If you think student retention efforts are only for credit programs, think again.

Continuing education departments, that offer non-credit certificates, are in competition with not only other universities, but with YouTube, private online providers, and other time and family obligations. To cut through clutter, strategic online marketing and recruiting are now, more often, a typical part of non-credit, continuing education department’s processes, but retention is not given as much thought or focus. At JMH, we have changed that by implementing a student retention plan for non-credit certificate students that makes an impact before the student ever steps into the classroom or virtual learning environment. This approach helps our university partners to retain their students and ensure they complete the program.

Here’s what we recommend as you think about successful retention strategies.

Connect with students
For new program offerings, phone calls after a student registers are effective even when you only leave a voice mail message. Use this phone call to:

•Answer any final questions before they begin the program. For example, if it’s an on-campus program, ask if they know how to get to the campus or if they have any concerns about parking.
•Let them know what other information they will still receive prior to the start of the class – class location; technology requirements; supplies; etc.

These phone calls communicate to students the university’s commitment to their education. It also lets them know who to reach out to if they have any questions or problems.

Email communication
If you have students who are enrolled a month or more before the start of a program, we recommend email communication plans that include topics to keep your enrolled students excited about their decision to get started and further their education. The topics that you choose should be based on your audience and their needs. Here are a few ideas that we found were effective:

•Tips and techniques for success – include information about networking with classmates, study skills, and what to expect from instructors and staff
•Instructor(s) introductions – include their background and a brief bio; don’t forget fun or unique information that will help your students get to know your instructor
•What to expect from your program – include information about learning objectives, curriculum, or resources available
•Hear from our graduates – include quotes from graduates that express the value they received from their studies

Final Reminders
It’s always valuable to email students a few days before class begins with program details. Basic, but important information like class dates, times, where to go and what to expect.

If you are not sure what your students need then ask them! Use surveys of current students to determine what information they felt like was missing or what was unclear as they began their journey.

We have heard from students who were impressed with a personal phone call or emails that alleviated their concerns or apprehension about returning to school or time away from their personal or professional commitments who expressed what a difference it made on their continued decision. Utilizing these simple steps to student retention effectiveness, you will have an engaged and enthusiastic student audience before their class starts.