How to Transform Your Higher Education Staff into “Retentioneers” | npENGAGE

How to Transform Your Higher Education Staff into “Retentioneers”

By on Jul 9, 2019


For academic leaders, recruiting and solidifying the right students is top priority. But what happens after they arrive on campus? Two million first-time, full-time students who begin four-year colleges each year drop out before earning a diploma.

Do you have a comprehensive retention plan to keep your students engaged and help them reach their academic goals? Your faculty and staff play a critical role in creating a culture of retention. And what if you could transform them into “retentioneers” for your institution?

Retentioneer (ree-ˈten(t)-shən-ear) – noun: the architect, and engineer of retention strategies to facilitate the matriculation of students. A sworn adversary of attrition and student success obstacles.

Here are 5 ways that academic leaders can foster a culture of retention among faculty and staff, leverage digital tools to increase engagement at every stage of the student life cycle, and empower students to reach their academic goals.

  1. Define Success

Develop long-term goals for retention—where do you want to be 3 to 5 years from now? Determine what success means on your campus. Your retentioneers to define success can include IT, data analysts, advisors, faculty, and all student services. Each person will share a different perspective and the result of their influence will be actionable items that are targeted to specific populations on your campus.

Pro Tip: Defining success means bringing together retentioneers to determine what numbers are your institution’s measurement of success.

  1. Analyze Data to Identify Dropout Drivers and Success Indicators

Data is important and a trusted retentioneer will be the data analyst. Examine sub-segments, such as courses with high fail rates, degrees/majors, and financial planning. The data your IT department can access will tell the attrition story on your campus. Identify what makes a student successful – profile positive indicators of successful students. Determine success strategies and replicate across campus.

Pro Tip: Assess national trends and review your institution’s historical data to identify dropout trends and success indicators.

  1. Encourage Cross-Department Collaboration

Share your findings with all stakeholders: staff, faculty, administration, and students. Encourage them to work together to assign a committee and develop an action plan. Create student focus groups to collect feedback on your action plans along the way. It’s helpful to temperature check the relevance of your ideas.

Pro Tip: Most importantly, know your technology and what can be automated. Robotic process automation can automate repetitive tasks, lifting the burden of these mundane tasks and elevating your staff’s impact with more fulfilling work.  Software can follow logic, but retentioneers provide judgment and engagement.

Learn more about robotic process automation in episode 95 of The sgENGAGE Podcast: What the Heck is Robotic Process Automation? (and Why Your Organization Needs It)

  1. Equip Your Team with Effective Engagement Tools

Empower your faculty and staff to engage with students the way they expect – digitally. Today’s students are accustomed to information and communication tools (email, text, social media, mobile app, online community groups, etc.) all at their fingertips. Equip faculty and staff with tools that will facilitate and track every interaction, whether digital or face to face. By leveraging technology, staff and faculty will have time to delight and exceed student expectations with meaningful face-to-face interactions.

Pro Tip: Be intrusive! You will never read results of a satisfaction survey with comments like “my professor cared too much, they called me if I was gone from class, they remembered my name, and they emailed me about my homework.”

  1. Measure Your Impact

It all comes back to your data. Analyze it to understand what strategies were most effective, rinse and repeat. With more engagement channels than ever before, what worked last year might not today. It’s important to continuously measure your impact to see if and where to shift your focus.

Pro Tip: Retentioneers are the sworn adversary of student obstacles. The most important action step of all; celebrate your retentioneers contributions in all your initiatives, implementations and victories.

Watch the full on-demand webinar to learn more about how to start fostering a culture of retention today.


Michelle Clifton is a champion for all things higher education. Throughout the last 20 years, her career has had a common thread to align strategic goals and technology to improve operational efficiency and impact student success. Michelle serves as the Higher Education Solution Marketing Manager at Blackbaud. In this role, she works closely with various teams to bring to the education industry solutions that empower academic achievement.    

Before joining Blackbaud, Michelle was the Associate Dean at The Citadel Graduate College, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management at UA- Fort Smith, leadership instructor and has served in various capacities within the higher education software industry. 

Comments (4)

  • Sage says:

    I’m in love with this Pro Tip: “Most importantly, know your technology and what can be automated. Robotic process automation can automate repetitive tasks, lifting the burden of these mundane tasks and elevating your staff’s impact with more fulfilling work. Software can follow logic, but retentioneers provide judgment and engagement.”

  • Jessica says:

    Easier to keep a leader and all of their institutional knowledge than get and train a new one.

  • Sara Deur says:

    Defining success seems so simple, but it’s often overlooked. Thanks for the tips and reminders!

  • Becky R. says:

    On the eve of our autumn Open House event, I’m reminded that it’s important to look at recruitment through the retention eye. Our schools will be far more successful if we attract students through a process that’s designed to keep them engaged the whole way through their journey.

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