A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Strategies for Improving Student Retention Rates

RLM - February 2023 Strategies for increasing student retention rates in RTOs 1
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An RTO’s student retention strategy is more than just ensuring the quality of training they provide. A case study mentioned that poor student retention rates don’t indicate poor training quality. Instead, it shows a lack of alignment with the RTO’s business structure. It illustrates that student retention strategies don’t start during training but when students first encounter the RTO.

In other words, conserving your student population depends on your marketing and enrolment strategies rather than the quality of your training.

Why Good Training Quality Doesn’t Lead to Higher Student Retention Rates

While you may think supplying high-quality training is enough to keep students, that often isn’t the case. In contrast, outside factors relating to your RTO business structure considerably impact student retention.

Some circumstances may be outside your control. For example, if a student experiences personal issues, financial problems, or other challenges affecting their ability to study and complete their program, even the best training won’t be enough to keep them enrolled. Additionally, students need realistic expectations about the program requirements, workload, or outcomes to avoid becoming discouraged or disengaged.

Furthermore, if the learning environment isn’t supportive, inclusive, and conducive to student success, students are likelier to drop out of their course. Factors such as the availability of support services, the quality of the physical learning environment, and the overall culture of the training organisation can all impact student retention.

How are Student Retention and Marketing and Enrolment Strategies Intertwined?

Student retention rates and enrolment strategies are interrelated. Effective and compliant marketing and enrolment strategies can attract students who are a good fit for the program, have a realistic understanding of requirements, and are likely to succeed. This, in turn, can contribute to better student retention strategies.

One way marketing and enrolment strategies can affect student upkeep is when students have clear expectations about their training. When potential students are provided with accurate and comprehensive information about the program, including its requirements, outcomes, and any support services available, they are more likely to enrol with realistic expectations. This can help prevent student dissatisfaction or disillusionment with the program, leading to higher retention rates.

Additionally, marketing and enrolment strategies that focus on student outcomes can motivate students to complete their program of study. For example, suppose students know that completing the program leads to tangible benefits such as improved job prospects, higher salaries, or further study opportunities. In that case, they may be more motivated to complete the program.

Effective marketing and enrolment strategies can also create students’ sense of community and belonging. A study on student retention found that students with a greater feeling of belonging tend to have higher motivation, academic self-confidence, engagement, and achievement.

By highlighting the successes of past students, offering opportunities for student engagement and involvement, and providing support services and resources, RTOs can help create a positive learning environment that encourages students to stay engaged and committed to their studies.

This, in turn, improves an RTO’s student retention rates.

What Are the Most Effective Strategies for Improving Student Retention Rates in RTOs?

Now that we’ve established the relationship between marketing and enrolment and student retention rate, we’ll discuss some of the best strategies for student retention for your RTO:

Streamlining recruitment and enrolment

While enrolling more students can mean more profit for your RTO, it may cause complications, specifically in terms of retention in the long run. From the beginning of the recruitment process, RTOs should set clear expectations for students about the program requirements, outcomes, and available support services.

Additionally, streamlining recruitment and enrolment ensures RTOs attract the right students for their programs, minimising their dropout risk. One way of facilitating recruitment is by setting up pre-enrolment requirements. RTOs set clear standards when considering students’ candidates’ existing skills (e.g., previous experience and certifications or LLN benchmarks for enrolment). This ensures that students have the necessary preparation and background to succeed in the program and reduces the likelihood of underqualified applicants enrolling.

By communicating pre-enrolment requirements to prospective students, RTOs can help set clear expectations about the program’s academic rigour and workload. This can reduce confusion and anxiety, which can negatively impact student retention.

Providing flexible and accessible learning options

Delivering high-quality training is a must for every RTO, no matter what goals they are trying to achieve. However, pursuing strategies for student retention isn’t enough to maintain students’ interests and keep them engaged.

For instance, in Exercise Research Australia’s (ERA) experience, faltering completion rates continued rising despite implementing “fun and engaging” training delivery. ERA’s completion rates began declining since students preferred more flexibility in their training over traditional, face-to-face classes. By incorporating online learning into their training delivery and using the right learning management system (LMS) for their RTO’s needs, they were able to improve their student retention strategies, onboarding, and enrolment processes.

Support services

Academic challenges, financial burdens, personal issues, and community involvement are some factors that affect program completion. While student support services are available in most RTOs, lack of transparency makes them less effective.

To improve strategies for student retention, RTOs should provide access to student support services and create awareness for these aids. This can be done during marketing, enrolment, or the students’ onboarding process to ensure understanding and access.

  • Academic Assistance
    Academic assistance can come through tutoring, study groups, and other resources that help students improve their understanding of the course material and develop effective study habits. Offering this support also enhances students’ engagement rates, giving them more confidence to complete their studies autonomously.
  • Counselling
    Providing emotional support and guidance to students dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues can significantly lower dropouts. However, a recent study by Active Minds showed that 55% of students don’t know where to ask for help despite the abundance of counselling services available. Additionally, some students are reluctant to attend counselling due to misconceptions and the stigma attached to mental health-related issues. To address this effectively, RTOs should equip trainers with the knowledge to identify students needing counselling support. By asking probing yet simple questions, instructors can discover valuable information about students’ well-being. Monitoring student progress through participation, attendance, and grades can also help trainers identify students needing professional help.
  • Career planning and guidance
    Career planning and guidance can help students develop a sense of purpose and direction and provide them with the tools and resources needed to make informed decisions about their future. This increases student motivation and engagement since completing the program can bring tangible benefits such as improved employment prospects and better salaries.

Personalised support

Personalised support refers to individualised attention and assistance tailored to each student’s unique needs and circumstances. It can increase student engagement rates and improve student retention strategies.

By providing this service, RTOs can help students feel valued and supported, which can increase their engagement with the program and motivation to succeed. Personalised support can take many forms, including one-on-one academic assistance, mentorship programs, and individualised study plans.

RTOs can also provide personalised support through regular communication with students, which can help build relationships and a sense of community. This can include regular check-ins with students, giving feedback on their progress, and offering opportunities for students to connect with instructors.

Continuous feedback and assessment

Continuous student feedback and assessment are effective strategies for improving student retention rates in RTOs. These strategies involve gathering student feedback throughout their studies and using it to improve the program.

By soliciting student feedback, RTOs can gain insight into what works well and what areas need improvement. This can help to find any issues or challenges preventing students from succeeding in the program, such as complex course material, unclear instructions, or insufficient support services.

Using this feedback, RTOs can make ongoing improvements to the program, such as adjusting course materials, adding additional support services, or improving communication and instruction. This helps address student retention issues and creates a more engaging and supportive learning environment.

Continuous assessment is also essential to this process, allowing instructors to track student progress and identify areas where additional support may be needed. Regular reviews and feedback can help students stay on track and ensure they receive the support they need to succeed.

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is a student retention strategy that acknowledges and values a student’s prior learning, skills, and experiences. RPL can be an effective way to help students feel recognised and valued for their prior knowledge, increasing their motivation to continue studying.

Students entering a training program often possess knowledge and skills gained from prior experience, work, or training. RPL recognises these past experiences and gives students credit towards their training program, reducing the time and cost of completing it. Through RPL, RTOs can help build a student’s confidence and self-esteem by emphasising that past experiences and achievements are valued and relevant.

RPL can also help create a more personalised learning experience, as students can assess their prior learning experiences to decide which parts of the training program they already know and still need to learn. This allows for a more tailored and efficient learning experience, which can help students stay motivated and engaged in their studies.


In conclusion, to enhance student retention in an RTO, it’s vital to go beyond just offering high-quality training. Factors such as the learning environment, personal challenges, unrealistic expectations, and insufficient support services can negatively impact it.

RTOS should employ effective marketing and enrollment tactics to attract students who are a good fit for the program and possess realistic expectations. Moreover, fostering a sense of belonging and maintaining a positive learning atmosphere can encourage students to remain committed to their studies.

Tactics like simplifying recruitment and enrollment processes, providing flexible learning options, and utilising online platforms have proven effective in enhancing student retention. By prioritising these strategies, RTOs can create a more supportive, engaging, and positive learning environment that facilitates students in achieving their educational goals.

Take the first step in improving your RTO’s student retention rates, and enquire now!

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