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7th Jun 2013

Enrolling new students is step one, but don’t forget about retention

With all the pressures on recruitment these days, there is naturally a focus on top-line goals. How many students did we get? How does that compare to last semester/quarter/year? But that is just the beginning, literally. The larger goal is to get them to stay happily, succeed, and graduate – and to have an experience so gratifying that they can be great brand ambassadors as alumni. This post will look at some important considerations to meet these longer-term goals.

“Re-yield” is a key concept

A crop of newly enrolled students can be thought of as a yield, proposes consulting firm Noel-Levitz, while a “re-yield” is essentially the amount of students who have been retained in successive years. Noel-Levitz has devoted a series of recent blog posts to this idea of re-yielding, and begins it with the following questions:

  • Do current strategies at your school really serve to support re-yield of your class during the intake process, during the first year, and beyond?
  • Which retention management strategies should be in each part of the model?
  • What are the measurements along the pathway that we should be concerned about?

One of the people they interview, Tyson Schank, enrolment manager at Metropolitan Community College (Maple Woods) makes an excellent point about the culture students have grown up in – which informs their experiences:

“With today’s students (whatever generation you want to lump them into), they have largely grown up in the millennial culture of instant reward and recognition for things [to which] older generations never gave much thought, such as participation trophies for youth soccer instead of just for the 'winners'.”

Mr Schank considers students as “gamers” (i.e., video-gamers) who like to have rewards for achieving different milestones – in life, just as in games. He thinks rewards are actually intrinsic to students continuing to play “the game” (i.e., stay enrolled):

“When students hit our identified milestones, we should not only recognise them immediately for it, but we should allow that milestone to ‘unlock’ new perks to them. It’s like a VIP club which demonstrates accomplishment and can be a source of pride in peer-to-peer relationships.

"The hope would be that this achievement begins to be modeled by their peers and they all decide to keep playing the game. Maybe parents can be involved in certain levels of ‘trophies’ to add some Facebook bragging rights for mom and dad so the student gets additional reinforcement.” Noel-Levitz notes that milestones can occur along the entire duration of a student’s study time (years one to six, or however many years a programme requires to complete).

What are the areas that should be monitored to promote re-yields?

We recently published an article on data and data mining – there are a lot of ways of finding out about a student’s experience – and that experience should not simply be assessed from an academic point of view. A more complete list of the factors affecting students’ satisfaction include:

  • Financial stability;
  • Social comfort (for international students, this includes how well they are coping with culture shock and making friends);
  • Academic performance;
  • Academic support (are they getting enough support to reach their potential?);
  • Comfort with accommodations;
  • Access to recreation (and for international students, this can be extended to having enough ways to immerse themselves in the host country’s culture and travel to different areas).

Are there ways in which your institution can implement data systems (complete with capture, monitoring, measurement, and tracking) to encompass those areas? A good data analyst will also be able to cross-tabulate the various areas to come up with overall satisfaction measures – complete with analyses of where students are most and least satisfied.

Turning good data into better retention

Good data is naturally a good thing – but it’s only useful if it can be acted upon. Here are some great examples of how finding out about one area of a student’s satisfaction – or lack thereof – can motivate a helpful intervention that can increase retention and satisfaction:

  • A student receives his first “A,” or is showing signs of growing improvement - Intervention: A congratulatory letter from the faculty advisor, or an invitation to come in and meet in order to receive the congratulations in person.
  • A student is experiencing financial difficulty - The Chronicle of Higher Education published a great story about a sophomore who, since he owed US $500 on his tuition bill to his university, was going to get kicked out. Intervention (real-life): the university’s financial aid office noticed (by reviewing data) and offered him a US $500 grant. Now that’s retention planning!
  • A student is at the stage of considering whether or not to proceed to an honour’s degree - Intervention: Invite them to a graduation studies information session, complete with successful alumni in the field.
  • An international student is going home for the summer - Intervention: Provide coupons for great restaurants in the local area to be used upon commencement of the next term (i.e., when she returns).
  • A student is missing classes - Intervention: A request for a meeting with a student counsellor, to see what’s wrong and if any help can be offered.

As in life, it’s the journey that matters more than the destination

More and more, the universities and colleges that are being rated highly by students are the ones that are investing heavily in making sure their students’ entire journey at their schools is rewarding. This year, the University of East Anglia secured the top spot in 2012 in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey. Mark Barlow, director of admissions and recruitment at the university, explained of the top result:

“We genuinely have looked very hard at all aspects of the student journey and made sure we are improving and finessing: from student learning experience to social programmes by the students’ union and the environment in which students find themselves living.”

Mr Barlow also noted that a particular focus has been investing heavily in the number of staff to “make sure students can really access someone, not just a junior academic, but the professors they’re lectured by.” Finally, as much as the study experience is a journey, students are also acutely aware there is an end: ideally, a rewarding career. Throughout the student’s time at your institution, it’s important to make sure they are getting enough support to feel they have a chance at achieving this end: career counselling, academic support, and ways to connect with relevant industries or professionals. As much as institutions’ admissions departments have a host of challenges (ever more so, it seems!), remembering that the institution is in the business not just of enrolling students but graduating them successfully is a key element of building enrolment for the long term.

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