It Takes New Enrollment Efforts To Get Results Today

Maybe there have been times as tumultuous as these, however, I do not remember them. We had real estate and economic crises a while ago. They negatively affected higher education enrollment, yet today’s publicly expressed anti-university sentiment seems new to me. It is true that some institutions cost more than a mortgage in a nice area, and that some do not see more than half of their incoming students graduate within six years. I am going to chalk that up to poor management.  However, with anecdotal evidence of having been an enrollment management leader for several decades, I will posit, based upon recent conversations, that most institutions really do care. And that many are trying really hard to find their north star.

From what I have heard over the last year, there are a few challenges facing us – you’ll not be surprised.

  • We thought we’d be immune to the demographic cliff (we just need to work harder)
  • Our student success efforts have limited impact (we can’t afford to scale them)
  • The 6-year grad rates we have will go unnoticed (we have support systems in-place, it’s not us, it’s them)

OK, the truth is this – we are expensive, we are a huge opportunity cost and in many instances, we are irrelevant. 

Enrollment Challenges: An Urgent Call to Action

Let’s forget about the top-tier and flag-ships for a moment as they are not struggling as much as the rest of us today. We strive to offer something regionally or distinctively special, yet our traditional pool of candidates have so many options. 100+ academic majors, 200+ clubs, this and that, makes a lot of noise to prospects. At the end of the day the families ask the students –  will you get a good job, will you be safe and will you have a network? 

We know that we must bring in a certain number of students and retain them to financially support the institution. Now, more potential students are choosing to forego higher education and there is about to be a significant shift in high school graduates. The answer is to begin recruiting those students whom we admitted yet who never finished. There are over 40 million adults with some college credit and no degree. There is no shortage of a pool here. There are enough potential readmits of our own stop-outs, who are already familiar with us and may retain an affinity. 

Supporting Non-Traditional Students

How did we get to a place where the average rate of completion is 60% and that is acceptable? Well, I think it is because there was no shortage of traditional new students to keep enrollment numbers at a prescribed level. Many of us do not have strong retention initiatives in place and have been expanding clubs and student activities in an effort to keep the students engaged and enrolled. Today, we need to focus upon our different types of students. Let’s look at our commuters and non-traditional students. They may prefer a quick convenient bite over an all you can eat dining plan. They may value parking near their classes over tickets to a game.  They may also desire to conduct transactions outside of traditional business hours and to be able to take classes in-person as well as remotely. It is important that we get to know how resilient our students are and to support those who most need it. 

A Collaborative Solution

 A few years ago I began serving as an advisor to myFootpath. My role was to provide feedback on a service designed to re-enroll stop-outs. I found great value in their work for a number of reasons. As an enrollment manager, my admissions teams were focused upon filling seats with freshmen and transfers. We did not have the luxury of increasing staff to meet future students while they were in ninth grade, nor to hunt down the many thousands of folk who left before graduating. Half of the current student contact information was bad and there was no way we would be able to clean-up contact data of those who had already left. Another reason was that a large fraction of those who left prior to graduating were from marginalized populations. If we believe education brings about equity, that means we need to improve both the access as well as the completion of studies. Finally, when institutions are able to recapture tuition revenue, those funds can be allocated in ways to best support students.

Celebrating Success: Over 27,000 Lives Changed and Counting

Today, I continue to serve as a senior advisor to myFootpath. We have incorporated additional measures to support students including a non-cognitive assessment that indicates who is more or less likely to persevere in the face of adversity, and returning to college can certainly be scary. Not only do we provide additional support to low-scoring students, but we also provide personal development workshops for them to be able to better manage areas where needed. Over 27,000 students have returned to their native institutions through myFootpath. That means over 27,000 lives have been changed for the better. It takes new enrollment efforts to get results today.

Written by: Luke Schultheis, Ph.D.