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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
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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
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.

The Board Speaks
3/9/2015 12:00 AM

With more options for older students in how, where and even when to attain the credentials they need, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for many adult-serving institutions and programs to maintain their enrollments. But there are other factors impacting adult-learner enrollments too. For instance, high unemployment rates have historically resulted in college enrollment booms, but unemployment rates have been falling as the economy continues to slowly improve.

Members of Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners’ advisory board recently discussed these trends, plus how institutions and programs geared toward adult learners can remain competitive. Their insights could prove valuable if you’re seeing your adult-student population shrink.

With more options for older students in how, where and even when to attain the credentials they need, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for many adult-serving institutions and programs to maintain their enrollments. But there are other factors impacting adult-learner enrollments too. For instance, high unemployment rates have historically resulted in college enrollment booms, but unemployment rates have been falling as the economy continues to slowly improve.

Members of Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners’ advisory board recently discussed these trends, plus how institutions and programs geared toward adult learners can remain competitive. Their insights could prove valuable if you’re seeing your adult-student population shrink.

Q: What external forces do you feel are impacting your adult-student enrollments most?

Karen Heikel: We see the number of adults enrolling in college decreasing, partly because of the improvement in unemployment rates. When employment opportunities are good, people will focus on working. And in our area, a number of competitors have entered the adult-learner market. It’s not even just the for-profits anymore, but also other state schools, some of which are just 45 miles down the road. The combination of those things has really made things more difficult for us.

John F. Azzaretto: One thing I see happening is that more people are going after industry-specific certifications and not necessarily degree programs. Those certifications may be a requirement in some cases, and in others just a good ticket to get punched. Because they’re less expensive and take less time than a college degree, it can be hard to compete with that.

Louis deSalle: We’re not seeing the population of potential students decreasing so much as it is dispersing because there are so many competitors and so many options for adult learners today. Twenty years ago, we were the only show or one of several shows in town. Today, because students have so many choices, many of those who might have come to us in the past are now choosing other places.

The media presentation of higher education has also led to an increase in the number of regulations and oversight, making it more difficult for us to innovate. For example, if we want to change or add programs, there are now more hurdles than ever to jump.

Barbara Randazzo: The media has been hard on us these last couple of years. The impact and value of college degrees are constantly being questioned. And then there are all the new, competency-based programs cropping up at institutions like Southern New Hampshire University and Northern Arizona University. I don’t know if that’s impacting enrollments here yet, but I wonder about it because of the amount of visibility they get.

Alan Mandell: This seems like this is a “best of times, worst of times” moment for us. A speaker at the last Council for Adult and Experiential Learning conference mentioned that something like two-thirds of all college students in the U.S. could be defined as adults. That’s a sign of our spectacular success as a social movement. But retention rates for adults are still rather poor. So we have to ask ourselves, “What does it mean to get better? What are the services and supports that students need to succeed in our institutions?” And, of course, at the same time, this is a hard thing to consider when so many budgets are being cut. We seem to need more with less.

Q: What strategies, if any, do you feel can help you push back against these forces resulting in fewer adult learners?

Randazzo: We’ve managed our tuition for many years to remain competitive, but we must be careful not to go too far. While we don’t want to charge too much, we also don’t want to send the message that our programs are worth little, because we don’t believe that.

We’re now considering affinity pricing for strategic partners, such as local chambers of commerce and community colleges. We’re also looking at ways to get enhanced access to prospective students, such as through employers, where they get something in exchange for providing us that direct connection to individuals who could benefit from our programs.

deSalle: The marketing piece is very difficult because there’s such market saturation out there. We’ve always relied on word-of-mouth. It’s been our primary way of attracting students, because current students bring in their spouses, children and even parents. We’ve found that to make sure we can rely on word-of-mouth marketing, students’ experiences here must be good ones.

Mandell: I have what is perhaps a naïve and romantic view of this. We will get smooshed over time if what we provide is not of good quality. Students recognize whether they are being well-served, and if their personal, academic and professional needs are being responded to in the learning opportunities we develop and offer. And whether relying on word-of-mouth or some other way of marketing, I think quality typically wins out.

I also find it fascinating that talk around the notion of personalized education, and that word — “personalized” — has begun to emerge not just here at my college but all over. Just as they did in the 1970s, institutions are again realizing that students are looking for flexible arrangements that respond to their learning needs. But the less we know about our students — and I think this happens with increasing numbers, with new efficiencies and additional regulations — the harder it is for us to figure out what those needs may be.

We must find out what our students know, what they care about, what questions they have, what their goals are, and what kinds of things would challenge them. Then we need to ask, “To what extent do our programs offer students real possibilities to ask their own questions and be guided by faculty and other professionals who take their interests and their worries seriously?”

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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