Attracting students to your university is one thing, but what are you doing to keep them there? Countries worldwide struggle with undergraduate retention rates. According to OECD figures reported in the Guardian, 71 percent of graduates complete their studies in the U.K., while 49 percent of U.S. and 31 percent of Australian students do the same. (These figures are for students who either drop out altogether, or take longer than four years to complete their studies.)

Low retention rates hurt universities through loss of funding and morale. While some students decide to leave their undergraduate studies for reasons lecturers can’t realistically prevent, there are ways to make courses more accessible and interesting for all students, not just ones already excited to be there.

The following tips can benefit any lecturer looking to keep students enrolled in—and engaged with—their courses.

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Australian Education Minister Simon Birmingham has urged universities to be more transparent in their policies and course descriptions. Students who don’t understand the requirements of their program, or the purpose of an assignment simply won’t be as successful.

    You don’t have to restructure your courses by yourself. Incorporate student feedback from course evaluations to stay fresh and relevant.

  3. Always be innovating
  4. Topics in your discipline might remain constant, but the way you present the course can transform all the time. If something feels stale, flip it around.

    If you’ve looked at flipped learning in the past, the concept has progressed significantly beyond PowerPoint. There’s now less emphasis on lectures and more on collaboration and different kinds of content consumed outside class. And if your students aren’t doing the readings or buying the textbook, use interactive course content—or create your own. Check out Top Hat’s guide to get you started.  

  5. Provide equal access and opportunity
  6. Mature students and those from a lower socioeconomic background are more likely to drop out. Factors such as finances or balancing school and other responsibilities like children or work contribute to whether these students complete their program. As a lecturer, you can provide students with equal opportunity by improving accessibility and flexibility.

    Recording your classes through an active learning platform like Echo360 lets students watch your lectures at a time that works for them. If students are not regularly attending class or tutorials, consider adding in alternate methods of discussion, such as a forum. It may not solve the attendance issue, but students receive more ways to take part in a community.

  7. Transform your courses with active learning

When you move away from traditional ‘sage on stage’ teaching methods, you help students prepare for real world discussion, and you let them interact with course material on a deeper level. Learn more practical steps on  incorporating active learning into your classes with Top Hat’s active learning handbook.

There’s no single cause for low retention rates. But in a world where students live increasingly complex and distracted lives, have pressing financial concerns and are attending college at different times of life, the most important traits for any teacher to possess will be patience and a capacity for communication.


Laura McClelland

Laura McClelland

Laura McClelland has a B Ed. at Brock University and focuses on incorporating technology into the classroom to make lessons more engaging and accessible. She is an occasional teacher with the Waterloo District School Board.