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Instructor's Role in Student Retention

A page within CATL Instructor's Guide to Inclusive Excellence


Much of the literature on student retention focuses on university-level policy and practice, things like data collection strategies, financial aid policies, housing issues, campus climate.  But considerable research indicates that the quality of a student's relationships on campus is the critical factor in whether a student stays at a particular school or in a particular field, or not. 

Many instructors can relate to this insight.  Perhaps you can remember teachers or members of your college's support staff who demonstrated that they cared whether you succeeded or not.  Especially for students who feel perpetually "different," sometimes even just one person makes all the difference.  Imagine how much better it would be for those students if they encountered many such people. 

So:  the first strategy for retaining students is to build quality relationships with them. That is even more critical for retaining students from historically underserved groups. In fact, the development of academically purposeful relationships between students and instructors is a critical reason why "high-impact practices" have such a high impact.

The next strategy is good teaching. Research indicates that good, student-centered teaching benefits nearly all students. Indeed, nothing substitutes for it.

Finally, students will not persist in our fields if they decide that they cannot succeed.  Universities and instructors are more likely still to underserve students from historically underserved populations, so strategically attending to students' success in the classroom is an important third strategy.

This section of the Instructor's Guide to Inclusive Excellence explores some specific approaches to building quality relationships with students, and some specific strategies to support student success at the level of a course.  For general strategies to support your continual growth as an outstanding teacher, see CATL's Teaching Improvement Guide.  Other sections of this guide address issues especially related to inclusive excellence;  see the "equity strategies" section, for example.