Getting to the Root of Student Attrition

Getting to the Root of Student Attrition

From Memberanda, Spring 2011

According to Laura Murphy, Out of Door Academy, W. Dennis Facciolo, Tampa Preparatory School, and James R. McGhee II, Alexander Montessori School, there are three important forces at play that often encourage retention in our schools:

Inertia - The force of staying in one place and not exerting the effort of finding a new school.

Loyalty/Connections - The force of “connective-ness” to the school community that makes a move seem risky and difficult such as siblings attend/graduated, alumni parent, shared religion, and social relationships.

Teacher Participation - The force of faculty members’ awareness of their importance in retention and their full commitment to playing an active part in the process.

But a school can’t rely on these forces to stave off student attrition. In a discussion led by Murphy, Facciolo, and McGhee at the FCIS convention, participants agreed that you must identify the root cause of why a family seeks to leave the school in order to devise an effective solution. The group noted that the causes of attrition fall into three broad categories – academic, financial, and social.

If, for example, the school is experiencing attrition because of academic mismatches, the school should take steps to refine its admission process to better predict academic success. Recommendations include:

• Develop greater understanding of student/parent expectations
• Identify feeder schools with greatest potential for program match
• Improve value of class visits in the assessment process
• Conduct an SSATB Optimal Use Study to show the predictive correlations between SSAT scores and first year performance at your school

If students are leaving because parents believe the value does not match the price tag, the school should evaluate how it:

• Internally markets the school’s value/benefits
• Publicizes amount of merit and need-based awards received by graduating class each year
• Shifts major grade-to-grade tuition bumps away from grades with highest attrition rates
• Funds non-renewable awards to assist families with transition to new division/campus location
• Concentrates financial aid awards at grade levels with the greatest enrollment/re-enrollment problems
• Seeks early identification of families late in tuition payments to determine risk of attrition
• Establishes a variety of flexible tuition payment options to encourage affordability


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