Taking a closer look at community college completion indicators



Recently I spent two days at a community college providing professional development workshops on trends in higher education for community colleges. I met with more than 50 professionals at the college who were eager to understand the higher education landscape and, most importantly, how their performance on key indicators fits within the national community college context.

We examined a number of key indicators, including term-to-term persistence and year-to-year retention, two of the most common metrics used to measure quality and to set targets for improvement. The metric that got their attention in new ways, however, was the percentage of credit hours earned vs. credit hours attempted. While some of the participants were aware of the importance of this (mainly colleagues in financial aid who have to monitor adequate progress for federal loan guidelines), many had not considered whether or not “slow” progress (actually earning fewer credit hours than those attempted) could have an impact on student success.

The data we examined came from the 2015 Student Retention Indicators Benchmark Report for Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions. These benchmark data indicate that in the first term of enrollment, students at community colleges complete on average 80 percent of the credit hours they attempted (10.8 hours completed vs. 13.7 hours attempted). And this pattern continues in the second term with an average completion rate of 79 percent (10.5 hours completed vs. 13.2 hours attempted).

Why is this important and why did this get the attention of the people at the community college I visited? First, many were surprised that these data indicate that some students who start out full-time end up being part-time by the end of the semester. Second, the data led to a conversation about students’ patterns of enrollment—if students intend to be full-time, with a goal of graduating in a calculated amount of time, what does dropping courses and reducing the number of credit hours earned per semester do to their overall goal of earning a degree? A number of advisors suggested that perhaps this was a good strategy. They offered examples of students who encounter difficult courses and rather than ending the term with a lower GPA opt to drop a course in order to protect their academic record, even though their credit-earning progress will be impacted. But the information they shared was anecdotal; yes, there were examples of individual cases in which that appeared to be the right decision for the student, but there were no trend data to substantiate this.
Continue reading “Taking a closer look at community college completion indicators” »

Adding more expertise to our blog with our newest contributors from Scannell & Kurz



When we launched this blog in 2010, we wanted to share the extensive expertise of our campus consultants. They travel to and consult with hundreds of institutions per year, and this blog has allowed them to share how colleges and universities are recruiting the students they want and helping more of them persist and succeed.

That’s why we are happy to announce the addition of our newest contributors, our colleagues from the Scannell & Kurz enrollment management blog. Now, as a division of Ruffalo Noel Levitz, they will be writing for this blog starting this month.

The enrollment management consultants at Scannell & Kurz have blogged about student recruitment, retention, financial aid, trends in higher education, and other crucial topics. Some of their recent posts have discussed:

We know you will find their posts insightful and encourage you to check out their previous posts at their blog if you have not been reading them already.

Posted in Enrollment Management by Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Comments

What is the best day to launch your college student search campaign?



To engage prospective college students, you have to communicate with them on their timetable, not yours.

Consider the countless ways a prospective college student can learn about your institution, and all of the ways they have available to share information with other prospective students (#CollegeMail, Yik Yak, etc.). Not only do they have all these channels to gather information, but they have constant, continuous access to these channels. These factors make it more challenging every day to break through the clutter so that your voice is heard—your true, authentic message, the one that will engage students and get them excited to learn more about your institution.

So, what is the best day to launch your search campaign to break through this clutter? The answer: there isn’t one. Students explore when they are ready. Forget your timetable—to be effective you must now operate on theirs. That’s why continuous search is a must when trying to engage today’s students.

When we launched our Continuous Search program in 2013, it was the first of its kind and a direct response to the needs that campuses had. There were some common questions:

  • How can we do more with our search budget?
  • With more names available, how do we wrap them into our current search program?
  • How do we engage with more of the right students throughout the year?
  • How important is senior search to our search program?
  • How can we manage the complexity of continuous search?
  • What are the true results of our program in relation to enrollment?
  • Will this result in more applications from search? Will it matter?

Continue reading “What is the best day to launch your college student search campaign?” »

The strategic growth matrix for enrollment, and how one college generated a 19 percent gain in first-year students



This week, Ruffalo Noel Levitz released its 2015 Discounting Report for nonprofit colleges and universities across the country that are awarding their financial aid using our strategic financial aid awarding services. In this year’s report, we again see stability in overall freshman discounting, albeit it a very small marginal increase (0.1 percent). All of these campuses are using careful research to set their prices, and to anticipate families’ capacity to pay for their educations.

How do we help campuses accomplish this? The approach varies substantially from one campus to another but it always involves a mix of research and strategy. One campus we’re working with provides an interesting example. It is a private college in the Midwest that has been able to buck some of the discounting and net revenue trends in an unusual way.

This small Midwestern college increased its first-year admitted student population by 59.2 percent, growing from 611 admits in fall 2013 to 973 in fall 2014. The enrolled student population grew by 19.2 percent during the same period, increasing from 198 students to 236. This increased headcount contributed to a whopping 76.7 percent increase in net tuition revenue, and the tuition and fees discount rate dropped 10.5 percent. This college has an active athletic population, but the enrolled athletic population actually dropped by 11 students in 2014 (53 students vs. 42 students in 2013). So, why did this campus see such growth?

Growth from this campus is attributed in part to a lot of hard work and focus spent on two of the four quadrants of the strategic growth matrix (SGM):

Strategic Growth Matrix (SGM)

The SGM is a conceptual framework that shows various ways a campus can grow. The four quadrants consist of market penetration, market development, program development, and diversification.
Continue reading “The strategic growth matrix for enrollment, and how one college generated a 19 percent gain in first-year students” »

14-point checklist for retaining diverse students at four-year and two-year institutions



The idea of a “typical” college student has become a thing of the past. For many colleges and universities today, the “traditional” student is now the minority population, or one population among many. Demographic changes on our campuses and in our programs are one of the most significant trends of this century and the new “look” of our student populations is only going to continue into the future.

So, how can your institution respond? Being prepared for these changes is one of the biggest challenges campus leaders are facing—especially in light of increased pressure to improve student success results as measured by increasing retention and graduation rates.

To assist institutions with responding effectively, I invite you to download our newest 2015 National Freshman Attitudes Report for Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions, which highlights key differences in today’s freshmen by age, race, gender, and for first-generation students. I’ll also be presenting some strategies at the upcoming Symposium on the Recruitment and Retention of Diverse Populations and am sharing some suggestions below.

14-point checklist

The following is a quick checklist to assist your institution with identifying opportunities to better serve diverse populations.
Continue reading “14-point checklist for retaining diverse students at four-year and two-year institutions” »

Content marketing for colleges—To gate or not to gate your content


Previous posts on higher education content marketing:

1) Using content marketing to support online marketing campaigns
2) Paid interactive marketing for colleges
3) Six steps for effectively packaging content you already have
4) Content marketing: The psychology of the click


Gating content allows campuses to capture information from prospective college students and measure the success of their campaigns.

Gating content allows campuses to capture information from prospective college students.

In my prior blog post on using content marketing approaches as a tactic in higher education online marketing campaigns, I discussed a question I often get during consultations with campus partners I’m working with: “Why not just put the e-deliverable PDF download link or even the content within the e-brochure offer on the landing page, instead of making it available only following a form submission?”

In the prior post, I shared my main reason for gating an e-brochure: to only allow access to the offer once someone has submitted the contact form on your landing page. In this post, we’ll talk about the possible reasons higher ed marketers might consider delivering “ungated” content to test if that approach yields better outcomes.

Lower the barriers to generating student leads from landing page forms

When we broach the idea of “better outcomes,” we first need to define some terms so we have agreement on what our goals are. For the examples I’ve covered in this content marketing blog series, I’ve been making the assumption that inquiry or “lead generation” is the primary goal of the campaigns. If lead generation is the goal, there are two ways we can define a conversion to become a lead.

Continue reading “Content marketing for colleges—To gate or not to gate your content” »

Plan ahead for second-year college student retention and completion



Do second-year students get the attention they need and deserve on your campus? When your next cohort of second-year students begins its second year, will your advisors and student services staff be ready to retain them with focused interventions to keep them moving toward graduation?  How will these interventions be prioritized?

I have three nieces who right now are all completing their first-year of college: one in North Carolina, one in Texas, and one in Virginia.  They all began their studies with clear majors in mind: chemical engineering, nursing, and aerospace engineering.  They have all been reasonably successful in their first-year courses, although each of them also admits that they underestimated how much more they would have to study in college than they ever did in high school (and these women worked very, very hard in high school).

With spring break over now, they returned to their campuses for the last blitz of their spring semesters—only eight weeks remain in their first years of college. What were they all talking about during their spring breaks?  Their SOPHOMORE years! In many ways, they have already turned the page and are looking ahead to next fall—registering for their courses, signing leases to live off campus, and sorting through the various components of their social lives.

At the same time I was talking with them over their spring breaks, I received 2014 data from the Second-Year Student Assessment (SYSA) which reports the “motivational status”—non-cognitive motivational variables, prioritized—of more than  5,000 sophomores from 55 institutions across the country.  As I looked at these data and tried to understand the national perspective of what seems to be going on with sophomores across the country, I couldn’t help but wonder about my “rising sophomores” and what transitions lie ahead for them as they move from their first to second years of college.

Top 10 needs  of second-year college students

In what ways do second-year students need assistance to remain motivated? Here are the “top 10” requests made by second-year college students among 25 requests that were measured in the 2014 data:

Data taken from the Second-Year Student Assessment for college sophomores.


Continue reading “Plan ahead for second-year college student retention and completion” »

Three initial considerations for planning and evaluating first-year college student retention programs



Are you new to your role as a leader of first-year programming? Do you know what your incoming students require to be successful and what resources to recommend? Have you studied the specific needs of diverse student populations within the larger cohort? Do you know how effective your existing programs have been?

If these questions relate to your situation, you’re not alone. While attending the 2015 National Conference on the First-Year Experience last month in Dallas, I talked with colleagues from hundreds of campuses across the country.  What was top-of-mind for most was how to be more proactive in planning for incoming students and more timely in responding to students’ needs and requests.

Here are three recommendations that can help you with these tasks:

1) Use data to develop and inform your program goals and outcomes.

  • What is your fall-to-spring persistence rate? What is fall-to-fall retention for your freshmen? What goal would you like to reach (for example, a 2-5 percent increase in persistence or retention)?
  • Compare your persistence and retention data with those from similar institutions. Utilize data from our 2015 Student Retention Indicators Benchmark Report.
  • How much revenue could your campus gain for each student you retain? Knowing this can make a powerful argument for getting retention to the top of the agenda. Try using a retention revenue estimator to determine that figure.

2) Determine the ‘profile’ of your incoming cohort of students.

  • What strengths are your students bringing with them to college? What are the barriers to your students’ success? For example, can you identify the students who have strong family support or have higher levels of financial concerns? Many campuses use motivational assessments such as the College Student Inventory to assess the strengths of incoming students and identify which students are most at risk.
  • Who are your targeted populations? Do you serve a large number of first-generation students, veterans, or adult learners? How do the needs of these students differ from others? What programming will need to be offered that is unique to these populations and what do they have in common with other students?

3) Create a plan of action.

  • Based on your students’ needs, who can you partner with on campus (specifically, which campus departments) to provide relevant resources to meet your intended goals and outcomes for student success? Many first-year student programs have benefited from strengthening collaborations between academic and student affairs, a process that often requires the involvement of senior leadership.  Partnering with Institutional Research can also be very beneficial in documenting needs and outcomes.
  • Based on students’ needs, goals, and outcomes, what strategic programming initiatives can you and your partners put in place to take your first-year experience program to the next level? Answering this question may require stepping back to get a better perspective, perhaps through a planning retreat or a series of meetings. It can also be helpful to study models that are in use on other campuses by attending conferences and webinars.
  • If you are looking for more specific information on improving your first-year program, consider attending the “Retention for Rookies” session and other retention sessions available at this summer’s 2015 National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in Boston.

Have a question right now about first-year programs? Feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned from working with campuses across the country here at Ruffalo Noel Levitz as we’ve worked together on projects for retention research and assessment. You can reach me by phone at 1-800-876-1117, ext. 8394, or by email.

Are adult students satisfied? A look at undergraduate and graduate data



Since 2000, adult learners (students age 25 and older) have become one of the fastest growing college student populations.  Between 2000 and 2011, their enrollment increased by 41 percent, and it is expected to grow another 14 percent through 2021. Adult students now comprise nearly 40 percent of the total student population.

But how satisfied are adult students with their educational experience? Do they feel the education they receive is valuable? Do they receive enough support from their institutions?

Recent blogs and research reports released by Noel-Levitz have taken a look at the satisfaction levels of traditional students and online learners.  Now we have new data to share about the satisfaction and priorities of graduate and undergraduate adult students.

This year’s National Adult Student Priorities Report includes data from more than 88,000 students at 150 institutions who completed the Adult Student Priorities Survey between fall of 2011 and spring of 2014.  The table below shows the overall satisfaction scores for all adult students along with satisfaction levels of adults in undergraduate programs and with graduate-level students.  The likelihood to re-enroll measurement shows how many would re-enroll at their institution if they had redo their education all over again.

In general, both undergraduate and graduate adult students are relatively satisfied with their educational experiences and would re-enroll.


These percentages are higher than the scores for traditional-age students, where the average satisfaction scores at four-year public and private institutions were 56 percent and 58 percent respectively.  However, I like to say that if adult students are not satisfied, they may not be enrolled at all, because they are less likely to invest their limited time with programs they find dissatisfying.
Continue reading “Are adult students satisfied? A look at undergraduate and graduate data” »

Engaging students of color during the recruitment process



How can you tailor your recruitment strategies and communications to enroll a more diverse college student class?

As we approach 2017, there will be a dramatic shift in the ethnic composition of high school graduates. Enrollment is projected to increase 5 percent for Caucasian students, 39 percent for Hispanic students, 26 percent for African American students, and 26 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students.

Have you adapted your college student recruitment efforts to this demographic shift?

Through our annual Student Perceptions Report, we ask high school students what they think about the communications they receive from colleges and universities. With this intelligence, institutions can assess and adjust their communications and recruitment plans to best serve their prospective students. Below are some key findings from the 2014 report:

  • Preferred communication channels: Caucasian students were most likely to prefer direct mail; Asian and Hispanic students were most likely to prefer email; Hispanic and African American students were most likely to prefer the telephone.
  • Initiating contact with a college: African American and Caucasian students were more likely to initiate contact.
  • Social media behaviors: Asian and Caucasian students were the most likely to have used social media in their college search, while African American students were the least likely to have done so.
  • Application completion: Asian and Caucasian students were more likely than African American and Hispanic students to have submitted all the applications they started.
  • Parental involvement: Caucasian and African American students were more likely to report their parents as “very involved” in their college search. Asian and Hispanic students were more likely to report their parents as “not involved at all.”
  • Online videos: Students of color were more likely to view online videos than Caucasian students, especially African American and Hispanic students.

Students of color are more likely to initiate first contact at the application stage during the college recruitment process

Beyond student perceptions, we can assess the actual behaviors of prospective college students from the point of search through matriculation. For the cohort that entered in fall 2014, we can analyze trends based upon the consolidated data of 3.5 million student records.
Continue reading “Engaging students of color during the recruitment process” »

E-mail Mari Normyle
Mari Normyle