SABES Guide to Student Persistence

Student Persistence is a priority in adult education. With attrition rates at 70%, practitioners are looking to change their methods to keep their students. The System for Adult Basic Education Support (SABES) created a publication in 2009 at the Annual Summer Directors’ Institute on Student Persistence Strategies. Here are some of the highlights!


Have a concrete and comprehensive orientation

  • Make sure students feel welcomed from the beginning. A successful orientation and intake paves the way for students and increases retention. Conduct a focus group with current students to see what worked and where there are areas for improvement from their orientation.
  • Invite students to attend a general information session, observe a class or meet with a current student before orientation so they are better prepared with questions.
  • Provide students with a handbook of policies, helpful information about the larger agency, program brochures, and counselor’s contact information.
  • Explain that the program is free to them, but costs $50/day in tax dollars and you the money is wasted if they do not show up.
  • Address what your policy is about stopping out and make sure learners are aware of what their options are. Let them know what the policy is for missing a class or any type of absence.
  • Use current students as ambassadors to sing praises about your program, but then leave the room so learners can feel comfortable asking questions about the schedule and expectations

Placement and classes

  • Make sure learners feel welcomed with the titles of programs. Some may be embarrassed or turned off by being placed in “pre-GED” classes. Try renaming them GED 1 & 2 so it appears to be more sequential and that the learner does not feel his intelligence is belittled.
  • Have a class that is focused specifically on skills needed to succeed such as study skills, time management, note taking skills, and other support skills that help with student success.
  • Have a starter class for very low level ESOL so they can get individualized help to catch up with the class.

Staff interaction

  • Have directors, counselors and teachers greet learners at the door each evening and address as many by name. If someone is new, be sure to let the teacher know and escort him or her to their first class.
  • Follow-up with new learners one and two weeks after starting class to address any problems that might occur.
  • Make sure receptionists and teachers are prepared with talking points for addressing students who want to stop the program
  • Create multiple options for students to stay connected when they aren’t in the program. (Ex. Social Media, Online Learning, etc)

In-Class help

  • Create a visual pathway so learners can see where they are in the process of achieving their goal.
  • Discuss potential barriers with students from the start. Based on the feedback, provide resources and suggestions to support students and incorporate positive strategies in the classroom.
  • Invite former students to come back and talk about their success so your current students are motivated and inspired.
  • Develop content based on common themes of interest.

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