Graduation time is here and there is much celebration in the air for those students who have made it across the stage and received the piece of paper that they hope will help them make their entry into the job world with a great paying job. But what about those who aren’t graduating? Currently, only 50% of the students who start a four year college will actually graduate six years from now and only 30% graduate from our community colleges. What happens?

There are several reasons why students leave a college and while conventional wisdom would believe that most are tied to finances and grades, most of them are actually related more to the lack of feeling like they belong. In the past, many institutions felt this was an area out of their control; not so. Retention and graduation rates are affected by the level of service to the student. One of the top reasons is the feeling of indifference that students get from the staff and faculty who work at the school. The recruitment process wooed the students to “choose us – we are the best school for you”! Yet, once the student had made the choice to attend the school, the indifference began.

Boring form letters identifying orientation dates, lack of easily available information regarding registration and advising, use of campus jargon yet known to new students, curt response to questions, parking tickets given without clear guidance of where parking is allowed – all little things, but they add up. The message the student feels is “how come they don’t seem to be as excited about my coming now that I’ve made my commitment to them?”

Many colleges have started retention programs, but these seem to focus on retaining the freshman student. That’s great, but most of them stop after the student makes the commitment to come back for their sophomore year. They should keep the focus throughout all four years. The key to successful students and a successful college is to see the student through graduation and have them receive that diploma with their name and college name proudly and prominently displayed in their office or home.

Developing personal connections with students at every point of contact takes away the feeling of indifference and starts to build the relationships that may last a lifetime. A Service Map is wonderful tool to help each department and area look at their processes and identify how they can enhance each of their specific touchpoints.