Are you overlooking the needs of your second-year college students?


Incoming freshmen deserve great attention. They are making a challenging transition to college, and they are highly vulnerable to attrition. But second-year student retention should not be overlooked as classes get under way this fall, especially as their attrition rates nationally range between 16-19 percent by the end of the second year.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a significant gap in campus programming across higher education between the first and second years according to data in the Noel-Levitz Student Retention and College Completion Practices Report:

In many ways, the needs of second-year students may simply be “carry over” of the unmet needs of freshmen. For example, while nearly 70 percent of incoming freshmen want help selecting an educational plan, Noel-Levitz research shows that nearly 60 percent of returning, second-year students (still) wanted help preparing a written academic plan for graduation.
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Building paths for students to enroll and persist


Are you creating clear pathways, free of obstacles, for students to enroll and persist?

On a campus in the Midwest, there is a popular new walking path that is guiding students in new directions in order to view the natural beauty of the campus’s tree-rich perimeter. By adding the new path, the institution changed its students’ habits, added an attraction, and overcame obstacles that were getting in the way of exploration.

Have you considered the power of path-building for student enrollment? Is your institution’s enrollment team intentionally building pathways that guide students in the directions you want? By building intentional, well-marked paths, prospective and current students are more likely to step past obstacles, respond to your requests, and become more engaged with your institution.

At Noel-Levitz, we’ve seen campuses build big paths that work for lots of students as well as smaller paths that work for priority subgroups and individual paths that serve particular student circumstances. The most important thing to remember is that good paths begin where students are at.

Trailheads and stepping stones
Placing strategic trailheads for students to enter an enrollment path is a critical first part of enrollment path-building. Are there new places or areas where you should be placing trailheads? For prospective students, do you offer innovative academic and extracurricular programs, online or on campus, that connect them to your institution or put them in contact with your current students? For incoming students, have you placed clear trailheads to career development, academic support, and venues for building relationships with others? For all students, are you in touch with the needs of key subgroups?

After the trailhead, the best paths provide students with appropriately-timed and placed “stepping stones” that gradually guide students into a deeper commitment to your institution and to their career goals. For example, to encourage students to visit campus—which for many prospective students is a big step forward—a path-builder must begin with smaller steps of little to no commitment and provide lots of options. For instance, the path toward visiting might begin with a face-to-face conversation with a current student, a social media experience, or seeing a campus video.

So how, exactly, can you identify the best paths, trailheads, and stepping stones? Examining past “foot traffic” on existing paths is effective, as is asking students directly. In reality, a single “path” might be a series of paths and obstacles upon looking closer. Effective path-building involves testing new approaches, minimizing obstacles, and gradually guiding students to make smaller choices that eventually build up to the bigger choices to enroll and re-enroll.
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New research on student emotions in college choice: Part II


Co-written with Pamela Lee, Market Research Consultant, Noel-Levitz

Read Part I here.

In the first part of this two-part blog, we discussed how we found that half of college-bound high school students we surveyed expressed negative emotions over the college choice process—stress, anxiety, confusion, and other negative feelings. This second part will discuss additional findings we uncovered as we dove deeper into the data.

The role of a campus visit on student emotions during the college choice process

Female students were more likely to express feelings of anxiety and stress during the college search process than male students.

Does a campus visit create stress or relieve it? To find out, we asked students “Have you visited any campuses to learn more about attending those colleges?

Campus visits appeared to intensify student emotions, both positive and negative. Students who visited a campus were more likely to be excited and relieved than those who did not—provided the visit was an affirming one. As one student said, “When I visited the campus, it made me feel calm.”

If the visit was non-affirming, however, the student became even more stressed than before. This suggests that immediate follow-up with visiting students is critical in order to determine the impression the institution has made—to reinforce if positive and to mitigate if not.

We explored various groups of students in their likelihood to visit college campuses and found the following results:

  • Females were more likely than males to visit.
  • High-income students were more likely than others to visit.
  • Higher GPA students were more likely to visit.
  • Among seniors, Caucasian students were more likely to visit; first-generation students were less likely to visit.

Other differences among groups

Our original hypothesis was that getting an early start on college planning (eighth grade or before) would make the entire process less stressful for students and their families. But the data showed that early college planning is not related to students’ reporting of positive vs. negative emotions. We now theorize that early planners are often doing so with the encouragement of parents who may have high expectations for their son or daughter’s school choice. The reported stress may represent the added pressure many high achievers often face.

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New research on student emotions in college choice: Part 1


Co-written with Pamela Lee, Market Research Consultant, Noel-Levitz

This is the first of a two-part series. Read Part II here.

How do human beings make decisions? Neuroscience tells us that humans have both a logical, conscious “system” and a non-logical, unconscious “system” that provide input as we make decisions. We like to think of ourselves as highly logical creatures, but in fact our choices represent a mysterious blend of influences. Many researchers suggest that the subconscious is actually the dominant driver of human decision-making. (Here’s one study on the subject.)

On the topic of college choice by traditional-age students, the logical factors have been well researched. UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, Noel-Levitz, and other organizations have investigated top student choice factors such as institutional location, academic reputation, available majors, cost and financial aid, educational outcomes, faculty teaching and credentials, and enrollment size.

Why emotions matter in college student choice

Given what science says about decision making, enrollment managers need to understand—and respond to—what students are feeling as well as what they are thinking. To ignore this key component of student choice would render our understanding incomplete.

We know anecdotally that emotions play a significant role in the college decision. How often have you heard a student use emotionally charged language such as?

“I fell in love with the campus.”
“It just felt right.”
“I knew I would belong here.”

This research study shows just how completely the decision process is awash in emotions such as excitement, anxiety, stress, and hope.

How we studied the emotions and college choice

For this study, Noel-Levitz was invited to include questions in NRCCUA’s “Mapping the College Search” survey, deployed online in January 2014. Our quantitative sample included 5,240 students who expected to graduate between 2014-17 and who also planned to attend four-year institutions, community colleges, or technical/career colleges. In addition, we completed 16 qualitative follow-up queries to explore specific emotions in more detail and add “color” to our research.

The study revolved around this central question we posed to students:
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Privacy concerns among prospective college students and their parents


The explosion of digital marketing, social media, and the sharing of information online has triggered many concerns about privacy among prospective college students. Social media outlets in particular have fueled privacy concerns that are only likely to increase as campuses consider platforms like Snapchat to recruit students.

As part of the 2014 E-Expectations study, we asked students and their parents about privacy issues during the recruitment process. The table below shows the percent who said they were concerned or extremely concerned about the following privacy issues.

These concerns do not necessarily interfere with students providing information. For instance, while 52 percent said they had privacy concerns about providing their name and email address, 96 percent of students in the E-Expectations study said they had provided prospective colleges with an email address during their college search process. On the other hand, while the number of students who said they visited a college Facebook page jumped from 41 percent in the 2013 study to 51 percent this year, the number who “liked” a Facebook page fell from 53 percent to 36 percent.

Regarding social media, many campuses do appear to check on the content prospective students post to social media. We asked campuses about this practice in our 2014 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and here’s what they said:
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A student’s perspective on four benefits of a residential college experience


My daughter Kylie currently attends a Midwest, residential, liberal-arts college. I asked her to add her observations about her first year to Jeffrey Selingo’s benefits of attending a residential college.

Jeffrey Selingo, the author of College (Un)Bound, was a keynote speaker at our Noel-Levitz National Conference in Chicago in July. He had a lot of great observations on today’s world of higher education. In particular, he highlighted four benefits of a residential college experience, which resonated with me since my daughter Kylie is about to start her sophomore year at a Midwest, residential, liberal-arts college. You may have been following my blog series on Kylie’s experiences through the college search process, orientation and move-in, and my own observations on the parent communications I received during her freshman year.

These are Jeffrey Selingo’s four benefits of a residential college experience, and I asked Kylie to reflect on her first year within the context of his observations. If you are affiliated with a residential college serving traditional students, you may want to consider how you are highlighting and promoting similar experiences that your students may be having.

Benefit 1: Offering faculty as mentors to students

Kylie felt that building on relationships with her faculty members from the very beginning was essential and that she was able to build strong relationships with many faculty members during her first year. She appreciated the opportunity to get to know her faculty advisor. He was the first faculty member she met during orientation and he also taught her section of her required freshman seminar course, further developing their relationship. For her other courses, Kylie liked that they were smaller, discussion-oriented classes rather than lecture style. Through these classroom discussions, and by taking advantage of meetings with the professors during office hours, she got to know the faculty. Kylie shared that she was able to bond with the faculty members as they gained a better understanding of her values and beliefs. She expects that these relationships will continue to grow during her sophomore year.

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Does enrollment size have an impact on student satisfaction?


Does the number of students enrolled at an institution influence the satisfaction levels of those students? Colleges and universities certainly tout the benefits of enrollment size—smaller institutions in particular highlight class size and personal attention. But does it impact how students feel about their college experience?

This is the third in a series looking at the connection between student satisfaction and various institutional factors as defined by IPEDS.  So far, we have looked at satisfaction and graduation rates along with satisfaction and tuition levels.  What about the influence of the enrollment size of the institution? To answer this question, we looked at national data from the Student Satisfaction Inventory™ within the context of IPEDS data variables. We grouped schools into three categories based on these variables for enrollment size:

  • Low—bottom 25 percent in size
  • Medium—middle 50 percent
  • High— top 25 percent

Here’s what we found:

Does enrollment size impact student satisfaction?

Satisfaction levels went down slightly as enrollment increased at community colleges, while satisfaction levels rose sharply with enrollment size at career schools.

At four-year institutions, satisfaction held steady across all enrollment groups, while community colleges had a slight decline as enrollment size grew. However, at career institutions, satisfaction jumped substantially with each enrollment tier. Altogether, these results go against the assumption that students at smaller institutions are inherently more satisfied than students at larger institutions.

In addition to looking at summary satisfaction scores, we also looked at the range in satisfaction scores for specific items.

Students at four-year privates and four-year publics were much more satisfied with the variety of courses that were available to them as the size of the institution increased. This is not surprising considering the perception that there are more options at larger institutions. Items related to concern for the individual decreased in satisfaction at both institution types as the size increased (financial aid staff, library staff, academic advisors, faculty, and administrators).

Students at community colleges were more dissatisfied with academic advising services and items regarding concern for the individual as the institution size increased. At two-year career schools, items regarding resources increased in satisfaction along with enrollment size, including computer labs and library resources being adequate.

I encourage you to consider what you know about your own levels of student satisfaction and consider them within this broader national context based on your own enrollment size. Are there areas where you may need to work harder at adjusting student perceptions about the experience that you are offering?

Read the full report

We have published the findings from these three blogs as well as additional details in our new report, The Relationship of Student Satisfaction to Key Indicators for Colleges and Universities. I encourage you to download the report, and please email me if you have questions about the findings or about conducting satisfaction surveys with your students.



Overcoming common issues that undermine graduate enrollment management

Overcoming common issues that undermine graduate enrollment management

What can graduate and professional programs do to strengthen their enrollment management?

Enrollment management is a common practice in undergraduate admissions. Most campuses practice it to some degree, using more data-informed approaches to recruit undergraduate students, creating strategic enrollment plans, and centralizing their admissions structure. For graduate programs, however, enrollment management is often a foreign concept—especially for the individual departments that are often charged with generating new student enrollment. Many graduate and professional programs still “recruit” students as they always have—hauling in interested students like fishermen casting their nets and checking later to see what they caught.

That approach, however, does not fly in an increasingly competitive graduate and professional higher education market. The market is crowded, and with overall graduate enrollment taking a hit in recent years, graduate and professional programs need to get more strategic, coordinated, and aggressive in enrolling new students.

That is easier said than done. I have worked as a consultant with academic and professional graduate programs for 20 years, and in that time, I have seen five key issues that undermine new graduate student enrollment.

1) Decentralized recruitment. Culturally, graduate recruitment has been mostly decentralized, with the academic affairs and graduate college/school leadership hesitant to micro-manage the recruitment efforts of individual certificate, master’s, and doctoral programs. However, this often results in a recruitment process that lacks focus and organization, leading to a scattered, ineffective graduate recruitment effort.

2) Lack of accountability. In most cases I’ve seen, the chief academic and the chief financial officers have a clear understanding of where they would like to see graduate enrollment metrics in terms of new and continuing students; typically, however, these goals are not cascaded further down than the dean of the respective college/school. This can also be traced to the decentralized nature of graduate recruitment. The result is that no one takes charge, therefore no one is responsible. This also leads to a lack of understanding as to what the new student enrollment goals are for each program.
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Five ways to advance your career in higher education enrollment management


In today’s increasingly complex higher education environment, there is great demand for skilled professionals in enrollment management. Whether you are new or experienced in this field, here are five ways you can take your career to the next level.

Earn a master's degree or certificate in enrollment management

Earn a master’s degree or certificate in enrollment management.

1. Earn a Noel-Levitz Certificate in Enrollment Management

You only need to complete six courses online to earn Noel-Levitz Certification in a program offered at Bay Path University. Finish in one year taking one course at a time. An accelerated eight-month schedule is also available. All of the coursework applies toward a master’s degree at the same time (see next item). A recent graduate, Brandy Cartmell, shared this: “The Certificate program has catapulted my career. I am now overseeing admissions, financial aid, student success, first-year programs, and the registrar’s office. My earning potential has more than doubled.” Learn more and apply.

2. Earn a Master of Science Degree in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in Enrollment Management

A master’s degree program offered by Bay Path University consists of 12 courses and can include Noel-Levitz Certification. Even if you already have an advanced degree, this master’s degree will increase your ability to make a difference for the campuses you serve, with courses such as Enrollment Management Principles and Practices, Leading Change in Higher Education, The Contemporary College Student, Student Personnel Services, and Higher Education Marketing and Communications. Learn more and apply.

3. Learn from an enrollment management consultant or become one

When you work side-by-side with a qualified enrollment management consultant, you can learn what he or she knows about successful strategies that have worked for others, including the types of tracking data that are critical for effective decision making. You are also likely to improve your personal track record of enrollment success—a platform that could advance your career or propel you into consulting. This doesn’t mean you need to leave your full-time campus job, as some consultants manage occasional assignments while remaining employed full-time. Did you know that Noel-Levitz has 80 people consulting this way?
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Communicating with college-bound students and their parents: New findings from E-Expectations


Earlier this spring, Noel-Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, and NRCCUA conducted our annual E-Expectations survey. This is the ninth year we have done it (we’re already making plans for the tenth next year!), and as we have done every few years, we included parents in our study. The helicopter parent has been a mainstay of college admissions for years, and the era of social media, mobile devices, and constant contact appears to have made it easier for those parents to hover.

While campus personnel may sometimes wish parents were less involved in the lives of students, it’s also true that as parents have become more involved in the admissions process, they also have become advocates for campuses. Colleges and universities now have many, many ways to recruit parents in addition to recruiting students.

So how do we reach parents? The 2014 E-Expectations Report offers insight by looking at the differences between parents and students. The report touches on a wide range of topics—webpages, email, social media, and the influence of resources. The following graphic summarizes some of the more significant and interesting differences:
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Mari Normyle