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Keep Students Coming Back: Quick Tips on Student Retention

by Nic Lyons

Keeping the students you have is easier than attracting new ones. They already trust you and they know how interesting or valuable your classes can be. But easier isn’t the same as effortless. Ensuring that your current students keep enrolling takes effort and planning.

Student retention all boils down to giving students a positive experience from registration through follow-up. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to enroll in your program. Then, offer the support and sense of community they need to keep coming back.

Of course, all of that is much easier said than done. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure it out alone. We’ve found six ways to increase student retention and keep students coming back class after class.

1. Set Clear Expectations

Some surprises are good. Others, not so much. If you’re surprising students by offering a better learning experience than they expected, you’re already ahead of the student retention game. In general, though, students should know what to expect when they enroll in your classes. 

They should be aware of any prerequisites, the expected time commitment, and what tools or materials they’ll need. If you don’t clearly communicate these details, some students might drop out partway through a class. Others might power-through, but choose not to enroll with your program again. 

Well-designed course catalogs and registration forms can help you avoid unpleasant surprises. Make sure you include all of the details that students need to succeed from the first class session. A positive first experience with your program will increase student retention. 

2. Make Registration Easy

People tend to avoid unpleasant tasks. The more time-consuming and difficult something is, the more likely you are to put it off until tomorrow. Even if you offer an exceptional class experience, students may not re-enroll if they know the registration process will be difficult. 

Make class registration as easy as possible by simplifying registration forms, offering online registration, and integrating secure payment options. When you make registration simple, students are more likely to enroll again and again. 

3. Encourage Feelings of Belonging

Everyone wants to feel like they belong. You can improve student retention by building a learning community. This is especially important for online classes where students may not get the chance to socialize. Your social media platforms are an ideal place to do this. You can: 

  • Post instructor profiles
  • Share snapshots of classes in session
  • Show off the results of a session (artworks from an art class, food from a cooking class, shelters built during a survival class)
  • Ask students to share photos of them using their new skills in their community
  • Host mixers or free information sessions
  • Publicly congratulate students on their successes

Even online students tend to enroll in courses that are close to home. By claiming your place in the community, you invite students to engage more deeply with your programs. 

4. Show Students What to Do Next

Adult Ed and Enrichment programs are often designed to stand alone. A student could take just one course and learn the basics about cooking, accounting, or wilderness survival. But if you want to keep students coming back you need to show them how your classes fit together. 

Highlight connections between courses by: 

  • Grouping classes together in your course catalog 
  • Emailing current students with a list of related classes based on their interests
  • Asking students in feedback surveys if they’d like information about related classes
  • Asking instructors to mention upcoming classes to their current students

5. Keep the Conversation Going

Asking someone for their feedback helps build trust, especially if you demonstrate a real willingness to change. At or near the end of each class, invite students to fill out a feedback form. Not only does this show students that you care about their opinion, it also makes you aware of opportunities to improve your courses. Showing students that you care and are willing to improve makes them more likely to return. 

You can also ask students to opt-in to email marketing about upcoming courses. That way you can email them when your new course catalog comes out or when registration opens for classes that might interest them.

More programs are also starting to interact with current students via text message. They’re a powerful way to stay in touch and make sure students are aware of new opportunities. 

6. Remove Barriers to Student Success

Don’t just think about what would invite students to return. Think about what might actively prevent them from showing up. An amazing learning experience might as well not exist if students can’t access it. So think about what might prevent them from finishing a course or re-enrolling. 

Money can be a barrier for many students. Help minimize this worry by offering payment plans for big-ticket courses. You might also show your appreciation to returning students by offering special discounts. Don’t forget that your current students are your best marketing resource. To encourage referrals, consider group discounts or family discounts. 

The Most Powerful Way to Improve Student Retention

Ultimately, the most powerful way to improve student retention is to offer high-quality classes and then invite students to engage with them. It really is that easy. Clear communication, simple class registration, and a sense of community will keep students coming back class after class.

Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.