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Research to Practice: Increasing Retention Through Student Success

By Kari Malitz and Sarah Nixon-Ponder

Improving retention in adult literacy programs is an area of great concern for both instructors and administrators. Yet exactly how this is achieved remains an actively debated topic - and even somewhat of a mystery. In gathering information on this subject, through discussions with people in the field, looking at research studies and examining past experiences, we have compiled not only examples for program implementation but also some philosophies that we believe need to be intact within literacy programs for retention to increase.

The purpose of this Research to Practice is to examine the problem of retention in adult literacy programs. We have adapted and expanded on ideas from Tracy-Mumford's Student Retention: Creating Student Success to provide tangible examples for implementation. As you will see when you consider these recommendations, a learner-centered program is a MUST for those interested in improving retention.

Program Implementations:
Work with students to build self-esteem by helping them set reasonable goals that can be reached in a short period of time by:

Build trust between instructor and student and help the student to conquer self-doubt through positive feedback by:

Build on support that includes immediate and extended families by:

Talk with students about their return to school and ask them about their previous experiences by:

Counsel students on education and career planning by:

Create a learner-centered program by:

We believe that attention to the following issues will assist in improving retention.


  • Tracy-Mumford, F. (1994, March). Student Retention: Creating Student Success (Monograph No. 2). Washington, DC: National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium, Inc.

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