As a higher education professional with over 20 years of experience in the field, I’ve worked with parents, students, administrators, faculty, and the community to help build systems of equity and inclusion. We’ve seen a decline in enrollment of students in higher education institutions because of COVID-19, lack of financial resources, the changing economy, and drop in international student attendance in the U.S. Despite this families are still discussing ways that their students can begin their careers after high school and attending college is one of them.
Over the last several months, I have had the distinct pleasure of walking alongside my daughter who is a senior in high school to help her decide where she would attend in the fall. During this process, I tried to take off my “higher ed” hat as I leaned into the experiences of my daughter. It was hard because I wanted to share and ask more questions than my daughter really wanted me to. I want to share with you a few of the things that I learned in this journey, that’s still in progress, that may be helpful to higher education institutions, parents, and prospective students.
Avoid Unnecessary Spending
- Save your marketing materials that you send in the mail and use them to fund scholarships. Our email inbox and postal mailbox were bombarded by colleges/universities vying for my daughter to attend their education institution. She even got accepted to schools she didn’t even apply to, to which she said, “I never heard of this school!” Every day we received 10-20 postcards, letters, or packages branded with the school colors. All of them went in the garbage immediately because it was so overwhelming to her.
Connect with Students Authentically
- Find ways to authentically engage students during the enrollment process that give them a real look at what college life could be for them at the institution. One of the high school recruiters from a college that was on my daughter’s list visited her school. She was super excited to meet the admissions counselor to learn more about their business program. She asked questions about the major, internships, and what it was like to live on campus. Unfortunately, after speaking to the representative, she decided not to attend the institution because of the lack of interaction, knowledge about the program, and genuine interest in inviting her to attend the college.
Culture is Key
- Roll out the welcome mat for all students because a sense of belonging matters. We visited several colleges and universities over the course of my daughter’s educational journey. When we stepped foot on one campus, she immediately decided that it was not for her. Some of the institutions didn’t have any pictures that looked like her in their marketing materials, while others were not student friendly. How are you changing your institution’s culture from one that was exclusive to one that is inclusive?
Financial Investment for Students
- Be fully transparent about the true cost of higher education when students are trying to understand how their scholarship and grants are applied to the total cost of attending. As the financial aid letters rolled in, my daughter got excited and thought that she had full financial support several times. However, when I explained to her how the letters were written to include loans too, she understood the system a little better. Oftentimes, recruitment and retention are not considered at the same time at colleges/universities even though they are both crucial for the overall health of the institution. Retention can be increased if there is clear-cut guidelines on what students are actually receiving financially and what could potentially happen when income increases. The reality is that many students leave colleges/universities for financial reasons, so if it can be understood up front, it would be best for everyone involved.