Success Formula for Student Recruitment and Retention - Higher Education
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Success Formula for Student Recruitment and Retention

by Dwight B. Sanchez

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker

Most colleges and universities compete within many of the same geo-markets for a diverse pool of prospects. Within those markets, the institutions that have garnered much viability employed a variety of efforts such as effective branding tied to a potent communication strategy; a high-touch approach to engaging prospects and external influencers alike; and the ultimate competitive edge – the enhanced perception of quality of their degrees.

All these mitigating factors intersect to capitalize on achieving enrollment success through understanding the inherent values of prospects and determining the fit. Growth is becoming a foreign concept due to the instability within domestic regions nationally and the oversaturation of international markets.

As a result, institutions need to become more transactional. The transactional element has become a major factor due to the cost of attendance, known as the “sticker price.” For that reason, prospects are consumers who deliberate the “why,” which is the cost of attendance and the perceived quality of the degree to weigh the investment needed to attain the sought-after return on investment – an excellent career.

With that shift in mindset, institutions have to wrangle with balancing the projected rise in minority prospects with the overall decline in traditional high school graduates for the next decade and its ability to maintain viability. For example, Hispanics, who will need and demand more institutional support and intervention to complete, are the group of prospects projected to increase the most. Therefore, ensuring progression and completion of a degree for the impending rise of minority prospects with a high demand of support and need becomes even more costly to institutions to achieve student success.

So, how does an institution determine its enrollment strategy to effectively impact growth, meet net tuition revenue goals and increase graduation rate?

To properly grow and maintain enrollment in the future, enrollment managers must employ what I call the P2=Fit Factor: (Predictive)(Potential attrition root)=Fit Factor. This concept requires enrollment officers to become keenly predictive, acutely cognizant of potential attrition roots, and be able to accurately align prospects’ values, sensibilities and goals with the institution’s academic offerings, social environment and personal desires with the proper support: fit factor.

The P2=Fit Factor does a couple of things. Chiefly, it allows the enrollment team to qualify its prospects pool soundly and shape a class that fits the institution’s mission and its student-support infrastructure. Theoretically, at this stage, strategic management of enrollment is occurring by shaping a class and impacting retention simultaneously on the front end.

At the practical level, for institutions to stand a chance to survive the impending enrollment shortfall projected nationally, shaping the class with the predictive element attached and determining with some certainty what the projected retention or progression impact can be is vital and equally intentional.

Efficiently shaping a class and managing retention efforts require an institution to consider increasing its ability to leverage institutional aid competitively; negotiate with prospects and their parents; appraise prospects’ potential attrition roots; assess the cost to recruit, retain and graduate each student; navigate the global enrollment landscape nimbly and develop a strategic enrollment plan that reflects the aspirations of the institution’s future to become a global institution.

In essence, the strategic enrollment plan is the guiding post for the institution to traverse the constricted prospect pool and swamped geo-markets. These investments must be planned and managed to meet enrollment goals.

Hence, the P2=Fit Factor concept, in addition to the institutional investments, makes for an effective enrollment praxis.

Predictive

To increase the likelihood of prospects enrolling, the institution’s admissions team, communication and marketing offices must truly understand their prospects’ academic, personal and social needs. Specifically, understanding their personal values, aspirations and perspectives allows for a very strategic and intentional effort to align needs with offerings and support.

This transactional approach positions the institution to better understand its prospects and external influencers. This changes the construct of recruiting entirely. Instead of only differentiating the institutional competitive edge, the competitive edge is procuring as much information on the prospect through specific engagement points that contextualize personal values and financial capability – thereby disarming apprehension and aligning needs with definitive offerings and support to ensure a successful life after graduation. This is answering the “why.”

Data is critical to this puzzle. Through reviewing former students’(graduates or stop-outs) academic performance, geo-markets, leveraging package tied to yields, financial aid awarding, recruiting costs and placement rates, institutions could develop a solid recruitment plan that considers where to identify, develop and manage new and maintained markets with the highest potential yields through a profile assessment.

The profile allows for the institution to be intentional because it has codified behavioral patterns, economic variance, academic altitudes and migration and mobility trends to establish a fit. The profile allows for maximal implementation of a nimble strategy to appeal to prospects and yield them highly versus recruiting in all or some markets with the anticipation of meeting enrollment goals.

Recruiting is the general effort to generate traction. However, as growth becomes harder to achieve, understanding the transactional nature of yielding a prospect sharpens the capacity of an admissions office to be predictive, effective and successful.  In addition, the consideration of secondary and developmental markets are still essential, but given the shortage across all markets, knowing where to go and how to yield prospects is even greater while maintaining a grasp of those other markets. This is effective strategy.

Potential Attrition Roots

With becoming more predictive and understanding the alignment of values and aspirations, it is equally important to assess prospective students’ ability to perform academically satisfactorily and develop into sound thinkers. By evaluating prospective students’ prior academic history, financial capacity and possible indebtedness, familial historical information and personal goals, institutions can begin to develop a personalized student success model that truly fits its student body.

Through this perspective, leveraging aid is crucial to address potential financial stress, if any. A diverse academic support model with varying modalities (face-to-face, online, direct calls) that service each student individually and the development of a very strong wellness program that wraps around the students’ emotional, social and personal needs are critical pieces to the student success model. They center on each student’s individualism with minimal to no interruption of academic progression toward a degree.

While technological tools are needed to provide a dynamic support infrastructure with adequate professional and passionate staff, the key to all of this is crafting a student success plan with direct and specific intervention for each student that includes the student’s goals and dispositional characteristics in line with the institution’s support nexus and resources. This will establish a manageable mechanism that will allow the institution to intentionally predict and prevent attrition.

Altogether, firm management of this nuanced part can ensure success in retention efforts that would impact graduation rates.

Through P2=Fit Factor, the enrollment manager truly achieves the fit factor.  Being able to predict the likelihood of prospects enrolling creates a space to strategically develop recruitment and engagement efforts to affect yield. Instead of attempting to recruit everyone, recruiting becomes the customization of strategies by prospects, geo-markets and deliverables.

These strategies have to be consistent, timely and continuous. With the fit factor achieved, retention is also impacted on the front end because the institution will understand what it will take to recruit, retain and graduate each prospect. Therefore, recruiting the right prospects and shaping a class are managing retention and increasing graduation rates – markers that determine student success.

Equally beneficial are the positive impacts on net tuition revenue and diversification of the student body, thereby making the institution a true place for a global populace. This is what will ensure institutions survive in an uneven, unstable, shifting enrollment landscape.

Dwight B. Sanchez is associate vice president for Enrollment Service at the University of the District of Columbia.

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