Using Surveys to Improve Student Attrition and Graduation Rates

stressed out student

Student attrition and graduation rates can be a major pain point for educational institutions across the U.S.

Disruptions to the classroom environment from the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, have thrown a wrench into the capacity to keep students enrolled. 

Many schools are left asking what they could have done differently to prevent students from leaving for another institution or dropping out of school entirely. It’s an issue that probably looks a little different for every educational institution out there.

While there are many ideas to combat declining student enrollment and graduation rates, online surveys are the best tool for getting to bottom of why students withdraw from school.

An organized way of collecting feedback from students and parents can be a great first step to addressing the problem.

This post dives into the challenge, solution, approach, and results associated with a student attrition study conducted by Drive Research for a charter school client in New York.

More concerned with retaining teachers? Here are 5 ways to reduce teacher turnover rates at your school.

Challenges Behind Student Drop-Out Rates 

The charter school client for the research study originally came to Drive Research for help with recent student attrition. A concerning number of students at certain grade levels were not enrolling for the following school year.

Without prior research, there was uncertainty as to why students may be leaving. The role of COVID-19 and its impact on in-person learning was of interest to the client as a potential factor. 

The client wanted to also understand if the decision to withdraw was more of a “push” or “pull”. A “push” was classified as a negative experience driving families away from the school, while a “pull” was considered an outside factor such as a family moving or favoring another school more for their child.

Drive Research was tasked with identifying these underlying causes for low student retention as well as where families were transferring their students to next. The ultimate goal of the research was to reduce student attrition for the charter school client.

Getting Feedback from Students Who Withdrew

The recommended methodology for the student attrition study was two-pronged. Our higher education market research company recommended conducting an online survey which was supplemented by telephone surveys to maximize the sample size.

For more in-depth discussions to explore the thought process behind student enrollment and education preferences, parent focus groups may be a good fit for schools.

Because respondents no longer had a relationship with the charter school client, participants were offered a $5 gift card as an incentive to complete the survey. This reward was key to encouraging participation.

The education client provided a list of records that featured email addresses, phone numbers, and various student information.

This list was used to send an email campaign to all the records inviting them to participate in the online survey. Those who did not respond were called in an additional effort to have them complete the survey over the phone.

The target audience for this study was families whose child or children withdrew from the charter school sometime in the past four years. Anyone who met this criterion was considered to have valuable feedback for the client.

Recommended Reading: How Market Research Can Help College Enrollment Efforts

Process for Using Surveys to Improve Student Attrition

The actual process for the study went as follows:

  • A kickoff meeting with the client was held to discuss objectives and the target audience
  • The survey was designed to directly address client objectives; key questions included:
    • How likely would you be to recommend the charter school to a friend or family member?
    • In your own words, why did you leave the charter school?
    • What was your top reason(s) for leaving the charter school?
    • Did you discuss your concerns about the school with your child's teacher or principal?
    • What role, if any, did COVID and associated remote learning policies play in your decision to withdraw your child from their school?
    • How would you compare your child's next school to the charter school they attended previously?
  • Fieldwork was conducted over 7 week period consisting of the online survey and follow-up phone surveys. The client-provided list of families with children who withdrew from the charter school was utilized.
  • Data analysis and reporting were conducted following fieldwork. A topline report in Word format was drafted for the client to outline key findings and takeaways from the research.

Results of the Student Attrition Survey

At the conclusion of the study, Drive Research collected a total of 462 responses to the survey. This exceeded client expectations of 375 responses as a part of the original goal.

The margin of error for this study was 4.6%. This means if a total of 462 responses were collected from another probabilistic sample, the results would yield within +4.6% to -4.6% of the stated totals in the report.

The client was satisfied with the results of the student attrition study. The findings from the research revealed key areas within the charter school that can be improved to retain more students in the future. The results were actionable and statistically reliable.

Contact Drive Research to Conduct Education Surveys

Drive Research is a market research company located in Syracuse, NY. Our team has expertise in the education sector across a variety of research studies for our clients. We are ready to take on your next project to collect feedback from students, parents, teachers, or administrators.

Ready to talk more? Reach out to our team via any of the following methods:

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology.

Learn more about Tim, here.

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