Experiential Learning and Retention

About one in four college freshmen leave their school do not return for their sophomore year. So why, when faced with such a big problem, would I decide to talk instead about the importance of experiential learning in college at the Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience?


Because one of the big reasons why some students decide to drop out of college is that they don’t see how it is relevant in their lives in the twenty-first century.  If you are paying a lot of money (as well as taking on student loans) and also think you are not getting anything out of it, you might very well decide to focus elsewhere.


The number one reason why students go to college is to get a better job. If you don’t think college is going to do that, then you look elsewhere.  And there are more alternatives to college now than ever before with the proliferation of online learning in many forms (some free) and bootcamps such as General Assembly that provide immersive training in specific areas that is designed to get you that better job in less time and for less money than college.



Experiential learning programs can bridge that gap. Students with internships or coops are much more likely to see the relationship between what they are learning in school and what they are doing in the workplace. The research shows that these students also have greater gains both in college and after they graduate. They also have stronger ties to their alma mater after graduation.


Given the importance of helping students obtain internships and coops to retention, success in school and the future, as well as stronger alumni ties, you’d think that colleges and universities would be putting lots of support into this process. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.


It’s time that higher education leadership recognizes the importance of this work, especially as potential students move towards alternate pathways to the better job that they are so focused on.