The startling news of the rapid enrollment decline of more than 450,000 students within the year in U.S. colleges and universities has caused panic and pursuit of strategies to recruit and retain students at higher levels. There are several reasons for this decline: lack of affordability, a decrease in high school graduation rates, an outdated higher education business model, the stress of increased student loan debt, the COVID-19 pandemic, and so much more.
Getting to the root cause of the loss of enrollment is key to understanding how to create opportunities for students that prepare them for the workforce and/or entrepreneurship. While there are a variety of solutions that could potentially assist higher education, including but not limited to: increasing scholarships and grant opportunities, building partnerships with local high schools, and reorganizing the academic and student affairs teams to create student centered activities; one of the biggest ways to increase enrollment and build a strong foundation is establishing systems that work. It all starts with relationship building with students, families, and the community.
The foundation to optimizing your institution’s results is building streamlined systems and processes so that faculty, staff, and administrators can focus on building relationships with students to help them succeed.
Think about it, every time a student shows an interest in a college or university, an admissions counselor connects with him or her and walks them through the process of applying to college and getting connected to other services, like financial aid, faculty, and student support services. You may have the strategy and implementation set here, but what happens once the student is accepted and is getting ready to start college?
Answer these questions to assess where your institutions systems and processes are today:
- Do you have a student management system that connects at various levels from admissions to alumni?
- Does your admissions office collaborate across various offices (student life, academic affairs, financial aid, academic support services, etc.) to assess recruitment and retention simultaneously?
- Do you use automated systems to consistently engage your students in their communication style (text, apps, phone, email)? Do you know what communication style works for the student demographic you are serving the most?
- Do you use a bottom-up approach to gather input from various constituent groups across the campus to develop systems and processes that are student-centered?
If you answered “No” to any of the above questions that means you have a problem in your systems and processes that is causing a bottleneck and does not allow for enough time to connect with students and their families. This can lead to low enrollment and a lack of engagement, resulting in decreased retention and impacting the sustainability of the institution.
There are three ways that you can begin to turn the tide immediately by changing systems and processes: technology, data accuracy and implementation and established student support systems.
Work with your IT, academic and student affairs departments to establish a system that helps you to stay in communication with students throughout their whole college and career process. Depending on where you are at in this stage, it could take up to three years to effectively create a model that works for your campus.
Data Accuracy and Implementation
Analyze the trends of enrollment in your region along with your retention rate of students at your college or university to understand student patterns. Your data should include a combination of quantitative and qualitative information that highlights trends. Examine the top five areas, create a strategy, and then implement it with your respective teams.
Student Support Systems
Every student has different needs, and it is important to provide a strong sense of belonging and services that help students succeed academically and professionally. It is not just about tutoring, resume writing, and planning activities but creating a safe environment where all students are welcome and feel included as a part of the institution. A home away from home atmosphere puts all students first.
Overall, starting with these three areas begins the transformation of your institution into a student-centered hub that is on its way to smoother processes and systems. Most of all, you will develop stronger connections with students and their families that are authentic and raise up a new generation of leaders to impact the world.
There is one pre-requisite you may have to embark upon before beginning work on these three areas – understanding your institutions culture and readiness for change. For example, as a best practice, do your offices have a multi-level note system in place for every office so you can immediately resolve any challenges that you may encounter?
These are just a few ideas to consider as you strategize on your systems and processes. We would love to help you and your organizational plan to serve students more effectively. We can help you by:
- Listening to understand the problem on a deeper level.
- Working collaboratively with your campus community to build a customized solution.
- Assisting you with implementing a streamlined process of integration model for recruitment and retention.