On Teaching: Summer Engagement Strategies

Summer is fast approaching and it is time to start thinking about vacation, family time, and for many college administrators, student retention. During this time of year, students also begin to think about time with friends and family. Too often the summer turns quickly into fall and, before you know it, several students have decided not to come back to college. How can we counteract this? What can we do to encourage students to continue pursuing their fashion degree?


Photo courtesy of Yellow Brick Road

I began observing post-summer retention several years back when I began noticing a handful of students saying the same thing before the summer break: they were going to take time off to spend more time with friends and family. Of course they all said they would be back after a little time off! Sadly, almost all of them did not return. Many students I followed, I’ve come to find out, never went back to any college to finish any type of degree. I wanted to know if this happened to more colleges and what others were doing to mitigate these circumstances.

An average of 60% of the students who leave college do not return to the same institution (Bushong, 2009). Research shows student retention varies from college to college, and that students leave for various reasons. One commonality appears to be the loss of students after their first year. Much of the research surrounds incoming freshman and how to ensure academic success during and after their first year. A negative experience could be more impactful to freshmen than to their more academically advanced peers and lead to a freshman’s withdrawal from school (Roberts & Styron, 2009).


Photo courtesy of Teen Life

All students face transitional adjustments when pursuing a college education (Budny & Paul, 2003). To aid in this adjustment and to attempt to create positive experiences for students, I have begun creating an engagement strategy to help mitigate these circumstances.

  1. During the break, provide service-learning opportunities. For those students wanting to do something meaningful during their break, I have set up opportunities to work with a group of peers to help local businesses. For example, students will have the opportunity to intern or volunteer with charities such as Dress for Success and the local senior center. The administrators for these groups and I worked to prepare a two-to-three week project where students work with an underserved or needy market to research and analyze a pressing issue, and then prepare and implement a solution. While they may not be taking college courses or even step onto a campus, the students will remain connected with the college through these sponsored events.
  2. Encourage summer school with additional, free workshops. For those students who would have withdrawn from school after taking the summer off, providing an incentive to return for summer school is another initiative I am introducing. Starting the first week of school and spanning the remainder of the summer quarter, students will have the opportunity to meet outside professionals and learn additional skills through workshops in between class times. Topics for the workshops are developed by surveying students, particularly those at risk, and include topics such as couture techniques, fashion journalism, and fashion photography.
  3. Host a college job fair. One common reason students leave school that  I have observed is because of financial difficulty. Students often need college jobs to help them meet their bills and provide a more comfortable life. To assist students in securing these college jobs, a job fair held during the beginning of the summer quarter will encourage students to return to campus and create support outside the classroom for the students.
  4. Provide internship opportunities to all students. In addition to the college job fair, internship sites will also be on campus during the beginning of the summer quarter. Top fashion colleges offer internship opportunities to students at all levels of the program. In addition, providing internships to students early in their program will allow students to build an impressive level of experience in the industry while still in college (Roth, 2014).

These four engagement strategies are developed to provide student engagement and build value with the college. While these are developed based on research conducted around first year students, I believe they will also engage the entire of the student population. To measure the results, the retention data from the Spring, Summer and Fall quarters the previous three years will be compared to the retention results of this year. If there is an increase, the initiatives will be improved and implemented again next year.


Photo courtesy of Kingston University

Not all students will return to college or continue to pursue their degree in fashion. However, by attempting to understand the reasons they decide not return that are within our control, hopefully we can influence more students to continue their education. Providing engaging and positive experiences over the break may be just the thing to improve post-summer retention. 

What do you do to encourage student progression?  What other options do you think this initiative could benefit from?


Budny, D. D., & Paul, C. A. (2003).Working with students and parents to improve. Journal of STEM Education, 413(4), 1-9, Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=1&sid=0bf0c440-9eb8-468d-aa4a-f1574e545740%40sessionmgr111&hid=114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#db=pbh&AN=96336714.

Bushong, S. (2009). Freshman retention continues to decline, report says. Chronicle of Higher Education, Retrieved from http://chronicle.com.libpdb.d.umn.edu:2048/article/Freshman-Retention- Continue/42287/.

Roth, L. (2014). The Top 50 Fashion Schools in the World: 2014 edition. http://fashionista.com/2014/12/top-fashion-schools-2014, Retrieved on May 25, 2015.

Robert, J. & Styron, R. (2009). Student Satisfaction and Persistence: Factors vital to student retention. Research in Higher Education Journal, Retrieved from http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/09321.pdf.


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