Student Recruitment or Retention?

The economic implications of the alarmingly high rates of attrition for enrolment management was anticipated more than 30 years ago by John Gardner during the early stages of the freshman-year experience movement he helped launch: “Higher education must make changes if it is to survive in anything resembling its present form, the student has become a precious commodity. Institutions must now concern themselves with retaining students so that, if nothing else, budgets can be preserved” (Gardner 1981, 1986). Therefore the question that needs to be asked and answered is, should institutes of higher education be focusing our resources on recruiting students, or rather focus on retaining the students who have already enrolled in our institutes?

Broadly speaking, research in retention can be categorised (Matinez, 2001) as

  1. Research that investigates the perceived problems of dropout or failure to achieve qualification goals.
  2. Research that identifies possible solutions: how providers can improve or raise retention and achievement rates.

It is widely documented that ‘the student’ is becoming scarce, and what with decreasing birth rates, educational institutes are vying and are in competition with each other to recruit the desired student. However, perhaps the focal point of our concern should be maintained on the current student and ensuring that they progress, complete their studies and earn their award. There are significant reasons for focusing on student progression, such as the students own learning and development, the university/college finances and educational institute assessment. Also the retention of a student has implications over a 4 year degree programme, recruitment focuses on year one. Vince Tinto, a recognised retention scholar, notes that strengthening institutional efforts aimed at increasing student retention may be a more effective enrolment-management strategy than devoting additional resources to increasing student recruitment “As more institutions have come to utilize sophisticated marketing techniques to recruit students, the value of doing so has diminished markedly. Institutions have come to view the retention of students to degree completion as the only reasonable cause of action left to ensure their survival.” (Tinto, 1987)

It is imperative that student retention be given the same, if not more, value in strategic planning and delivery on this in 3rd level educational institutes.


Gardner, J., (1981) Developing faculty as facilitators and mentors, In V. A. Harren, M. N. Daniels, & J. N. Buck (Eds.), Facilitating students’ career development (pp. 67-80) New Directions for Student Services, No. 14. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gardner, J. N., (1987) The freshman year experience, College and University, 61(4), 261-274.

Tinto, V. (2987) Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures for student attrition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Matinez, P. (2001), Improving Student Retention and Achievement, Learning and Skills Development Agency Report




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