see a reason for being in college.
Freshmen struggle with many things

Other Reasons Students Leave

Students leave college for other reasons that may be more difficult to identify or admit.

Year of Transition

The transition from high school to college is likely the most significant transition students have experienced. They are adjusting to a new environment and at the same time, have a wide variety of opportunities presented to them. They are juggling busier schedules, keeping up with multiple deadlines, and trying to meet challenging academic expectations.

Helicopter parenting has also negatively impacted students’ ability to manage this transition and succeed in their freshman year. Students with helicopter parents may be more dependent, anxious, struggle with academics and have trouble making decisions on their own.

Hidden Agenda

The “hidden agenda” at universities is hard to define but can present challenges for students. One University of Miami freshman commented, “I expected my classes to be hard. I didn’t expect life to be so hard.” This can be especially true for special groups such as students with disabilities, first-generation college students, and underrepresented students.

The new, unfamiliar environment with different expectations can be hard for students to navigate. Their known and trusted support systems are gone or not as helpful. In addition, students may not be comfortable asking questions or be willing to admit that they are struggling with things other students appear to be handling.

Communication Strategy that Works

Universities provide a variety of resources to meet diverse student needs, but students can have trouble finding and/or accessing these resources. They can be overwhelmed and get frustrated looking for help when they need it.

A successful communication strategy includes targeted messages through a variety of channels that students are already using.

College students prefer texting

Peoplocity’s Messaging Channel

College students today have never known a world without technology. 98% of students have a smartphone and are rarely without it. They use it to connect and communicate with their world. The social media channels they use have changed how they take in and process information. Read our blog on why students don’t read email.

Universities typically rely on email, a student portal, phone calls, and face-to-face communication—not students’ preferred channels. The email open rate for students is only about 20% and phone calls and face-to-face communication are even less comfortable for them. On the other hand, 96% of text messages are read within the first few minutes of being received.

Peoplocity’s messaging platform provides a personalized channel to communicate with students. Messages are targeted based on demographics defined by the university such as international, first-generation college students, as well as the year in school and academic major. Universities can deliver information, answer questions, resolve issues, and gain insights to keep students engaged, and connected, leading to greater success. ​​

For students, Peoplocity is a simple, private messaging app to get information and reminders. They can also use the app to ask questions and get help throughout their student journey. ​

Benefits for Universities

  • An efficient way to provide reminders and updates at critical times, when students most need them.
  • Effective way to interact with students at critical points in the first-year journey.

Benefits for Students

  • All important information and resources are easy to find in a single app.
  • It provides an easy way to ask questions when they aren’t sure who to ask.
  • Reminders and updates keep them on track for success.

New generations bring new opportunities for more innovative and effective strategies to help students succeed and stay in college. Universities need to continuously evolve with their students.

About Peoplocity

Peoplocity provides a messaging platform to communicate more effectively with students. Students use a personalized mobile app to ask questions and get help. Universities use a cloud-based platform to respond to students and to deliver information, reminders, alerts, and updates to students on their personalized mobile app.


This blog is part of an on-going series focused on student engagement. Click here to get notifications when a new blog is published.



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