Recognizing innovative college student retention programs

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Earlier this year, I wrote about why we need to hear about college retention programs that are working. I shared that we have the opportunity to learn from the excellent retention programs that are making a difference in student success across the county. Part of my intention in writing that blog was to encourage institutions to apply for the 2015 Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards (REAs). More than 165 colleges and universities have received this award since the REAs began in 1989, and I am excited to share the three institutions (and their retention programs) that are joining this prestigious list in 2015:

  • University of Central Oklahoma: Operation Degree Completion
  • Edgewood College: Strategic Retention Plan
  • Grand Rapids Community College: FastTrack

A common theme among these programs is the importance of innovation in retention.

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Three ways wise borrowing for college can benefit students

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While college students have to consider the amount of student loan debt they can take on, informed borrowing for college is still one of the best investments they can make.

College affordability is receiving a lot of attention from federal policy makers and the media alike. Student loan borrowing has also become an issue, much of it couched in sensational stories of individual students with huge student loan debt. As a result, students and families are approaching the prospect of borrowing for college with much trepidation and pause, and often are uninformed or ill-advised as to what borrowing may mean for their personal situations. This is where your role as an admissions and financial aid advisor is of key importance in helping a family to sift through the facts and make a decision to invest wisely in a student’s future.

When we look more closely at the issue of student loan indebtedness, very few students actually have the kind of crushing debt that has made headlines in the news. In a February 2015 survey of college-bound high school students and their parents, respondents were asked to estimate the amount of debt a student would accumulate by graduation. They responded with a mean value of $42,033. This is well above the national loan debt average of $28,400 for those obtaining bachelor’s degrees. While that is still a significant amount of debt, many college students graduate with debt levels well below that figure. A recent report for the New York Federal Reserve Bank showed that 40 percent of student borrowers have less than $10,000 in debt and 70 percent have less than $25,000 (Additionally, most parents have saved less than $10,000 for their oldest child’s education.)

Although the economic climate is still difficult for many families, one fact remains true from both politicians and researchers—supporting students to achieve higher education helps them secure gainful employment and growth positions in the workforce, which fosters individual advancement as well as collective advancement for the country as a whole.  And while there have been an increasing number of pundits and politicians questioning the value of college in an era of escalating costs, there are three reasons why informed borrowing for college is still one of the best investments students can make:
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Call to play: The importance of the phone in recruiting college student athletes

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Co-authored with Dr. Linda Hoopes

When recruiting college students, a phone call allows more interaction and personalization than any other communication channel, which increases engagement with the student.

If you work in college or university admissions, you understand the importance of building relationships with prospective students and their parents. These days, social media, phone apps, texting—anything electronic—has overshadowed the traditional phone call as the preferred way to connect. Or has it?

Every year for the last five years Ruffalo Noel Levitz has surveyed high school students—more than 80,000 of them—and their parents to learn their preferences in how colleges communicate with them through the recruitment process (here’s our most recent report). One area we explore is students’ perceptions of the mix of channels institutions are employing to engage them relative to how they would prefer to hear from those institutions.

In examining the responses of students aspiring to participate in intercollegiate athletics compared to non-athletes, we found no significant difference in their preferences—other than when it came to use of the phone.

Student athletes who expressed that participating in a sport was “very important” or “important” in their college selection process demonstrated a stronger preference for hearing from an institution via the phone than did students for whom college athletics was not important. While fewer than one in ten students overall reported hearing from campuses via a phone call, nearly one in five prefer it as a communication channel. For student athletes, 28 percent prefer it (relative to 13 percent for non-athletes.)

Why? Far from being a relic of a bygone recruitment era, a well-executed phone conversation is in many ways more “digital” than today’s e-communications in the sense that it is both intensely interactive and highly engaging. A call provides instantaneous answers and prompt feedback. For a generation that isn’t necessarily willing to see how long it takes you to respond to email—only 2 percent of students who become interested in a school will reach out that way—a good old-fashioned phone call is arguably the most personal and most influential way to reach your audience.

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Why create a 1st through 4th semester plan for college student success and retention?

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One of the assumptions operating in higher education is that once college students make it to their second year of enrollment, they are committed to completing their degrees at their current institution. And, yet, the data from the 2015 Student Retention Indicators Report show there continues to be significant attrition after the first year of enrollment:

Source: 2015 Report: Attitudes of Second-Year College Students That Influence College Completion

Now new data from a second report, Attitudes of Second-Year College Students, confirm the problem, showing approximately 16 percent of second-year students at four-year public institutions and 9 percent of second-year students at four-year private institutions are either uncertain about their plans or are planning to transfer as they begin their second year:

College completion plans of second-year college students

Source: 2015 Report: Attitudes of Second-Year College Students That Influence College Completion

 

But very few institutions have made the commitment to retention programs designed specifically for second-year students:
Source: 2015 Report: Attitudes of Second-Year College Students That Influence College Completion

Institutions will not realize improved graduation rates unless they make changes in how they are attending to the needs of second-year students in addition to what they have been doing for their first-year students. This calls for the creation of a “1st through 4th semester” strategy for student success. Continue reading “Why create a 1st through 4th semester plan for college student success and retention?” »

“Bigger or better” revisited: applicants vs. yield

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Based on research by Shari Gnolek of Scannell & Kurz

NACAC’s latest State of College Admission Report  noted the continuing trend of declining yield rates in college admissions.  This trend goes on just as many colleges continue to see increases in application numbers.  In 2013, we published a chart showing changes in application numbers relative to changes in yield, noting that institutions that increased applications were three times more likely to see a decline in yield than to see an increase in yield.

We recently updated these statistics from the Integrated Postsecondary Educations Data System (IPEDS) to show changes from 2012 to 2013.  The latest data reflect a pattern similar to last year’s, showing that schools that experienced an increase in applications from 2012 to 2013 were 2.3 times more likely to see a decline in yield than an increase in yield.

In the chart below, the lower right quadrant displays schools with an increase in the applicant pool from 2012 to 2013 and a decrease in yield.  It is of course possible that these schools may still have managed to enroll a larger freshman class than the year before. However, as we noted last year, a full cost/benefit analysis may show that, factoring in all of the expenses of a larger applicant pool, bigger may not necessarily be better. Wherever new applications are coming from, the key in planning for an increased pool is to understand how the yield from the new source of applicants will differ from what you’re used to seeing.

IPEDS data

(Click to enlarge)

The latest IPEDS data are shown above, based on 872 public and private four-year institutions with 1,000 or more enrolled undergraduates and at least 1,000 applicants in 2013. (Note: separate analyses of public and private institutions show similar patterns, though the risk of decreased yield was slightly higher for publics.)
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The inexact science of hiring in college admissions

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College admissions counselor interview and hiring strategies

How can you develop interview strategies that produce insightful responses from prospective college admissions counselors?

Recently, a friend called me asking for interviewing advice. She had an upcoming phone interview for an entry-level admissions counselor position at a private liberal arts college. We spent an hour on the phone together talking about the position, her unique background, and how those two elements might fit together. While on the call, I had flashbacks to when I was a director and in the process of hiring. Like most managers, I made some great hires and some that didn’t quite work out. One of the questions my friend asked me was, “What do all your best hires have in common?”

It is a great question, isn’t it? Positions like the admissions counselor job she was specifically asking about require a unique skillset. Recruiters must be people-oriented, but task-driven as well. Recruiters must be organized and attentive to details.  They must be able to relate to different types of students while also communicating effectively to parents. Recruiters need to be generalists who take it upon themselves to learn as much about the college/university they are working for and seek to actively connect the institutions’ best attributes with prospective students. Quite often, admissions directors try and find the perfect balance of these skills in recent college graduates who are in their first or maybe second professional job ever. Even when finding excellent entry-level recruiters, it’s rare they stay for more than two or three years, so admissions directors are constantly in hiring mode.

More than likely you’ll be doing some hiring this summer for some vacant or new positions in your offices. The right hire could be a positive boost to the culture. The right hire could help solidify a team. A great hire always makes the team better. The best hire, if trained and managed well, could energize efforts and provide fresh insights into your practices and operations.

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Recruiting students and funds in one campus center

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This post was originally published on the Ruffalo Noel Levitz fundraising management blog. Because it covers both enrollment and fundraising management, we wanted to share it here.

Texas State University has devised an innovative approach to maximizing the effectiveness of their call center: they concurrently call alumni and prospective students.

Combining the enrollment and fundraising outreach takes a lot of organization and a commitment to training the callers, but the returns on both activities have made it well worth the investment. Program center manager Odies Moore was kind enough to discuss the strategy behind this innovative approach, how he trains his callers, and what it takes to make it work.

Can you explain how you prepare for both fundraising and enrollment calling at the same time?

All of the student supervisors and callers are trained on both types of calling. I usually start all new callers in fundraising. The students tell me that they feel the fundraising calls are more difficult, and I want to give them the most intense thing to start, sort of a boot camp. Callers who prove themselves move over to enrollment calls.

Why do you think the students feel that the fundraising calls are more difficult than enrollment ones?

More often, they’re talking to people closer to their age in recruiting calls. Fundraising calls also have additional metrics that callers are judged on. We do see some students gravitate toward one type of call or another, but I think it’s very important to have them experience both.

How do you organize a call center for two types of calls?

The center is divided in half, one side for fundraising, the other for enrollment. We have two student supervisors each night who assist. They can both work either division, but they focus on one side for the night. Sitting the callers next to someone who is doing the same type of call as them is helpful. New callers hear how veteran callers deal with fundraising objections and proceed with the call. They can also learn from other callers how to correctly go through the process of an enrollment call. Now, you have to be sure your veteran callers are doing the right thing, or you’ll have a lot of bad calls going out!

Read the rest at the Ruffalo Noel Levitz fundraising management blog.

 

What can you do to combine enrollment and fundraising outreach, and increase the expertise of your callers?

My colleagues and I can help you set up a combined enrollment and fundraising communications effort, the way we have done for other campuses through our CORE Communication Center. Please feel free to send me an email  and I would be happy to answer your questions or continue the discussion with you and your colleagues.

We also invite you to attend the Telecounseling Supervisor’s Workshop in Boston on July 7-8. This hands-on event will discuss strategies for calling, creating scripts, and managing telecounselors. Take a look at the agenda to see what you can learn.

Financial aid and advancement

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I recently attended the annual scholarship luncheon at my alma mater, a wonderful stewardship event that brings together donors and student recipients of funded scholarships, both annual and endowed.

Listening to students talk about the importance of these awards got me thinking about the importance of collaboration between the offices of financial aid and advancement. In our visits to campuses, my colleagues and I at Scannell & Kurz observe considerable variation in how well advancement and financial aid work together for the mutual benefit of institutional strategic goals.

There tends to be commonality across institutions, both public and private, about the trouble spots that crop up, and the issues are often interrelated. Here are just a few:

  • Advancement expresses concern that scholarships are not awarded on a timely basis, or that some funds go unawarded. This can cause difficulties with donor stewardship. Timely notification by the budget office about available fund balances is key here. Even though final budget balances for an upcoming fiscal year may not be nailed down by the time financial aid packaging takes place in February/March, reasonable estimates based on past history should be available and sufficient for this purpose. Unawarded funds may be due to lack of attention to detail in the financial aid office, which can and should be addressed, or because the scholarship criteria are so restrictive that an institution has no viable candidates. In the latter case, financial aid and advancement personnel need to discuss appropriate alternatives to ensure that overly restrictive criteria be removed so that funds are available to spend.
  • Financial aid feels that the selection committees/departments don’t meet in a timely fashion for awards to be coordinated with aid packaging and influence enrollment behavior. Some donors require selection committees. While it may be more efficient to have the funds awarded centrally through a scholarship or financial aid office, the reality is that committees may be part of the puzzle. Coordinating the timing so that funds are used in the most strategic way possible is the joint responsibility of financial aid and advancement. Gift officers also must play an important role in working with donors to both meet the donors’ wishes and make every effort to suggest selection criteria that are not administratively onerous.
  • Advancement wants to require that student recipients of funded awards write letters of acknowledgment to donors. As a practical matter, it is unreasonable to revoke scholarship funds when students don’t take the time to write a thank-you note. Granted, it is discouraging when attempts fail to have recipients write even a brief note of gratitude. And even in the best of circumstances, coordination of this effort takes time. Institutions that are most successful with high rates of acknowledgment begin by setting the expectation early, as soon as the funded award is offered. This should be introduced and then reinforced by the financial aid office, rather than having the student first hear about the expectation from advancement, which may cause students to remark, “…some random person in some random office just asked me to…..” The goal for the student experience is that it will be so meaningful and positive that it encourages them to be future donors.

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Understanding the impact of FAFSA filing and visiting campus on college student yield rates

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When I worked in admissions for small colleges and had to battle for every student we enrolled, I tried to comprehend the factors that were most predictive of enrollment and that could help in my attempt to best estimate likely enrollment throughout the cycle.  The good ol’ fashioned “1,2,3” or “Hot/Medium/Cold” lists still hold water and are effective, but I needed to understand more precisely how impactful these behaviors were and if they truly influenced enrollment.

I found two significant influences, both of which are also known to most enrollment managers:

  1. If a student completes the FAFSA (and sends their results to you), then they are much more likely to enroll.
  2. Likewise, students visiting campus in an official capacity are much more likely to enroll than those who do not visit campus.

Having a student both complete the FAFSA and visit campus is a home run. A student who does neither is what I was taught to consider a “rotten banana.” The longer a banana sits, the more rotten it becomes. Along those lines, the longer a student sits in your pool doing neither of these activities, the more their enrollment chances begin to decay.

As I said, this is not a revelation to anyone who has worked in admissions for any significant time. However, in my work as a consultant, I see many campuses that do not know how to incorporate these predictive behaviors into their recruitment planning. By drilling down into the metrics, tracking them, and building plans on that data, you can become much more efficient and effective in your recruitment efforts.

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Priorities for community college student success

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What can community colleges do to help more of their students succeed and complete their educational goals?

I have just returned from attending the American Association of Community Colleges Annual Convention in San Antonio.  This event attracted more than 2,000 community college presidents and senior administrators to discuss the issues that are top of mind to this sector.  Here are three things I heard as issues:

  • Community colleges face decreasing state support, decreasing enrollment numbers, and increasing tuition pressures.
  • The community college model encourages enrollments but not completion.
  • With fewer high school students in the market, there is even more need for community colleges to focus their resources on retention efforts.

There was good news as well:

  • The number of associate degrees and certificates being awarded by community colleges reached an all-time high in the 2013-2014 academic year.
  • Between 2010 and 2014, the number of students age 24 years or younger whose first credential was a certificate or associate degree from a community college increased by 6.1 percent. The number whose first credential from a four-year institution with substantial community college experience also rose by 8.3 percent.
  • During the 2013-2014 academic year, community colleges either conferred a credential, or were instrumental in the conferral of a four-year college credential, for one million individuals who had no prior postsecondary credential.

(You can find these and other key data points in the AACC’s Community College Completion report.)
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Julie Bryant