The National Commission on Higher Education Attainment recently released an open letter to college and university leaders called, “College Completion Must Be Our Priority,” which extols the importance of focusing on college completion and student retention initiatives. Clearly, the momentum is building for higher education professionals to consider the total value that they offer to students and their families – one that includes the likelihood that students will graduate from the institution.
The new 2012 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Noel-Levitz shows colleges and universities are working to keep up with prospective students’ changing behaviors and preferences by employing a wide range of online technologies such as mobile-optimized Web sites, text messaging, social media, QR codes, and more.
For example, in response to the rising use of mobile devices among high school students, more than one-third of four-year colleges and universities nationally now have mobile-optimized Web sites. Specifically, 39 percent of four-year public universities and 35 percent of four-year private colleges now have a Web site that is optimized for mobile browsing. The study also found these figures are set to double within the next year, as at least half of the study’s respondents that are currently without mobile-optimized sites reported they were preparing to launch one by spring 2013.
The study was based on a national poll of undergraduate admissions officials at U.S., degree-granting colleges and universities conducted between March 21, 2012, and April 20, 2012.
To further gear up for mobile browsing, nearly two-thirds of four-year college and university respondents in the study reported using QR codes to attract students to their sites. In addition, more than one-third of four-year public institution respondents and nearly one-quarter of four-year private institution respondents reported offering mobile apps.
Every other year, Noel-Levitz polls campuses on their most- and least-effective practices for student retention. In response, we get a wide range of answers. This variety isn’t surprising. In our consultations with campuses, we often learn that individual institutions are piecing together a patchwork of practices.
So, one may ask, are there best practices? The answer is yes. However, true “best practices” are those that are customized to match your student populations, grounded in the foundations of each practice, and matched with your institution’s values and mission.
For example, in our 2011 Student Retention Practices Report, 93 percent of campuses said they used first-year experience programs, a popular best practice for student retention. However, not all first-year experience programs are created equal, and some may simply be an English course with a common reading among all first-year students. While this has it merits, the campus should have a first-year experience course grounded in John Gardner’s work that calls for a course which extends orientation and provides engagement activities that foster student success.
Also, each institution needs to know which practices best match its specific student subpopulations. Only by carefully measuring the persistence and progression patterns and the impact of each activity can we confirm the value of so-called “best practices.”
At this time of year, most admissions teams at four-year colleges and universities are keeping close, daily counts of their inquiry, applicant, and accepted pools, with yield counts to follow soon on accepts and then on deposits/confirmed students. While all of these totals are important, they can also be misleading. Let me explain. If you follow this explanation carefully, you’ll see how to avoid late surprises by continuously tracking the strengths and weaknesses of your next incoming class—not just the total numbers.
First, let’s look at the way most admissions teams have been using “funnels” to track progress.
For decades, enrollment managers and admissions officers have been monitoring admissions funnels at their institutions and making new student enrollment projections by monitoring such rates as the:
- Response rates to search outreach efforts
- Conversion rates from inquiry to applicant
- Acceptance rates
- Yield rates from acceptance to enrollment
Our latest research report, the Mid-Year Student Retention Indicators Report, showcases some important benchmarks when measuring retention and completion rates. The information can be useful for institutions looking to compare their performance to national standards. But colleges and universities that are looking for specific ways to improve their own retention rates will need to do more than just analyze national trends. They need to set realistic retention goals and develop strategies to reach those goals.
These two processes can be overwhelming for institutions facing significant student losses, or even for campuses looking for small improvements in student retention. However, the following six steps can help guide your institution through the goal-setting process and help you turn those goals into retention strategies that work.
1. Find out your campus’ retention indicators
Looking at trends and data from other institutions can be useful for comparison’s sake, but when figuring out how best to improve retention rates at your campus, it’s crucial that you identify which specific challenges and opportunities are especially pertinent to your students. Set up a side-by-side comparison of the benchmarks in our report and your own trend data to assess your performance and better understand which factors serve as indicators for your retention success.