Capturing Retention Conversation

Responding to students who are a retention risk helps you understand their challenges and respond appropriately.

By Amber Sandall, Campus Sonar Research Manager

Let me be nerdy for just a minute. I recently worked on our Engagement Opportunity Alerts service and made some updates. After an internal discussion, we realized there was a chance to evolve what we offer for Engagement Opportunities based on The World, asking ourselves, what could we capture in online data that's most relevant to our clients right now? The answer quickly became clear: retention data.

With a vision in mind, any social listener worth their salt has to operationalize what that looks like in practice. What’s the goal behind capturing those types of mentions? What might the mentions encompass? What key terms and language relate to this topic? So I sat (virtually) with Beth Miller, our Client Success Manager, to answer these questions and figure out what to look for. 

Social listening software dashboardWe dug in and identified our why: ensuring we can inform our clients when topics related to retention and melt appear in online conversation so they’re aware of challenges to student retention and can respond appropriately.

As a social listening researcher, I constantly seek patterns. There were four that came out of my conversation with Beth that are now topics in our clients’ conversations when we look for engagement opportunities.

  1. Who may be considering a change in their post-secondary plans in the fall?
  2. Who may be facing hardship or lost opportunities that make it challenging to continue or complete their education?
  3. Who may be thinking about transferring from (or to) your campus?
  4. Who may be really missing campus?

My favorite part came next—figuring out how people talk about these topics. Beth had a wealth of campus-related information to get me started determining keywords and terms. Using those, I wrote Boolean rules. One of my favorite ways to approach Boolean building is thinking about language structure. For example, Beth and I identified a set of verbs and nouns for each topic. So for some of the topics, instead of just searching for those verbs and nouns within a campus’s dataset (which would have generated more irrelevant and less actionable results), I put context around them in the form of pronouns. When thinking about defer, who’s deferring? I, she, he, or a possessive pronoun like my kid, our daughter, etc. 

The second question to answer is when. Did the consideration about deferment already occur or is it currently happening? That answer helped me figure out the right verb tenses to consider with certain pronouns when writing my Boolean. At the end of the day, to capture people talking about deferment that hasn’t already happened, I’d write something like this.

(((I OR she OR he OR “I am” OR “I’m” OR “she is” OR “she’s” OR “he is” OR “he’s”) NEAR/3 (considering OR “thinking about”)) NEAR/5 deferring)

This Boolean would capture instances of a personal pronoun within three words of “considering” or “thinking about”—and within five words of “deferring.” 

The next step is pulling out the thesaurus (er, thesaurus.com) for other terms to include—how do people talk about deferment? They may say gap year or year off or postponing their next semester. Before finalizing the Boolean language, I tested it in several existing higher ed datasets, which helped me find more synonyms as well as terms to exclude that may generate false positives. In all, the Boolean I wrote to find conversation related to these four retention topics came out over 1,000 words. More nerdery: it was really fun. 😀

I know student retention is a focus, and especially in today’s world. If you (or your team) can monitor social sites for individuals at your campus talking about these topics, you’ll likely find conversations! And if you want to respond to individuals indicating a retention risk, but don’t have the capacity to find these opportunities, we’d love to support you and your team. If you're interested in learning more, set up a meeting with our Account Executive, Nicole Baldassarre, for a 30-minute exploratory call.