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.