Nine effective ways to recruit high-ability college students


In my enrollment management consulting with campuses around the country, many ask me how they can recruit more high-ability college students. They want students who are engaged, self-motivated, and eager to learn. Furthermore, those students are much more likely to persist and complete their educations, an outcome every campus desires and one that legislatures are increasingly demanding. Those high-ability students also have a good likelihood of becoming successful alumni, which has implications for fundraising as well as alumni outcomes that can be promoted with prospective students during future recruitment cycles.

Be prepared to invest time and resources into recruiting high-ability college students

Ways to recruit high-ability college students

The competition for high-ability college students is fierce.

Of course, what campus doesn’t want more high-ability students? The competition for these students is very fierce, and these students also have many tools at their disposal for researching campuses and comparing offers. You have to invest the time of faculty and staff to woo these students, and you may also need to spend some additional recruitment dollars. In addition to marshaling resources, I encourage campuses to consider incorporating these nine recruitment strategies if they want to enroll more high-ability college students.

  1. Host a scholarship recognition event in the spring to honor these students. Invite the students’ families to attend as well, as it’s a great opportunity to woo their parents or guardians and turn them into recruitment advocates for your campus. Consider allowing the student to invite a teacher/mentor of their choice along and let their guest speak about that particular student.
  2. Have faculty members call high-ability students/admits. Students are used to hearing from an admissions representative, but to hear from faculty about their particular academic interest might allow high-ability students to feel more confident in your institution. It is also an excellent opportunity to engage them and allow them to have some organic interaction with your campus during the recruitment process. Keep in mind that you need to get faculty involved as early as possible if you use this tactic, and choose faculty who will be good communicators with these students.
  3. Send a letter from the academic dean/provost to the parents of high-ability students. The letter could promote the honors program, study abroad, research opportunities, or other programs for these students.
  4. Create student-to-student communications. One idea is a postcard series highlighting current high-ability students and what they have been able to accomplish while on campus. Social media, videos, and emails from those students could also be very effective.
  5. Promote outcomes to these students. It is very important to get the career center involved in this process. Communicate internships, jobs, and graduate school placement to the high-ability students you are targeting as well as their parents or guardians. The more you can communicate about their future opportunities for post-graduate success, the better.
  6. Provide special or restricted research, internship, or travel opportunities to this group. Exclusivity tends to convey value, and these students may feel extra valued if they are allowed to participate in exclusive learning or travel events.
  7. Focus on study abroad research opportunities with faculty. Study abroad can provide these students with a unique class experience, a valuable internship, and an unforgettable cultural experience.
  8. Create honors cohorts in residence halls. High-ability students may appreciate the opportunity to live with similar high achievers, and these cohorts may prefer living arrangements that will be more conducive to studying and academic achievement.
  9. Ask prominent alumni in key markets to host receptions. This is a great, inexpensive way to reach out to both alumni and students. An alumni panel is an effective way to reach students/parents, while also providing these students with valuable contacts moving forward. Corporate facilities, boardrooms, research centers, and homes are all preferred venues.

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Nearly 20 percent of college enrollment decisions made in final weeks


When students wait to enroll until the last minute, it matters. These delays often influence not only college enrollments but also retention and completion. Do you know how many of your new students wait to decide until the final weeks before classes? Nationally, nearly 20 percent of students do this. Here are some breakdowns:


Above: findings from Noel-Levitz’s 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report indicate that 15 percent of students at four-year private institutions, 12 percent of students at four-year public institutions, and 27 percent of students at two-year institutions wait to make their college decision until a few weeks before classes begin. Across sectors, there is also evidence that greater proportions of “late decision” enrollees are first-generation, male, and students of color.

With some modest fluctuations, “late deciders” have generally held steady over the past five years among incoming freshmen at four-year public institutions and at two-year public and private institutions. However, these students appear to be declining at four-year private institutions, dropping to 15 percent in recent years after hovering at 18 to 22 percent from 2006-10.

Join us November 19 for a one-hour webinar: Building Student Success Strategies Based on Students’ Motivational Needs. When a student delays an enrollment decision, it can signal a lower level of motivation. At this webinar, we’ll share examples that illustrate how to make student motivation a central part of college completion programming for your campus. We hope you will join us. For more information, email us or call Noel-Levitz at 1-800-876-1117.

Do college students think tuition is a worthwhile investment? Findings from the new national student satisfaction report


As the cost of attending college has increased over the previous decade, there has been more scrutiny about whether the investment in a college education is worthwhile. New data from the 2014 National Satisfaction and Priorities Report shows that half of students at four-year institutions show dissatisfaction in this area.

The report features responses from nearly 600,000 students at 728 institutions nationwide that administered the Student Satisfaction Inventory™ (SSI) between the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2014. The majority of students responded that they were satisfied with their overall college experience and that they would probably re-enroll at their campuses if they had to do their college experiences all over again. These results have remained steady or slightly improved for all four sectors compared to a year ago.

How many students are satisfied overall?

While the majority of students indicate they are satisfied with their experiences, there are still many areas where there is room for improvement on the national level, including satisfaction with tuition. The report looks at student satisfaction for the statement, “Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.” As the table below shows, only half of students at four-year institutions expressed satisfaction with this item.
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Has your campus tweeted today? Balancing social media options for college student recruitment


For college and university marketers, the array of online options for reaching prospective students can seem nearly infinite. In the past several years, the proliferation of social media platforms—and shifting trends in their use by traditional-age prospective students—has created new challenges in budgeting and staff deployment. To help illustrate the ever-increasing number of platforms being used by prospective students (and their parents), just take a look at this data from our 2014 E-Expectations Report (the following graph includes responses from seniors and parents in the 2014 survey and seniors from the 2013 survey):

What social media channels do college-bound high school students use?

Responses from seniors and parents in the 2014 survey and seniors from the 2013 survey (Click to enlarge)

Although the array of potential channels has increased, the size of most marketing teams (and the number of hours in a working day) has not. So what’s a college marketing leader to do? Jump on the latest trend to meet prospects where they live? Or stick with tried and true techniques and risk losing relevance in the eyes of young people? These, among many others, are the challenging questions many college and university marketing teams are tasked with answering.

Making the optimal investment in time and social media content: The example of Twitter as an e-recruitment tool

As with all potential marketing strategies, much of the answer depends on what you hope to accomplish in relation to your audiences and high-level organizational goals. It can be tempting to experiment with emerging platforms, but entering a new social space is ill-advised until you have the bandwidth to truly build an engaged community.
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Three college student retention strategies that planning teams should prioritize at this time of year



October is a prime time for retention planning—how are you assessing 2013-14?

October is a prime time for college student retention planning—how are you assessing 2013-14?

It’s that time of year when retention committees, student success professionals, and leadership teams all across the country calculate the retention rate for the fall 2013 cohort and compare it with their previous years’ outcomes. Some campuses have undoubtedly stayed the same, others decreased, and some increased, but the overall conversation is usually about how “it” can be done better for the fall 2014 class.

Let’s talk about “it” for a minute. Many of you may have read in a previous post that I don’t believe any of you get up in the morning and go to work to do retention. Retention isn’t what you do. “It” is an outcome of what you do. “It” is the result of quality faculty, staff, programs and services. As you consider improvements to your efforts which will impact the fall 2014 entering class and beyond, please keep in mind the following three student retention strategies and practices.

1. Assess college student retention outcomes completely

The first strategy I want you to consider is comprehensive outcomes assessment. All colleges and universities compute a retention rate at this time of year because it has to be submitted via the IPEDS system as a part of federal requirements. But many schools go above and beyond what is required and compute other retention rates to inform planning purposes. For example, at what rates did you retain special populations or students enrolled in programs designed to improve student success? In order to best understand what contributed to the overall retention rate, other outcomes have to be assessed as well. For instance, how many students persisted but didn’t progress? Before you finalize the college student retention strategies for your fall 2014 students, be sure that you know how your 2013 students persisted and progressed so that strategies can be developed in advance. An example would be a targeted, intrusive, and intentional academic recovery program that happens in spring and summer terms for instance. My friends at Cardinal Stritch University do this very well.
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How does a 3 percent increase in college student retention add up financially?


Is your campus experiencing retention inertia? Do you struggle to find campuswide support and resources to meet your retention goals?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, I hope you can also say with all honesty that no one on your campus is grumbling about reduced funding or tighter budgets? Ah, I thought not. So what’s the connection?

Improving student retention, simply put, is one of the most dependable ways to generate millions of dollars in additional revenue at large institutions and hundreds of thousands of dollars even at very small institutions.

Examples: Estimated net revenue gains from a three percent increase in first-to-second-year retention

Consider the following three examples, each based on a three percent gain in retention:

Assumes 1.5 retention factor on sophomores to graduation.

Assumes 1.5 retention factor on sophomores to graduation.


Net revenue includes state subsidies; 1.5 retention factor on sophomores to graduation.

Net revenue includes state subsidies; 1.5 retention factor on sophomores to graduation.


Net revenue includes state subsidies; 1.0 retention factor of sophomores to graduation.

Net revenue includes state subsidies; 1.0 retention factor of sophomores to graduation.


How did we produce these examples? The math was fairly simple. For instance, in the first example, we calculated the number of additional second-year students that would be gained from the three percent increase in first-to-second-year retention (going from 80 percent retention to 83 percent):

80% retention rate: 300 incoming students X .80 = 240 students
83% retention rate: 300 incoming students X .83 = 249 students

This yielded a gain of nine students. We then multiplied the difference, nine, by the average net revenue per student ($15,000) and by a 1.5 retention factor to graduation. The examples for four-year public and two-year public follow the same formula.

Note: The examples do not take into consideration any changes in tuition or the costs of educating the additional students who persist. The revenue is not “net, net.” However, the marginal cost of educating each additional unit of enrollment is far less than the average cost of all enrollment units.

Share this with your Provost, CFO, and others to win support for additional retention initiatives this fall

The above estimates show that even modest improvements in retention make a big difference in revenue. We encourage you to share the examples with colleagues. Investing in retention programming is good business. Few, if any, other institutional investments will yield such a high return. Too often, increasing retention is not recognized as one of the most effective ways to add full-time equivalents, thereby broadening an institution’s revenue base.

In addition, retention improvements can happen relatively quickly. Noel-Levitz has helped campuses achieve an improvement of 3 to 5 percent in their retention rate within one year through aggressive strategy implementation.

Get a quick estimate of your institution’s student retention revenue with our auto-calculating worksheet

To quickly estimate retention revenue for your institution, use Noel-Levitz’s Retention Revenue Estimator. All you need to do is enter the number of additional second-year students you expect to gain (or “save”) and your average annual net revenue per student. If you don’t have the net revenue figure, ask your finance office to provide it.

For more help with accurately estimating retention revenue for your institution, or to discuss your retention strategy with a retention expert, we invite you to email or call us at 1-800-876-1117 for a complimentary consultation by phone.

What makes college student mentoring programs successful?



Student engagement is essential to student success and student outcomes, and mentoring programs is one example of an initiative that can create a student-focused culture.

Student engagement is essential to student success and student outcomes, and mentoring programs are one example of an initiative that can create a student-focused culture.

Over the course of the spring and summer months, I had the opportunity to attend and present at several of the state and national private and career school conferences including the Arizona Private School Association (ASPA), the Association of Private Schools and Universities (APSCU), and the Northwest Career College Federation (NWCCF). It is always great to connect and share information with other educators in the private post-secondary sector. The tone of the conferences was set by the concern of the legislative issues that affect the sector, and many of the sessions focused on recruitment, compliance, assessment, quality educational outcomes, and employment outcomes for graduates. You can find my presentations and other resources for private and post-secondary schools at the Noel-Levitz website.

In my interactions with many of the attendees, I was interested in the best practices and takeaways for increasing student success and ultimately graduate outcomes. One of the most interesting topics concerned mentoring college students. We know from research that college mentoring programs can positively affect student success and graduate outcomes (Rhodes, 2008). However, in my experience, mentoring programs have some difficulty getting support and sustainability with private post-secondary schools. In one of my presentations a group shared their best practices, and I was particularly impressed with a mentoring program at Sumner College in Oregon. Sumner College is a private post-secondary school that uses mentoring to impact retention and graduate success, and that program has helped it achieve a 90 percent student retention rate. Carlie Jones, the director of operations at Sumner College who helped establish the mentoring program, described how it came together because of the joint efforts of the college’s student services department and the faculty and staff. She also made it clear that the program’s success would not be possible without the support and leadership from Sumner’s president, who personally mentored over a dozen students within a year. Sumner College has multiple campuses and is still small enough to be flexible within the parameters of the mentoring program. Key elements of the program include:

  • All students (mentees) are assigned a mentor (faculty or staff, including the college president).
  • Students are matched randomly with their faculty and staff mentors, which helps avoid conflicts of interest within their programs of study.
  • Mentor and mentee assignments happen at orientation, so students begin the mentoring program as soon as possible. They can also change their assignments at any time based on the connection between the mentor and mentee.
  • Mentors are trained and required initially to be in contact with mentees once a week, but they can adjust the frequency based on the needs of the mentee.

It is apparent that the efforts of the mentoring program affected student success and graduate completion rates, but moreover it reinforced the culture of student engagement. Interestingly, the success stories that Carlie shared involved the students’ academic and social preparedness and how mentoring influenced students’ lives by connecting them with resources to make them successful throughout the student life cycle.
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Six steps for optimizing search keywords for college webpages


Co-written with Jennifer Croft. Jennifer is an SEO consultant with 30 years of marketing experience who has worked on more than 500 websites, including 50 higher education websites.

Over the past 20 years, search engine optimization (SEO) has transformed how organizations can get users to their web pages via search engines. Many successful strategies, metrics, and tools have been developed to help colleges and universities connect web visitors to relevant webpages. At its core, though, SEO is still all about keywords—the words and phrases users type into Google and other search engines to find links to websites. Each time someone types a search query, the search engine strives to understand the intent of the words, search a giant library of trillions of webpages, and deliver the most relevant results (all in a split second).

How does the engine know which links to put at the top of the search results? By matching the user’s query to the keywords on those webpages. To get your institution’s pages to the top of the search engine results, you need to understand how to choose the most effective keywords and where to put them on the page for maximum SEO impact.

We discussed some key strategies in our SEO 101 blog. The following six steps can further help you research and execute an optimal SEO strategy for your institution’s webpages.

1) Conduct keyword research

To attract the most clicks to your school’s website, you’ll need to include the words and phrases on your webpages that prospective students are most likely to type into a search engine. For example, few people search for “accountancy degree,” but thousands search for “accounting degree.” The keyword phrase “law and society degree,” is rarely used, whereas “criminal justice degree” is one of the most popular degree search terms. Sometimes the difference between a popular and unpopular term can be just a few characters, but without researching you’ll never know.

By performing keyword research, you can uncover the most popular phrases. You can also use keyword research to:
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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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