Retention Tension: Dropouts, Engagement and Competency-Based Education

As an academic director, faculty frequently sent struggling students to my office. These students were at risk of being kicked out or doing their best to drop out. From high absenteeism to nonexistent study habits, there was a host of symptoms that contributed to the students’ challenges. But, regardless of the symptoms, I found that student engagement was at the heart of the matter.

More often than not, the cause of disengagement stems from students’ struggle with the short game: the homework, midterms, presentations, final exams and stress over GPA. These struggles often cause them to lose sight of the long game: earning a degree that would afford them career opportunities and financial security. These students become more and more disengaged as they fail to make the crucial connection between the short and long games.

Enter competency-based education (CBE), the learning model making waves in all higher ed circles. This approach relies upon teaching clearly defined competencies of applied knowledge. Students are absolutely aware of the connection that learning has to the skills they need to reach their ultimate goal – a job.

With CBE, short-term classroom assignments have been fused seamlessly to the long-term goal, and so many of these problem students won’t struggle to stay engaged. Higher education veterans are well aware of the major impact that student engagement has upon retention. CBE models naturally cultivate environments that help problem students make the crucial connection between learning and employment, simultaneously boosting engagement and retention.

Are you struggling with helping your students understand how the short game is related to the long game? Take a look at the step-by-step CBE process that one school used to engage students to reduce its dropout rate by over 25% here.


Pretty compelling presentation--thank you.

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