During the last 12 months, I have spoken to and met with student support and engagement professionals in a significant number of universities across the UK.
From these numerous discussions, I have gleaned an insight into the challenges they face and what appears to be the three not so secret secrets of good student engagement.
1. Whether through informal means or via more formal attendance monitoring and recording processes, it is essential that the universities obtain an ‘early warning’ of their student’s problems and issues.
This monitoring appears increasingly to start, not from enrolment, but earlier in the new students university life; at the point the student accepts an offer of a place.
In addition, for some universities more formal attendance monitoring processes also include the use of risk factor weightings and predictive analytics in order the provide this much need early warning.
For a number of very valid reasons, most of the attention appears to be focused on ‘at risk’ students. A number of universities I have spoken to have quite rightly pointed out that that is not the entire picture, because this is not just about retention but also attainment; making sure each student is given every opportunity to maximise her or his potential to achieve their best possible outcome.
2. Recognition that “one size does not fit all” and therefore each and every individual student requires a unique, tailored and specific engagement, retention and success plan. By adopting a developmental approach, universities help students to achieve their goals based upon their abilities, circumstances and aspirations.
This sounds obvious I know, but as universities seek to improve [and digitise] their engagement processes, the method they use needs to take in to account human nature and therefore provide student engagement professionals with a solid structure, but crucially does not impose a predefined and rigid approach to student engagement.
3. Acceptance of the fact that there is no magic bullet and that therefore a single encounter with a student will not magically solve the engagement issue(s). It would appear that a consistent and protracted interaction with the student is required to ensure the student continues her/his studies and also, crucially, maximises their level of attainment.
Again this sounds obvious but as universities seek to improve [and digitise] their engagement processes, the method they use needs to provide a structure that supports a longer term case management approach rather than a series of single unrelated, uncoordinated and opaque interactions with the student.
May I thank these dedicated student experience professionals for sharing their ideas and expertise.
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