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Strategies for Improving Student Retention

“As a team, it was important to us for our project to speak to both learner and program interests, concerns, and issues.”

Team Retention Remix

by Alonzo Ricks

Team Members Project Summary:
  • Debbie Elliott, Cornerstone Learning Center, Campbell County Public Schools
  • Dr. Marie Shepherd, Portsmouth Public Schools
  • Karen Bynum, Portsmouth Public Schools
  • Tawana Ford, Isle of Wright County Schools
  • Ginger Hilleary, Piedmont Regional Adult and Career Education Programs (PRACEP)
  • Katie Irby, Southside Virginia Community College Adult Education
  • Pat Johnson, Petersburg City Public Schools
  • Marisa Parker, Portsmouth Public Schools, ISAEP, Adult Education
  • Alonzo Ricks, Portsmouth Public Schools, ISAEP
  • Windell Roquemore, Richmond Public Schools, ISAEP
  • Robin Rose, Suffolk Public Schools, The College & Career Academy at Pruden
  • Peer Coach: Megan Pugh, Thomas Jefferson Adult Career Education at Piedmont Virginia Community College (TJACE@PVCC)
Learner retention is a problem for programs no matter the size. We can often get learners “in the door,” but keeping them is an issue programs regularly grapple with. The Retention Remix team created a comprehensive survey and sought feedback from the field looking for new and creative ideas. The survey will be available to programs who can use it to help determine and address issues.


Team Retention Remix is a cross-regional team comprised of 12 members from a variety of perspectives—experienced teachers and program managers/coordinators representing adult education and Individual Student Alternative Education Plan (ISAEP) programs. We set out to identify ways to improve student retention and develop a resource tool for programs so that we are better suited to make sure that students finish up and not lose their focus to graduate.

As a team, it was important to us for our project to speak to both learner and program interests, concerns, and issues. Student retention issues include feeling disconnected from their program, lack of interest in pursuing goals or not knowing what their goals are, obstacles preventing students from reaching their goals, and social/emotional situations. Program retention issues that we identified consist of funding impacts, reaching Educational Functioning Level (EFL) gains, and graduation rates. We set out together to address these issues by working as a team and collaborating on strategies to keep students engaged in the educational process and improve student retention in our programs.

How we decided to begin was to find ways through surveys sent out to different programs across the state to see what problems they might have been experiencing with their students. We met virtually at least once a month and together, we developed an electronic survey for distribution to adult education and ISAEP programs across the state. We then began compiling the survey results in order to develop a resource document of suggested strategies for improving student retention.

Thanks to the project-based learning model, we engaged in sustained inquiry. We asked and answered questions to help us make meaning of and organize our project work.

  • How does our project involve real-world context?
    • Retention and commitment to attend is reflected in all aspects of life (professional and personal).
  • How will our project make an impact?
    • Provide strategies to assist programs in retaining students.
    • Determine whether the issues are COVID-19 related or not.
  • How will we incorporate digital literacy/blended learning?
    • Provide a digital tool for programs to utilize.
  • How will we ensure quality of our project?
    • Conduct a follow-up survey to see if the resource tool is helpful to the various programs.

The bulk of our time was spent developing a comprehensive survey instrument and getting feedback on it. We went through several iterations of the survey in order to condense it down while still being able to get the most information out of it and determine what was working and what was not across the state.

As we did not receive as many responses to the survey that we would like, we hope to take feedback received from the AE&L ReMix Showcase attendees, revise the instrument, and collect more responses in order to inform our next steps.

From this experience with project-based learning, our team learned that we all were really in the same boat as far as keeping students engaged and wanting to be a part of the programs with so much going on in the world and in their lives. We hope that other adult education programs and staff can take from our experience that you are not alone in your sometimes frustrations about enrollment or even with people starting and not finishing your program(s). We hope that you will engage with us and complete our survey so that we can take the information given from programs across the state, compile and list the greatest areas of concern regarding retention, and fully implement a tool to help everyone keep students staying in our programs.

Take a look at Retention Remix’s survey. Provide them answers about your program or give them your feedback.

Padlet logoWe are including some of the comments received for each showcase team. View more of the showcase discussion in the 2020 AE&L Conference ReMix TeamShowcase Padlet.

“I have similar challenges as Retention Remix. Retention is a challenge for so many programs.  I really appreciate that you chose that as your topic and you shared your outcomes.  Thank you so much!”

“I was inspired by the survey. Kudos to the Retention Team!  Understanding what the programs feel affects retention is important.  I would love to see a survey that is learner focused.”

“We are always searching for ways to retain our learners.  We know how important it is to keep them engaged and create community.  I loved that the focus wrapped up key ideas into one lovely package.  Thank you.”

Alonzo RicksAlonzo Ricks has been an educator for the past 15 years with Portsmouth Public Schools. Throughout this time, he has worked at Churchland High School, New Directions Center, and I.C. Norcom High School. He is currently teaching business and ISAEP classes at I.C. Norcom High School. When he is not in the classroom, he can be found on the football field having recently been named head coach at Nansemond River High School.

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