Want to strengthen your student retention strategies?
Learn more about our solutions for student success, or contact Ruffalo Noel Levitz with your student retention questions and challenges.
Learn more about our solutions for student success, or contact Ruffalo Noel Levitz with your student retention questions and challenges.
Co-written by Jim Scannell
This post is based on an article in the current issue of University Business
Enrollment leadership today requires a coordinated campus team to address and respond to evolving and emerging internal challenges as well as shifting external markets and forces. Pressures that affect enrollments, and especially yield rates, are a function of several of today’s realities: significant demographic shifts, the proliferation of applications per student, increased price sensitivity, and changing methods of delivery.
So how does the enrollment officer help to ensure that the institution has the right mix of academic programs; delivery methods; student life experiences; price position; and recruiting and awarding strategies that will attract the sufficient number of talented students needed to meet fiscal and enrollment goals, while sustaining and advancing the college’s mission? Cross-campus engagement featuring an “institution first” culture, which encourages colleagues to think beyond their own departments and programs, is a critical piece of the puzzle.
John McCloskey, vice president for enrollment management at Alvernia University (AU), recalls how leadership on campus paved the way for meeting enrollment challenges, “In 2015, trustees established an ad-hoc committee of the board (including faculty members) to study and develop recommendations regarding undergraduate enrollment initiatives to drive enrollment growth of new and returning students. The committee researched market trends and employment projection data and ultimately developed a list of new majors, suggestions for renewal of select academic majors, as well as several athletic programs for the administration to complete feasibility studies for future programming. Engaging the trustees and faculty in the conversation regarding the external enrollment challenges was productive and opened the door for subsequent faculty and staff discussions.”
How can your campus leaders work more closely together to achieve college enrollment goals and institutional objectives? And how can you adapt the culture of the institution to include cross-campus engagement? Invite your senior leadership team to RNL’s Executive Forum in Chicago to kick off a collaborative, strategic enrollment plan that assesses high-impact strategies that cross divisional lines. Together, we’ll discuss how to navigate your campus through the academic, demographic, and economic challenges ahead using cross-divisional strategies. Learn more.
As the leader of our strategic enrollment planning at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, I work with institutions of every size, type, and mission to create strategic enrollment plans that help institutions align with changing academic demands, employment needs, and student diversity. In this post, I respond to some common questions I hear from campus leaders, in anticipation of our upcoming Strategic Enrollment Planning Executive Forum, April 26-27 in Chicago.
President Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” The foundation of a good strategic enrollment plan is a good strategic enrollment planning process. The key is to bring the right people to the table, provide them with access to institutional and external data, foster collaboration across the institution, embrace transparency, and roll up your sleeves and get to work. Know at the outset that the goal is not to do everything, but to identify those few strategies that the data say have the greatest potential to improve institutional performance, and that will mobilize the campus community to action. It sounds simple, but it requires strong leadership.
While institutional mission must be at the center of any strategic planning process, the most effective strategic enrollment plans link academic and fiscal planning with recruitment and retention planning. Our marketing and recruitment efforts are designed to bring students to our institutions to study in our academic programs. Our retention efforts are designed to foster student success so that students will remain enrolled in our programs and then complete them. The entire financial enterprise, from capital campaigns to financial aid disbursement, are designed to help students enroll, to provide quality programs, and to pay the bills. If enrollment planning is just about getting students and keeping them, then it is not likely very strategic. While strategic enrollment planning will not magically remove organizational silos, by design it will lessen their effects on organizational collaboration because individuals from across the institution will come together to identify challenges and opportunities, and to develop plans that will strengthen the enrollment and the fiscal foundation of the institution. [Read more…]
This is part one of a two-part post on preparing for diverse college student populations. Watch for part two coming soon.
In my more than 20 years working on college campuses, a common theme of conversations has been “are the students we are enrolling ready for college?” This applies to the full range of students: traditional-aged students coming directly from high school, transfer students, adult learners, law school students…. No matter the type of student, faculty and staff frequently ask “are they ready”?
However, now I’m increasingly concerned about whether institutions themselves are “student ready.” Do we know enough about our students as they enter our institutions, either as freshmen or transfers? Do we understand what they are experiencing as they make numerous transitions in their first and second years of enrollment? And do we have nuanced understandings of our diverse college student populations by race/ethnicity, first-generation, by age, and by gender? What do students have in common? Where are their divergent experiences, pressures, and challenges? How prepared is the institution to meet the needs of entering students where they are now, and how solidly in place are the structures for support on day one? Also, do we know what information would be critical to ensure we are “student ready” on day one?
National data on entering students in 2016 was gathered by RNL’s College Student Inventory from 99,300 students attending 290 institutions across North America. Here are some of the key findings, all statistically significant:
By first-generation vs. students with college-educated parents:
Now is the time on most campuses across the country to begin preparing for welcoming new students in the summer and fall. What is driving your decision-making about how to prepare for your newest students? If you’re relying on the traditional (and limited) metrics of high school GPA or transfer student GPA and SAT or ACT, you’re missing significant information that is relevant to student success programs. Having motivational, non-cognitive data available can help you fill in the gaps left by old metrics and ensure that you are “student ready” on Day One.
Interested in learning more about preparing diverse college student populations for success? See all of our reports here on entering students, including the 2017 National Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report and its Addendum by Race/Ethnicity. Questions? Contact us by email or call me at 800.876.1117.
Find out what campuses nationwide are doing to successfully engage students of color, adult learners, online learners, graduate students, and other diverse college student populations. Attend this Symposium to prepare your campus for today’s diverse students. Learn more.
Unable to attend the Symposium? Contact us at 800.876.1117 or send an email to discuss college completion and student success, confidentially, with an expert from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, or learn more about the RNL solutions for student success.
We all live in and enjoy the benefits of a sharing economy, where individuals are able to borrow or rent assets owned by someone else. We see this regularly when the price of the asset is high (a car, a home) and not fully utilized all of the time, think Airbnb, Uber. But it can also apply to the sharing of information technology and intellectual resources. It’s that sharing of intellectual resources, specifically, college student success assets, that I want to focus on today.
As educators, the reality of our work today is that we face intense pressure to address our college student success needs. Think performance-based funding, budgeting and net revenue issues, accreditation, local, regional, and national employment trends. And student needs are changing as demographics change; we have less time and resources to design an effective solution, not to mention we have very little room for error. Instead of designing something from the ground up, we often take advantage of our student success sharing economy and frequently look to established best practices, associations, vendors, and colleagues for an idea that can be customized to fit our unique needs and situation.
I hope you’ve taken advantage of the body of knowledge Ruffalo Noel Levitz contributes to the student success sharing economy. One way we contribute is by celebrating effective college retention programs with the Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards (REAs). More than 170 colleges and universities have been honored with Retention Excellence Awards and they all have shared their retention assets via our compendium. If you’re looking for new ideas to serve minority students, to create a comprehensive retention plan, to recruit back stop outs or virtually anything else, check out the retention assets your colleagues have shared.
Naturally, giving is as important as receiving in the college student success sharing economy. I invite you to share your retention assets by applying for a 2017 Retention Excellence Award (REA). Applications are now being accepted and must be completed by March 17, 2017. The application process is brief and is similar to submitting a proposal to present at a conference. Up to three winners will be recognized and the honor includes a free conference registration to the National Conference on Student Marketing Recruitment and Retention being held in Denver, July 26-28, 2017. Winners are featured in a national webinar hosted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz and will serve as a judge in selecting the 2018 winners.
Please take the time to contribute to the student success sharing economy. I encourage you to review the application and consider applying. The process is easy, and the rewards for your campus and our student success sharing economy are many!
Questions? Please contact me directly by email or call me at 800.876.1117, ext. 8787.
2016 research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes
Ruffalo Noel Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2016 to understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student recruitment, campus marketing, and student retention. We also examined current campus practices for enrollment and marketing. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:
The college website is still the #1 way to communicate with prospective students but the runner-up is now split between email and text messaging. In recent polls, campus officials rated text messaging and email almost equally effective, and 70 percent of prospective students indicated they were open to receiving text messages from colleges and universities. But fewer than half of campuses currently send mass recruiting texts. Download our 2016 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Colleges and universities can accomplish five goals at once by increasing student satisfaction. Many consumer studies have shown that increasing satisfaction builds positive word of mouth. Now a 2016 study has confirmed that increasing student satisfaction is also linked to lower student loan default rates, adding to earlier-confirmed links with higher retention rates, completion rates, and alumni giving. Is your institution measuring and rewarding improvements in satisfaction? See the research.
At $2,232 per student, private colleges spent nearly four times more than four-year public institutions on student recruitment last year. We also learned that budgets for recruitment and admissions remained flat over the past two years for the majority of four-year and two-year institutions. Is your institution tracking ROI on all of its recruiting activities and identifying new, high-payback opportunities? See our 2016 Report: Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student.
40 percent of high school seniors apply to colleges they learn about during their senior year. In addition, 50 percent of seniors rule out institutions based only on “sticker price.” Is your institution focusing a substantial amount of its recruiting on seniors? And how are you emphasizing your institution’s value to skeptical students and parents? Download our 2016 Perceptions of Financial Aid Report and Infographic.
54 percent of adult prospective students have clicked on a paid online ad from a college or university, as have 47 percent of high school juniors, yet most institutions place these ads only occasionally. What new digital outreach strategies should your institution be considering in 2017? Download our 2016 Adult E-Expectations Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Mathematics is a struggle for 51 percent of incoming adult learners, including 53 percent of incoming first-generation adult students. Our 2016 research shows a majority of incoming students agree with the statement, “Math has always been difficult for me.” Do you know how many students at your institution are struggling with mathematics and other areas inside and outside the classroom? Download our 2016 Adult Learner Motivation to Complete College Report.
95 percent of incoming traditional-age students express a desire to graduate, but only about half do. Our latest freshman research shows a wide array of personal, social, financial, and academic obstacles prevent students from reaching their goals. Have you explored the merits of using noncognitive surveys to better understand your incoming students’ needs early on, or do you wait until you see visible signs of struggle? See our 2016 Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report.
New edition of book, plans for 2017 research
Also in 2016, we released our 2016 update of the book, Strategic Enrollment Planning: A Dynamic Collaboration. Order this authoritative, step-by-step guide to help your campus prepare for major changes in today’s marketplace.
Looking ahead to 2017, we plan to release new benchmarks on college student satisfaction and motivation, new research on recruiting conversion and yield rates, a new study of student retention indicators, and updates on rising seniors’ perceptions of financial aid and high school students’ and parents’ perceptions of and preferences for college communications.
Sign up to receive the latest updates
Ruffalo Noel Levitz regularly publishes white papers and trend reports. Sign up to be notified when new reports are available.
Learn more about our Higher Education Research
To help educators stay on top of the many changes in higher education, we regularly conduct trend research and share our findings widely. Learn about several ways we provide information.
Does your campus fully utilize its student satisfaction scores at accreditation time? As a reminder, regular assessments of student satisfaction provide data for four key institutional activities:
• Retention/student success
• Strategic planning
• Recruiting new students
• Accreditation documentation
The accreditation process can be time-demanding and stressful for your campus staff and leadership, yet is essential to complete and pass. And while the official process is something you address once every decade, regularly gathering data from your students and maintaining proactive processes can make the actual, official requirements go much more smoothly.
My colleague Charles Schroeder likes to say that during self-studies, people on campus begin running around gathering data and shouting, “The accreditors are coming! The accreditors are coming!” To avoid this reaction, our recommendation is don’t just assess student satisfaction as part of your self-study, but assess student satisfaction on a regular cycle, once every two or three years (if not annually).
How can you use data from student satisfaction surveys in your accreditation process? I have four suggestions for you.
1. Match the survey items to your accreditation requirements. As a resource for you, we have mapped the individual items on the Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys (including the Student Satisfaction Inventory, the Adult Student Priorities Survey, the Adult Learner Inventory and the Priorities Survey for Online Learners) to the individual criteria for all of the regional accreditors across the United States. You can download the relevant mapping document for your survey version and region here. This takes the guesswork out of determining how the student feedback lines up with the documentation you need to provide. You can also see how the items are mapped to your regional accrediting agency.
2. Respond to student-identified challenge items. The RNL Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys identify areas of high importance and low satisfaction as challenge items. These are priority areas for improvement based on the perceptions of your students. By actively working to improve the student experience in these areas, you can potentially improve overall student satisfaction, which studies have correlated with better student retention, higher institutional graduation rates, higher alumni giving, and lower loan default rates. Improvements in these areas are going to look good for your accreditation.
3. Document your student-identified strengths. The RNL Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys also reflect student-identified strengths, which are items of high importance and high satisfaction. These are the areas that your students care about, and where they think you are doing a good job. Mentioning your strengths to your accreditors helps to position you in a positive light and to focus the conversation on where you are meeting or exceeding student expectations.
Some of you may remember Richard Carlson’s late 1990’s advice, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” A copy of this motivational book is on my bookshelf. It reminds me not to let the minutiae of life get in the way of the big picture.
However, when it comes to the college experience of today’s students, you may want to reconsider this advice and start paying attention to the little aggravations and annoyances that your students are experiencing, because we have seen that these can indeed make an impact on students’ larger perceptions of your institution. Sometimes, small details truly do matter.
First, let’s look at the big picture.
Over the past 20-plus years, we have studied our National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Reports and consistently seen that a high priority area for improvement for students at four-year private and public institutions is: “Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.”
|Students attending four-year private institutions||Students attending four-year public institutions|
|Importance to me||88%||86%|
|My satisfaction level||45%||52%|
Source: 2015-2016 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, www.RuffaloNL.com/SatisfactionBenchmarks
The chart above reflects the percentage of students who indicate that this statement is important or very important to them as well as the percentage that say they are satisfied or very satisfied, as measured on our Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI). The performance gap is the difference between these two numbers. For your reference, in the range of scores at four-year privates, the tuition-is-worth-it statement is eighth in rank order of importance (out of 73 items), but with satisfaction scores that can get as high as 72 percent in the national data, you can see that there is definitely room for improvement here. Similarly, at four-year publics, this statement is again eighth in rank order of importance, and satisfaction scores can range up to 69 percent, so again, improvements can be made at four-year publics as well. (As a side note: Students at two-year community colleges, where tuition amounts are often much lower, score this item higher, with importance at 90 percent and satisfaction at 69 percent.)
When consulting with colleges about their satisfaction scores, I used to recommend that institutions respond to this issue by working to improve students’ perceptions of the value of their education. This included suggestions such as telling students more about job placement rates and other outcomes after graduation, like the success of college alumni. I still believe these are important messages, especially while you are recruiting new students. It is also a good idea to continue to emphasize these messages with enrolled students. But sometimes, if an individual student doesn’t inherently value what you have to offer, it can be difficult to truly change their perception in this area.
In a series of studies over the last few years, Ruffalo Noel Levitz has documented the link between student satisfaction and several key institutional metrics:
Most of you at four-year institutions have begun your fall term, or will begin soon, and have welcomed your new class, the class of 2020. But are they really? Some of them will be the class of 2020 and others will be the class of 2021 and a few more will be part of the class of 2022. If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely looking for some ideas for your campus to implement in your retention and completion planning. Here are three tips for you to consider.
First, please know what “normal” retention and completion rates are for your school type. I’ll give you an example but if you don’t know what your type is then please email me at email@example.com and we will define your type. This is the first critical step.
Here’s the example. Let’s assume you are a traditionally admitting school, which means your middle ACT composite range is about 18-24 and your SAT middle score range (all three tests) is about 1290-1650. Also, you are a public institution with a Carnegie Classification of baccalaureate offerings only. If this is you, then your retention rate on average should be about 70 percent and your five-year graduation rate should be around 38 percent.
If the national average for your school type is 70 percent and your campus has set a first-year retention rate goal of 80 percent then you may have a harder time achieving your goal unless you invest in aggressive strategy implementation.
Second, now that you know what is normal, you’ll need to assess what is actual. I always find this to be the most interesting part of the analysis. Recently, I made my first visit to one of the institutions I work with. I met with the Cabinet and they described their vision to have a 60 percent, six-year graduation rate. I asked them what data they had used to establish this vision and the answer was a list of schools they wanted to be like – their aspirant list. I think most schools have either competitor or aspirant lists or both. Anyway, my first question was this: What is your normal persistence and completion pattern? I saw some glances around the room and then asked them to track their 2007-14 cohorts, term-by-term, six years out, so we could see what really happens. The chart below is what really happened.