Summer Slide: Retaining Adult Learners Through the Long Break

Retaining students in online programs is not just a goal; it’s a mission. For online programs catering to non-traditional and adult learners, the summer semester signifies the peak of potential drop-offs. Balancing work, family, and education is demanding, and the allure of a break can be irresistible. Many institutions see a significant decline in returning students during this period, it is not new or unique to any one program or degree level, so what can be done to mitigate the impact of the summer slump?

Beyond the Numbers

The financial impact is stark. When students don’t complete their programs, universities lose valuable tuition revenue. Beyond the immediate loss of tuition revenue, universities face a broader financial strain resulting from decreased enrollment rates. This can create ripple effects, impacting course offerings, faculty positions, and the overall quality of education.
But the impact goes beyond dollars and cents. Universities thrive on their reputation, and incomplete programs can cast a shadow. Student non-completion can paint a negative picture of the university’s commitment to adult learners. It sends a message that the program wasn’t flexible enough, supportive enough, or engaging enough to meet their unique needs. This can damage recruitment efforts and erode trust among prospective students, creating a ripple effect that extends far beyond the summer months.

Navigating the Summer Slide

So, how can we prevent this annual exodus? The key lies in understanding the “why” behind the wanderlust. College students today have many reasons to leave before graduating, including rising student debt and tuition costs, academic challenges, and both physical and mental health concerns. Keeping students enrolled and engaged requires a solid, measurable strategy that directly addresses student retention and success.
Many adult learners juggle work, family, and other commitments, and summertime offers a welcome respite. However, this break can also be a point of vulnerability, where the momentum wanes, and the return to academics seems daunting.

Strategies for Success

As universities aim to enhance student success, a clear understanding of the factors influencing retention becomes imperative. The commitment to improving online graduate student success involves reviewing data, defining clear goals, and developing holistic strategies that encompass both in-class and out-of-class experiences.
Here’s where proactive engagement becomes crucial:
  • Embrace proactive outreach: Don’t wait for students to reach out. Implement proactive outreach strategies, using data analytics to identify at-risk students and provide personalized support. Check-in regularly, address concerns promptly, and offer guidance on navigating potential summer roadblocks.
  • Build flexible pathways: While unplanned academic breaks are inevitable, proactively establishing a return plan is critical to ensuring students successfully re-integrate into their studies and mitigate the risk of indefinite leave. Consider incorporating flexible course scheduling/sequencing designed for seamless re-entry to further support their transition.
  • Stay connected: Maintain communication throughout the break with personalized check-ins and offer guidance on navigating potential summer roadblocks. Let them know they’re not alone in their academic journey. Meet them where they are.
  • Build community: Foster a sense of belonging through virtual events, online forums, and peer mentorship programs. This creates a supportive network that motivates and encourages students to stay on track.

Retaining Adult Learners

At Elsmere Education, we understand the complexities of adult learner engagement. Our proven student success and retention services are designed to help universities implement these strategies effectively.
By working together, we can turn the summer slide into a summer stride, ensuring that more students return energized, engaged, and on their path to academic success.

Ready to discuss how Elsmere Education can help you navigate the summer semester and beyond? Contact us today to explore how our comprehensive approach can empower your university to achieve its student success goals.


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