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Student Affairs Today
is part of the Jossey-Bass higher education newsletter series. It highlights best practices in helping students fulfill their potential, plus keeps readers informed of critical legal issues. It is available in print, online and as a PDF delivery. Read More
Enrollment Management Report
is part of the Jossey-Bass higher education newsletter series. It highlights proven strategic enrollment strategies and systems, plus legal briefs to keep enrollment officials out of legal hot water. It is available in print, online and as a PDF delivery. Read More
Generating Opportunities
6/15/2015 12:00 AM

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — When Barack Obama unveiled his bill for America’s College Promise in January 2015, one of the models upon which the proposal was based came from the example set by the Tennessee Board of Regents, a collection of 13 community colleges and six four-year universities. Recognizing that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the United States will require some level of postsecondary education, Tennessee passed the Complete College Tennessee Act in 2010.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — When Barack Obama unveiled his bill for America’s College Promise in January 2015, one of the models upon which the proposal was based came from the example set by the Tennessee Board of Regents, a collection of 13 community colleges and six four-year universities. Recognizing that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the United States will require some level of postsecondary education, Tennessee passed the Complete College Tennessee Act in 2010.

The CCTA, also known as the Drive to 55, looks to ensure that 55 percent of Tennessee’s population will have a college degree or certification by 2025. One of the key implementation aspects of this plan has been to provide two years of free education via the Tennessee Promise scholarship at either a Tennessee Board of Regents–affiliated community college or at a Tennessee Applied College of Technology. The CCTA, which acknowledges the tension between the need for a more highly skilled Tennessean population while also dealing with less funding for higher education, shifts the focus of educational funding to performance-based outcomes and leveraging a new state funding formula. This funding is based on the principle that investing in a better-educated workforce will ultimately lead to economic gains for the state.

“IQ is not distributed according to income,” said Anthony Wise, president of Pellissippi State Community College and one of the major forces behind the Tennessee Drive to 55 movement. “Education means a better life.” Wise spoke at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention. The Tennessee Promise, the scholarship that grants free tuition, is available to students who graduate from high school starting this year. To be eligible for the scholarships, students must meet the necessary requirements, including FAFSA completion, GPA maintenance, attendance at a community mentoring program, and community service each semester.

The free tuition component of the CCTA has garnered the most national attention of any of its provisions. But Tennessee has already achieved great success from its initiatives. In the five years since the CCTA went into effect, the community colleges affiliated with the Tennessee Board of Regents have nearly doubled their completion rates, moving from 669 degrees granted in 2009 (out of approximately 10,000 students) to 1,286 degrees granted in 2014 (out of also approximately 10,000 students).

So what are some of the key factors that contribute to Tennessee’s success? Wise explained that officials at the Board of Regents community colleges:

  1. Implemented five-year DACUM curriculum evaluations. One of the immediate considerations for the Tennessee Board of Regents was to ensure that quality was not sacrificed to increase the number of students receiving degrees. Standardized learning outcomes were developed for all colleges during a two-day intensive on Developing a Curriculum, a process that designs curricula based on skills needed for the job markets represented by each major or concentration. Each concentration or major offered at a community college was required to undergo this DACUM training and adjust its curriculum accordingly. Finally, Tennessee has pledged to continue this DACUM training on a five-year review schedule to ensure that all skills and learning outcomes are up-to-date and applicable.
  2. Required FAFSA completion. To be eligible for the Tennessee Promise scholarship, students must complete the FAFSA. In 2014, the FAFSA completion rate in Tennessee was 62 percent, up a full 18 percent from the year before and nearly 20 percent higher than the next highest state completion rate. Indeed, the next highest growth rate for FAFSA completion for any state was 2 percent.
  3. Shifted focus from enrollment rates to completion rates. While enrollment and completion rates necessarily go hand-in-hand, the Tennessee Board of Regents focuses primarily on what it can do to retain students through graduation. Focusing on community factors, such as ensuring that students who begin their associate degree at an urban campus location are able to finish out their degree at an urban campus location, helped increase retention rates. Ensuring appropriate funding for “wrap-around services” that guide nontraditional-aged students or first-generation college students through the admission, registration and enrollment processes also improved retention. These wrap-around services help reduce the transaction barrier some students face with enrollment and/or graduation forms.
  4. Focused on the community impact. A key aspect to Tennessee’s success that is not yet reflected in America’s College Promise is community engagement for both students and community members alike. Tennessee Promise students are required to receive mentoring from a member of the community, as well as provide at least one day of community service for each semester they benefit from the scholarship. Engaging local community members in the Tennessee Promise scholarship helps the community see the ongoing benefits of the CCTA.
  5. Created a pathway of guaranteed admission to university. One of the major incentives for students with the scholarship, besides the promise of free education, is the premium consideration students who complete their associate degree receive for transferring to a four-year university. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville even offers a partnership for success geared to help students complete the associate degree and transition smoothly into the four-year system. College Promise scholarship students who transfer from a community college to a four-year university must maintain an average GPA of 3.2.
  6. Supported learners with appropriate technology. In the Strategies for Teaching Excellence Program employed by several of the Tennessee community colleges, iPads were made available for individual student use while in the classroom. This led to a 50 percent improvement in student grades for STEM classes such as chemistry. Incorporating the use and practice of appropriate technology in the classroom helps to develop the skill sets students might need for future employment opportunities as well.
  7. Engaged adult learners by designing for-credit credentials for employees. The Tennessee Board of Regents has partnered with such organizations as Denso, Keurig and Newell Rubbermaid to develop for-credit certifications for current and prospective employees. These certification programs currently have a 94 percent job placement rate for graduates. By partnering with companies, Tennessee is able to develop curricula that specifically supplies prospective employees with the skill sets necessary for career success. For adult learners looking to advance their career, these certifications nearly guarantee future employment opportunities.
Admissions
5/14/2015 12:00 AM

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. — For success with graduate enrollment, you need to deliver an exceptional applicant experience. That’s according to Robert Ruiz, executive director of program partnerships at Liaison International. He’s also a former director of admissions, most recently at the University of Michigan Medical School.

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. — For success with graduate enrollment, you need to deliver an exceptional applicant experience. That’s according to Robert Ruiz, executive director of program partnerships at Liaison International. He’s also a former director of admissions, most recently at the University of Michigan Medical School. Ruiz spoke at the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s national conference.

Last spring, 71 percent of colleges hadn’t made their class by May 1, Ruiz said. Admissions officials need to get smarter about how they treat prospective students. Those who provide an exceptional experience can outpace their competition.

Officials can start by understanding their applicants. For example, when Ruiz’s admissions office moved interview scheduling online, 90 percent of prospective students scheduled their interviews between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. “They did business when the office wasn’t open,” Ruiz said.

To provide an exceptional experience for applicants, Ruiz suggests that you follow these five best practices:

  1. Go paperless. About 25 percent of institutions are still using “shoebox” files, Ruiz said. A paperless system is important not just for efficiency but also because it provides data you can analyze to improve your results. The data can be useful only if it’s all in one place at one time, Ruiz said.
  2. But it’s not enough to put a paper process online, he added. Instead, you need to think through the process of how to move a prospective student from being a website visitor to enrolling on the first day of class.

  3. Leverage data strategically. “I think the biggest mistake admissions officers make is to treat every student the same,” Ruiz said. If you were selling cars, it wouldn’t make sense to treat all customers the same. If two customers were in the dealership and one had full financing to buy her third Mercedes and the other didn’t have financing, you would be polite to the second customer but you would devote your energy to the repeat customer with financing.
  4. Identify and manage stakeholders. Admissions directors should spend 50 percent of their time on campus working with stakeholders so that they understand one another and work together, Ruiz said.
  5. The stakeholders you want to connect with include deans, chairs, faculty, registrars’ staff, advisors, information technology, institutional planning and research, legal, and prospective applicants. If you can get half of the faculty to work with you, you can do a lot more than you could with just the staff members in your office, Ruiz said.

    Forming and maintaining those connections is an ongoing project, he said.

    When you’ve won over stakeholders, you can provide specific suggestions for how they can help. For example, giving faculty members a list of five things they can do to help enroll students will enable them to assist.

  6. Increase transparency. A central repository for data is important, Ruiz said. Sometimes data can change within a few days. A dashboard that applicants can see is a good idea. For example, at UM, applicants could learn at any time how many applications had been received, how many were from different states, how many interviews had been scheduled, and how many offers had been extended.
  7. Besides pleasing applicants, transparent data saves time for staff members since there aren’t as many applicants calling for information.

    Providing data internally is even more important, Ruiz said.

  8. Delight the consumer. Applicants vote with their feet and their wallets, and they expect to be catered to, Ruiz said.
  9. When customers order an item from Amazon, they receive notifications that their order has been received and that it has been sent. And they can track the package and know when to expect it. And when they order from Domino’s, an online tracker tells them when their pizza is being made, when it goes in the oven, and so on.

    Imagine if applicants knew just when they would receive their admissions decisions, Ruiz said. Instead, many admissions officers act like they are in a secret society, he added.

Try these strategies to engage constituents

Getting campus constituents working together will make admissions efforts more effective. Ruiz suggested the following strategies:

  • Emphasize the importance of branding to academic administrators. If seven programs from a graduate school recruit at an event with inconsistent logos, that lessens the impact on prospective students.
  • Use data to engage deans in enrollment decisions. If a program has had only three students a year for the last three years, should admissions officials spend their time recruiting for that program?
  • Engage deans and provosts in finances. Make sure they understand the impact if their programs over- or underenroll.
  • Coach professors to engage them in recruitment. “Faculty love to talk about what they do,” Ruiz said. Provide them with a plan for communicating with admitted students. Encourage them to engage accepted students in real-world experiences such as meeting faculty members at professional conferences.

Email Robert Ruiz at rruiz@liaison-intl.com.

Trends/Administration
4/6/2015 12:00 AM

Higher education is evolving rapidly in myriad ways. Its evolution is being fueled in part by changing mindsets, workforce and business needs, advances in technology, and shifting demographics.

For adult learners, this evolution has often meant increased opportunity, access and flexibility in attaining the credentials they need to create financial security for themselves and their families. For instance, credentialing of prior learning, long on the fringes of higher education, is increasingly recognized as a core component of adult-serving programs. Meanwhile, a new push toward assessing competencies rather than classroom learning has placed into focus the need to link education to jobs.

Higher education is evolving rapidly in myriad ways. Its evolution is being fueled in part by changing mindsets, workforce and business needs, advances in technology, and shifting demographics.

For adult learners, this evolution has often meant increased opportunity, access and flexibility in attaining the credentials they need to create financial security for themselves and their families. For instance, credentialing of prior learning, long on the fringes of higher education, is increasingly recognized as a core component of adult-serving programs. Meanwhile, a new push toward assessing competencies rather than classroom learning has placed into focus the need to link education to jobs.

But is something important and worthwhile being lost along the way? Are you willing to examine your programs and institution as energetically as you offer to help adult learners?

Those are just two of the key questions that Alan Mandell and Lee Herman asked attendees of the last Council for Adult and Experiential Learning conference in Chicago to consider during their session on the credentialing movement.

Mandell, who serves on Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners’ advisory board, is a professor of adult learning and mentoring at Empire State College. Herman is a professor and mentor to students in the cultural studies and social science areas of study at the institution.

As CAEL celebrated its 40th anniversary, Mandell noted that many institutions have now been serving adult learners for a similar or greater number of years. While such institutions have certainly come a long way in recognizing the value adults bring to the classroom and in adapting to better serve them, they must not only celebrate their successes, but also step back and reflect, he said.

“There is currently spectacular criticism of the academy, and it’s grown because of the money involved and because students and legislators are asking, ‘What is being gained from a college education?’ The research is dicey on this; the difference in what students knew starting out and what they knew upon completion of a program is not so great. So we’re really on the defensive,” Mandell said.

With criticism coming from so many directions, it may be tempting to focus on staying ahead of the curve. But just as revolutions of all kinds have a history of losing sight of and betraying their core principles, higher education’s rapid and ongoing transformation comes with that risk, they noted.

Some questions they asked their audience to consider, and which your programs may benefit from with your own consideration, include:

  • When does helping become selling? Given the rising cost of college and the continuing competition for a limited number of well-paying jobs, are you merely asking students to purchase something they may not be able to pay back later on? Or does the value of what you’re offering go beyond simply giving students the ability to find employment?
  • When does mobilizing become co-opting? As institutions increasingly recognize the need to appeal to adults, they must consider not only what adults need from them, but also how they go about meeting those needs. For instance, adults’ motivations for enrolling in college are often job-driven, but programs that offer career-focused education should also incorporate the kind of broad-based learning and critical thinking skills that can help students not just in the short term, but for their entire careers.
  • When does recognition become exclusion? In the process of adapting to meet the recognized needs of your adult learners, the local workforce and the business community, are you inadvertently excluding certain individuals from your institution’s programs and services? For instance, do prior learning and competency-based assessments exclude those who don’t write well simply because they are essay-based?
  • When does revolution become reaction? Consider whether the changes being embraced at your institution are happening for the right reasons, or whether they are merely reactions to what competitors are doing or what may be trending in higher education today. You should be doing things for the right reasons, not merely for profit-driven reasons.

Recognizing where tensions and potential ethical dilemmas exist is critical to ensuring that as institutions move forward, sometimes at lightning speed, they are responding to changes in the higher education landscape without losing sight of the principles and ideals that truly matter and without unintentionally hurting the very students you aim to help, Mandell and Herman explained.

“This sort of introspection is ultimately about how we put forth the value added to what we do — that we are able to defend it, so that our students will not say, ‘There’s no reason to do this,’” Mandell said. “We must think about how we situate ourselves within the current environment to say that what we’re offering is not just a fast track to a job, but has some value unto itself. What are the arguments for that? If we can think critically about what we’re doing to figure that out, what we end up with is something that will be very attractive to people.”

For more information, you may contact Alan Mandell at alan.mandell@esc.edu and Lee Herman at lee.herman@esc.edu.

Leaders & Innovators: Paul Kyle, dean of student services and success, Johnson County Community College
3/23/2015 12:00 AM

At one time, officials at Johnson County Community College, which enrolls many adult learners, could take an “If we build it, they will come” approach to recruitment. In fact, the college didn’t have a recruiter until 2007, said Paul Kyle, the dean of student services and success. But officials realized recruiting was necessary. And they needed to do a better job retaining students.

At one time, officials at Johnson County Community College, which enrolls many adult learners, could take an “If we build it, they will come” approach to recruitment. In fact, the college didn’t have a recruiter until 2007, said Paul Kyle, the dean of student services and success. But officials realized recruiting was necessary. And they needed to do a better job retaining students.

Now Kyle and officials from across the institution are creating a strategic plan that integrates enrollment and academic goals. Officials on the academic and services side realized they had to work together.

“You do your thing and we’ll do our thing and hope it works out” wasn’t an effective approach, Kyle said.

The strategic planning initiative requires culture change to get units to collaborate — both to create the plan and to pursue cross-division efforts to achieve goals.

Kyle heads the enrollment team for the strategic planning process. His team includes officials from academics, curriculum, marketing and other units. The enrollment team is focusing on a comprehensive recruitment plan, and the academic team is looking at ways to boost retention. But they realize those go hand in hand, Kyle said. Officials on all the committees focus on the question “How does it impact students?”

“It’s not about us, what is convenient for us in terms of what we offer. It’s about maintaining the quality of education,” Kyle said.

JCCC’s planning and culture change initiatives are driven in part by hard economic facts. Students are asking “What’s in it for me?” Kyle said. Officials need to do a better job of helping them to see how college will help them and their families down the road.

And officials also need to do a better job interacting with students early on — thinking in terms of retaining students while they are still prospects.

Kyle and his colleagues are determining what they can do to prepare students before they get to the classroom and to help them understand the institutional culture before their first day of school. When students drop out, 80 percent of the time the cause is not in the classroom, Kyle said.

To retain students, officials must first convince them that they are capable of going to college and that they have the assets to succeed. Students ask, “Do people like me go here?” If they aren’t clear that the answer is yes, one little thing can cause them to falter, Kyle said.

To improve prospective students’ first interactions with the college, Kyle is creating purposeful activities that engage them. Research shows that if a student connects with another student, a faculty member and a staff member, the college has a 44 percent better chance of retaining him.

So when prospects visit JCCC, officials try to help them make those connections. Visitors are given brightly colored backpacks to wear around campus. Faculty and staff members are encouraged to say hello to anyone they see wearing those backpacks.

Admissions staff members also guide visitors to areas where they will meet a staff member, a faculty member and a student. If all three of those people say the same thing, one might say it in a way that the prospective student hears best, Kyle said.

“It’s relational,” Kyle said about recruiting and retaining students. “That’s not always easy.”

Also, when prospective students visit the success center, an advocate sits down to speak with them. Some adults might not want to go on the typical campus tour. The advocate will help the student begin to design a plan, Kyle said. Or if an orientation is about to start, the advocate will invite the student to participate. And before the prospect leaves, the advocate will help him plan his next step for enrolling.

Help students adjust to institution culture

If adult learners can cross the gap from their culture of origin to the culture of the institution, they have better chances of success in college, Kyle said. There are two questions they need to be able to answer to make the transition:

  • Do people like me go here? “If they can’t answer that, they probably won’t come or stay,” Kyle said. If they enroll, they will look for reasons why they shouldn’t be in college after all.
  • Do I have the assets to succeed? Many adults juggle school with work, and must get children to school every morning. “If you can do that, you can do everything,” Kyle said. But the students might not have realized how they can apply their skills to going to class and studying.
  • They also need to understand that college officials aren’t asking them to leave their families behind, he said.

For more information, you may contact Paul Kyle at pkyle@jccc.edu.

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  • Meet the Editor

    Cynthia Gomez
    Managing Editor

    Cynthia Gomez became the editor of Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners, formerly known as Nontraditional Students Report, in 2010. She has covered higher education for more than a decade, and has written and edited pamphlets and books for higher education audiences.
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