Nine ways to provide the career planning assistance that incoming college freshmen want: Part two

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Note: This is the second part of a two-part blog on how colleges and universities can respond to the findings of Noel-Levitz’s 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report.

Read part one: Nine ways to provide the career planning assistance that incoming college freshmen want.

In the first part of this post, I noted that college students’ involvement with career planning often occurs at the end of their educational experience, when they are almost ready to graduate. But the information in Noel-Levitz’s just-released 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report reveals that freshmen—whether they are 18 or 35—are asking for this assistance from the very beginning of their college careers:

  • Upon their arrival on campus, 47 percent of incoming freshmen last year wanted career counseling.
  • Just over 21 percent of entering freshmen reported being “very confused” about which career occupation to pursue.
  • The majority of entering freshmen in the study (67 percent) wanted help with developing an educational plan “to get a good job.”

So how can your institution respond to these data? The following five additional recommendations go beyond the first four suggestions from part one of this two-part blog post.

Here are five more ways to respond to incoming students’ needs and
desires for career planning assistance

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Enhancing an effective college communication flow with value proposition-centered messaging

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Understanding what makes students and parents tick is one of the major requirements for an effective recruitment strategy. Even a “perfect” communications plan will yield minimal results if it lacks research about which items and issues influence your market. Such knowledge can guide how your campus should communicate with families and dictate a messaging strategy that helps to enforce your institution’s perceived value and worth.

For instance, colleges and universities have long pushed institutional fit as much as academic quality and outcomes, but this higher education market—along with all the other challenges it presents us—is not like those of the past. Today the market is far more consumer-minded. Although fit is still an important factor, it comes into play only after an institution is able to prove its ability to provide a strong return on investment. Even having struggled through the most recent recession, the market—based on the following National Student Clearinghouse research—did not waiver as experts had anticipated in the years immediately after the downturn.

Enrollment_by_Control

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Enrollment_by_Sector

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The trends have continued in recent years, too. The latest data from the National Clearinghouse show that, between 2011-13, enrollments have increased slightly at four-year private colleges and universities, remained relatively flat at four-year public campuses, and declined at two-year public institutions.

The pundits had predicted that students/families would turn away from the more expensive option of private education for public post-secondary institutions, and for some students to enroll at two-year institutions at a higher rate. Interestingly, no real shift occurred, as the above graphs indicate. What does this begin to tell us? For one, families are willing to sacrifice for their child’s college education, even if it means choosing private over public, or public four-year over two-year. In no way is this meant to state that one institution type is better than another, but it does show that the impact of perceived value that families place on postsecondary institutions stays true even through a period of extreme economic distress.
Continue reading “Enhancing an effective college communication flow with value proposition-centered messaging” »

Nine ways to provide the career planning assistance that incoming college freshmen want: Part one

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Note: This is the first part of a two-part blog on how colleges and universities can respond to the findings of the 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

All too often, college students’ involvement with career planning occurs at the end of their educational experience, when they are almost ready to graduate. But the information in Noel-Levitz’s just-released 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report reveals that freshmen—whether they are 18 or 35—are asking for this assistance from the very beginning of their college careers:

  • The majority of entering freshmen in the study (67 percent) wanted help with developing an educational plan “to get a good job.”
  • Upon their arrival on campus, 47 percent of incoming freshmen last year wanted career counseling.
  • Just over 21 percent of entering freshmen reported being “very confused” about which career occupation to pursue.
  • 93 percent of incoming female freshmen expressed a strong commitment to completing their educational goals, compared to 88 percent of incoming male freshmen.
  • Compared to White/Caucasian freshmen, incoming students of color brought higher degree aspirations beyond a bachelor’s.
  • Compared to White/Caucasian freshmen, incoming students of color also indicated a greater desire to receive 25 institutional services that were measured in the study.
  • Incoming freshmen ages 25 and older were clearer on their career direction than their younger counterparts, but 41 percent of these older students still wanted career counseling.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the students who participated in this study have lived the last six years of their lives under the economic recession and its aftermath. For traditional-age students, this means their entire teenage years have been during the recession.

So how can your institution respond? In what ways can your institution organize itself to meet the career development needs of its first-year students as early as possible in their college careers? What purposeful strategies and opportunities can be put in place to improve your students’ persistence, retention, college completion, and career-goal attainment?
Continue reading “Nine ways to provide the career planning assistance that incoming college freshmen want: Part one” »

Five strategies for overcoming resistance to change on college campuses

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How can you overcome resistance to change so that your institution can adapt and better serve your students?

Have you ever encountered resistance to a new idea on your campus? Tried to get people in your department or other campus departments to cooperate and coordinate with each other? Pushed for a change that goes against the classic “that’s the way we’ve always done it” logic?

Given the way campuses operate, these are practically rhetorical questions. Of course you have run into resistance to change and new ideas. I’ve worked in higher education on campus and as a consultant for more than 20 years. Getting colleagues to take a risk on a new idea or trying to change an organization as big and diverse as a college can be very difficult.

At the same time, change is essential for colleges and universities, especially in light of the changes that are sweeping higher education. So how can you overcome resistance to change so that your institution can adapt and better serve your students?

I’d like to suggest the following five strategies that can help any planner or campus agent overcome resistance on campus. I’ve not only seen them work with the campuses I consult with, but I also used them when I served on campus as well.

Use data and communicate effectively about it

In a previous blog, I argued for the presentation of data within a narrative framework. The embedded concepts in that blog are two of the keys to overcoming resistance on campus: use data to justify your proposals and new programs, and communicate effectively about it. Data and communication are essential. During the preparation stage of every Strategic Enrollment Planning project I launch with a campus, we identify who is going to be responsible for data collection and who is going to be responsible for internal communications. Then we build a communications plan so that we know how we are going to keep the campus informed and engaged in the process. Communication cannot be an afterthought. Effective planners use open forums, email, and the web. They insert their messages into annual or semi-annual presentations by the president. They visit faculty and staff meetings and present the process; they are open to questions and they respond promptly and honestly.
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Fall 2013 discounting benchmarks from Noel-Levitz client institutions

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This is an active time of year for college and university financial aid offices, with financial aid award packages being assessed from a variety of vantage points. Hence, it seems fitting to look back to what happened last year after the dust settled, particularly to discounting at private institutions that partnered with Noel-Levitz to manage their unfunded institutional gift aid.

According to the latest annual Noel-Levitz discounting report, the average overall freshman discount rate increased 0.7 percentage points from fall 2012 to fall 2013 at the 163 nonprofit private campuses using Noel-Levitz statistical resources and consulting to manage their institutional gift aid. This increase is shown in the red-circled area below and is based on the Noel-Levitz definition of discounting (as described at the bottom of this blog post).

Average overall freshman discount rate for NL insititutions 2003-2012The chart’s 10-year trendline for Noel-Levitz client institutions (a set of institutions that changes slightly from year to year) shows the overall freshman discount rate was relatively steady between 2003-08, then rose 2 percentage points in 2009 when the recession hit. Since then, the rate of increase has averaged less than one percent per year, rising 1.2 points in 2010, 0.8 points in 2011, 1.0 point in 2012, and 0.7 points in 2013.

More highlights from the report:

  • The 0.7 percent increase in discounting in 2013 resulted in 1.7 percent average growth in per-student net revenue for these institutions that used Noel-Levitz services in 2013 versus the average per-student net revenue of a similar set of institutions that used Noel-Levitz services in 2012.
  • Once again, in 2013, discounting was highest among small colleges and universities in the study.
  • An average of 76.9 percent of the institutionally funded merit aid/scholarship awards made by the Noel-Levitz client institutions in 2013 went directly to meet demonstrated financial need.

It’s important to remember that increases in discounting reflect an institution’s commitment to students’ and families’ ability to enroll as college costs continue to rise. Rather than risk lowering their enrollment and retention, these colleges have provided greater amounts of assistance in order to maintain affordability.

How Noel-Levitz defined the overall discount rate
When calculating discount rates, studies and campus officials often include tuition and fees but exclude room and board. However, since many private institutions are residential, Noel-Levitz included room and board fees to more accurately identify revenue flows tied to enrolling students. In addition, Noel-Levitz’s definition of discounting focuses on unfunded/unrestricted gift aid—sources of aid over which institutions have discretion and control. We believe this definition offers a more accurate view of discounting than including restricted funds (primarily endowed), given that such sources of aid are paid from monies that are unavailable for other uses. For more information, see page 2 of the report.

Questions? Would you like to confidentially discuss your discounting strategy?
I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you are working to fine-tune your discounting strategies and would like an outside perspective on how to reduce or control discounting, email me to set up a time for a confidential telephone conversation.

Increasing yield rates by getting accepted college students to confirm their enrollment

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Spring is upon us and you’re cautiously optimistic that all of the hard recruitment work these past several months will lead to the enrollment of accepted students. At times, it can feel as though your admissions office is a contestant on a reality show competition. Will I be the lone survivor on the island? Will I get picked at the final rose ceremony? Can I stay on tune, move to the next round, and ultimately get that record deal?

You may have read the recent blog post by my colleague Wes Butterfield on “Turning incomplete college applications into completed ones.” By now, you’ve hopefully been successful in developing a solid accepted-student pool. You are now tasked with helping these students navigate the college decision process with the intention of them picking your institution as their top choice. Beyond your work and the efforts of the admission team, there are also multiple influencers who have a stake in this important decision.

According to the 2013 E-Expectations survey of more than 2,000 college-bound high school juniors and seniors, a large majority rated their parents or guardians as influential while scoring high school counselors, friends or relatives, and faculty important as well. Consider these folks the host, the judges, and the voting audience. All can determine the outcome of your enrollment reality show finale and cannot be overlooked.

Top influencers on enrollment, according to college-bound high school students (Source: 2013 E-Expectations Report, click to enlarge)

Top influencers on enrollment, according to college-bound high school students (Source: 2013 E-Expectations Report; click to enlarge.)

Additionally, the 2012 Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey found that students listed having a good academic reputation, graduating students who get good jobs, and being offered financial assistance as the top three factors influencing their decision to attend a particular school.

Continue reading “Increasing yield rates by getting accepted college students to confirm their enrollment” »

Strategies for communicating with the parents of college students

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Julie and Kylie 01-14

Regular communications from campus have kept me well informed about important information at my daughter Kylie’s college.

Many of you have been following my blogs about my daughter Kylie’s journey from prospective college student, through her campus visit experiences, to her orientation impressions as a first-year student at a four-year private liberal arts college in the Midwest. I am now happy to share that she had a successful first semester and has been very excited about her second semester. As everyone warned me, the time is going by quickly.

As a higher education professional and someone who works with colleges and universities to monitor their students’ satisfaction levels, I have been extra sensitive to Kylie’s perceptions of her interactions with faculty, her observations on the advising experience, and her sense of the general campus climate. I am also highly aware of my own perceptions of the value of her private education, and I can tell you that I have been very impressed with the college’s frequent communication with me as a parent. If you are serving a traditional-aged college population, are you communicating effectively (or at all) with the parents of your students?

In my review of the national results from the Parent Satisfaction Inventory (the parallel instrument to the Student Satisfaction Inventory that asks the parents about their perceptions of what is important and how satisfied they are with their child’s experience), I see that the top issues include:

  1. Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.
  2. Instruction in my child’s major is excellent.
  3. Academic advisors are concerned about my child and are knowledgeable.
  4. Adequate financial aid is available.
  5. My child is able to register for classes with few conflicts.

I would suggest that effective communication plans can help to improve parent satisfaction in some of these key areas.

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Five strategies for improving student retention and college completion among second-year college students

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Five strategies for improving student retention and college completion among second-year college students

How can campuses keep second-year college students engaged and on the path to college completion?

The vast majority of campuses have spent a considerable amount of time and resources helping to shape the first-year student experience in order to improve student retention and college completion. But with the increased focus on improving college completion rates, we need to “broaden the lens” and look beyond the first-year into the second as well.

It’s harder to focus on second-year college students, as they don’t have the same starting point as first-year college students. They don’t come through common orientation programs, move-in days, first-year seminars, residence halls, or advising programs. Second-year college students are disbursed across their institutions, and campuses tend to operate on the assumption that since they have come back for a second year, they are there to stay—all committed to majors, connected with their faculty and peers, with plans for graduation firmly in place. But are these assumptions valid? Are second-year college students still at risk for leaving before they graduate? What do these students themselves have to tell us about what they need and want now, in their second year of college?

Noel-Levitz data for students at four-year institutions indicate that 16-19 percent of second-year college students leave their first institution at the end of the second year. That can have a significant impact on college completion rates and is especially troubling considering so many second-year college students are eager for assistance.
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Turning incomplete college applications into completed ones

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My colleague Andrea Gilbert was right on point with her February blog post, “Nine strategies for generating college applications in the student recruitment home stretch.” I want to continue the discussion by examining the next stage in the application process: moving students to the admitted stage. Each year, thousands of students apply to institutions across the country. However, it’s nearly impossible to influence their decisions if they don’t complete the application process. Students’ desires may fluctuate depending on what is going on in their lives, but this underlying fact remains—if they started the application process with your campus, they’re interested.

The 2012 Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey found that 64.9 percent of respondents applied to three or more institutions, and an astounding 20.1 percent said they applied to more than seven institutions (see page 24 of the PDF):

Number of other colleges applied to for admission this year

The problem is that these students may not always complete the application process. These incomplete applications are a problem for admissions teams, who often spend an inordinate amount of time chasing down pieces needed to complete the application.
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Projections of high school graduates by state and race/ethnicity for strategic enrollment planning

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Areas of change over the next five years, 2014-19

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A special new report from Noel-Levitz compiles pertinent projections over the next five and ten years that may influence enrollments for colleges and universities that primarily serve traditional-age undergraduates.

As shown above in blue and green, 25 states across the U.S. are expected to see increases in their high school graduates of more than 3 percent between 2014 and 2019, according to the latest available data from WICHE, the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.

Of these 23 states, seven states will see either an increase of more than 10 percent or grow by more than 5,000 graduating seniors.

Meanwhile, as shown above in red and orange, only eight states and the District of Columbia will experience declines in graduating high school seniors of more than 3 percent between 2014 and 2019.

The report also includes projections over the next 10 years, through 2024, showing 27 states will see increases in graduating seniors of more than 10 percent over the next decade. In addition, California and New York will have 10,000 additional high school seniors even though their growth will be less than 10 percent.

Continue reading “Projections of high school graduates by state and race/ethnicity for strategic enrollment planning” »

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Mari Normyle