How can FE colleges use data to boost student retention?

Andrew Frazer, COO at Glantus, explains that by adopting a strategic approach to data, FE colleges can quickly solve their funding challenges and get back on the road to victory

Data from day one

The use of data needs a refresh in further education (FE) colleges. Whilst they are currently facing numerous challenges – from Government spending cuts and rapidly decreasing resources – they also have a huge opportunity to become far more strategic.

The first day of the new academic year is filled with excitement, opportunities and ideas of what the following weeks and months will bring. However, the first day of term is also when the first deadline for colleges officially begins: to retain the necessary funding, students need to complete a qualifying period, which for a full-time student is six weeks (42 days). If a student doesn’t complete the first 42 days of study, the college will lose its funding for that student, which is a situation no college wants to be in. If this happens, the college then needs to find another student to fill the gap – and quickly.


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Whilst no college can guarantee this won’t happen to them, there is something they can do to mitigate the chances. To reduce the number of student dropouts during this crucial period, having insight into student engagement is key. Colleges that understand how engaged their students really are, and therefore how likely they might be to encounter issues or want to terminate their place on the course, will be more likely to spot these potential issues before they arise. The secret is data, which is something all colleges should have access to.

A data dashboard that analyses not only student attendance, but completion of initial assignments or deadline extension requests within the first few weeks of the course, can quickly give colleges the insight needed to identify any students that might be ‘high risk’ and spot patterns amongst other students that are showing signs of low engagement. Having this insight once the initial 42 days are over isn’t good enough; data needs to be gathered and analysed from the moment term starts so that measures can be put in place before a situation becomes irreversible.

This insight can also highlight improvements that need to be made in other areas, such as tutor performance. If, for example, data shows there is a low level of student engagement or attendance in one particular class, this could highlight improvements in teaching that need to be made, or where adjustments to the curriculum could be beneficial. Additionally, comparing this insight to historical data can inform other patterns and analysis; has this drop in student engagement happened in previous years, or is it the first time? Data is the magic wand that all colleges need to keep their funding safe.

The secret is data, which is something all colleges should have access to.

All eyes on the data

Unfortunately, despite this data and level of insight available for all colleges to take advantage of, many still aren’t accessing and analysing the data they hold, leaving many valuable insights uncovered. Realistically, colleges not only need to access and analyse their data, but they need to treat it as a high priority. Staff in FE colleges are undoubtedly stretched, but only looking at data patterns at the end of each term isn’t enough.

Data needs to be seen as a top priority in order for changes to be made that can increase student engagement and therefore improve retention. For time-poor tutors, a quick but regular glance at the right data, at the right time, in areas such as exam results, finance, staff performance, student retention or engagement is enough to give a snapshot of what is happening across the college. From this, a deeper dive can be taken to understand why something is happening and what measures can be put in place to fix it.

By embedding data analytics into the daily processes of a college, it means they should never have to uncover hidden surprises. Having a clear understanding of how students are performing at any time should mean student dropouts (and therefore a loss of funding) should be limited, or even eradicated altogether, and it should mean the college is able to confidently report on every area whenever requested.


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Buying time

Colleges, like many other organisations, are short on time. But using data efficiently and effectively buys colleges the time they need to remove the data blindspot and turn negative situations into positives. These learnings can then be applied term on term, year on year, to keep the college performing to the best of its ability.

A change in mindset to become much more strategic with data analysis, with an approach that is adopted not just by a single member of staff, but the whole college, means that colleges can get student retention back on track and defeat the 42-day deadline.