With declining rates of student retention, many institutions are wondering how to increase enrollment in community colleges. For instance, some schools have tried in an attempt to invigorate and empower students to complete their programs. Unfortunately, there’s no simple fix to this multifaceted issue, and you will certainly need to embrace more . This article delineates the best strategies to help your community college see an increase in enrollment and retention.
High enrollment rates are indicative of educational quality, which will, in turn, attract more potential students to your programs. The endowment funds that your institution will receive from tuition and other fees will help you invest in student programs and create access to better learning platforms. Increasing enrollment depends on two primary factors: evidence that community college has a high return on investment (ROI) and developments that offer potential students what they need to succeed in their careers.
There are a few notable factors that make community colleges advantageous for many, if not most students, in some capacity. Here are a few of them:
- Community college-university consolidation: some community colleges are consolidating their systems with universities to help bridge academic gaps and share pertinent resources to increase enrollment rates. For instance, many students who lack the proper prerequisites for university can fulfil these requirements at a community college before applying to a university.
- Better access to education: for students who are concerned about financial barriers to higher education, community college can be a great alternative. Community college tuition tends to be a lot more affordable, and students will still have an opportunity to earn a relevant degree. Community colleges also generally have more lenient admissions standards, and they offer remedial courses that you can take in case you haven’t fulfilled the requirements.
- Better jobs and salary: there are some studies that link community college attendance, degree completion, and courses completed with better employment opportunities and higher salaries. Because most community colleges are (often) open access and have lower tuition costs, people can train and retrain for a high ROI on their education in terms of salary benefits and career progression.
Before we identify strategies, it’s important to know the causes of the downward trend in enrollment. To be clear, there’s a cluster of related and unrelated reasons, so it can be hard to separate cause from effect, especially when you’re trying to enact the best strategies . However, the following factors make it clear that community colleges need to make a more compelling case for enrollment by broadcasting their mission effectively.
- Costs: despite being associated with lower tuition costs and living expenses, one of the main reasons students tend not to complete their degree at community colleges is associated costs. To combat circumspection, colleges need to invest in more enticing career and educational benefits, like academic consulting and career coaching. Among those who didn’t complete their credits, many were influenced by a lack of enduring financial aid when they chose to leave an institution.
- Scheduling conflicts: a significant proportion of community college students work part- or full-time; plenty of students are also parents. Because non-academic obligations can sometimes deter students from continuing to pursue education, community colleges will need to do a better job of providing more flexible learning schedules, for example, shifting to some online classes or hybrid options.
- Lack of communication and access to information: another reason many students don’t finish their programs is that they’re uncertain of what’s required. This indicates a lack of communication from community colleges and a failure to disseminate key information about individual student progress. Being unsure of one’s proximity to degree completion is also a sign of a lack of student celebration and encouragement.
#1 Develop Partnerships in the Community
If you’re wondering , you should know that one notable solution is stronger and more frequent community–academic relationships. Organizations can potentially play a critical role in encouraging higher education and offering incentives to employees who pursue additional training and retraining.
There are companies that can moderate this relationship to make it more resolute and feasible. For example, BeMo offers a partnership program for and that provides affordable academic consulting and career coaching for employees and students. When employers and community colleges offer this program, they are encouraging professional development that can lead to a better community college experience, higher salary, and more diverse career options.
Also, when community colleges partner with local businesses, clinics, and agencies, you can offer your students more experience-based learning opportunities. For example, if you partner with a clinic, you can offer students in a community college nursing program placement opportunities at that clinic. The benefit for the clinic is that they gain a new productive member of their team without having to initiate an arduous hiring process.
- Community-based organizations: community-based organizations are designed to improve the quality of social health and functioning. Community colleges and these organizations can engage mutual interests through scholarship funds and supplemental program developments.
- Apprenticeship committees: apprenticeship committees help students find work opportunities during their community college careers and once they graduate. Community colleges that connect with these committees can help students gain experience and transition into full-time work.
- Workforce development agencies: community colleges can partner with workforce development agencies to help students find jobs that fit their skills, interests, and career goals. These agencies are responsible for developing employment training opportunities and regulating workplace standards. If you enter this type of partnership, it’s a good idea to also offer an or an .
#2 Implement a Plan of Action
A plan of action is connected with a school’s mission, but it isn’t quite the same thing. A plan of action is in agreement with the school’s mission, but its purpose is to sketch out how the community college is going to increase enrollment and retention, build relationships, and support students and the community in which it operates.
- Focus on barriers: analyze and confront the ways in which external and internal factors preclude students from attending and graduating from your community college. Your plan of action must provide instructions for how faculty members in various departments will contribute to the removal of those barriers. To learn about the nature of these barriers, you can survey students and faculty and members and review enrollment trends at various institutions.
- Make strategies diverse: addressing complex systemic issues requires multilayered, integrated solutions. This means that you will need to employ more than one strategy to effectively tackle enrollment barriers. Your plan of action should outline the various strategies you intend to use and why they are the most effective in dealing with those issues. At the end of each year, you should evaluate the efficacy of each strategy and consider replacing them with new ones.
- Use data: your plan of action will benefit from the use of data to learn about how you can address plummeting enrollment rates. Outline how you plan to collect, analyze, and utilize data. Some good examples of data collection methods include surveys, student interviews, focus groups, student and faculty application demographic studies, faculty observations, and document reviews.
#3 Better Advising and Mentorship
Lack of information is one major reason that students fail to enroll in community colleges. One potential way to amend this concern is to establish better and lasting mentor relationships between students and faculty. These relationships also happen to be one of the .
When students have access to longer and more durable mentors, community colleges can learn about what students need to complete their education and be proud of their achievements. Mentors can provide resources for students who are struggling in a certain class or who aren’t sure how many credits remain before they can graduate.
If conflicts arise such as poor grades, scheduling concerns, and inadequate employment opportunities, mentors and advisors can support students and connect them with the appropriate tools. Having well-rounded support is crucial for increasing enrollment rates and improving graduation outcomes. It will also help students stay motivated and committed to the payoff of earning their degree.
Here are a few ways in which you can improve the quality of mentoring and advising:
- Provide guidance: when you implement a mentorship program, you should provide adequate training and support for your mentors. Include regular workshops, seminars, and briefings for faculty members participating in the program.
- Help students choose a mentor: the ideal mentorship and advising program will consist of many senior faculty members. Because it can be difficult to know how to choose the right mentor, schools should provide clear instructions for how to find and choose a mentor students can connect with interpersonally.
- Incentivize with awards and recognition: to recruit strong mentors, you will need to offer compelling incentives. You can, for instance, recognize outstanding mentors at the institutional level and provide exclusive benefits for all participating members. This will require the use of student evaluations and other performance metrics such as graduation rates.
#4 Adopt Better Dropout Preventatives
One major deterrent for certain students thinking about enrolling in community college is the lack of on-campus support. Many schools don’t have any system of identification for struggling students, so they go unnoticed. This can lead to a decrease in enrollment from other potential students, as the lack of support becomes normalized and unresolved.
To show that your institution cares about its students, you need to adopt better dropout preventatives. Ideally, you should have a process for (non-invasive) monitoring of student behavior that allows faculty members to identify shifts in motivation and effort.
Implementing a community-wide dropout prevention strategy will improve your retention rate, which you can advertise to potential students who might be worried about committing to a degree program, or even just a few classes.
Here’s what your retention plan should include:
- Promotion of student activities: to avoid attrition, schools need to implement a variety of programs that fit the diverse needs of their student base. Student development depends on engagement with an assortment of enriching activities, many of which will take place outside the classroom. Encourage advisors to discuss these activities with students so they can discover ones that meet their needs.
- Train faculty to be advisors: instructors should know how to work with individual students on personal and professional developments like goal setting. Because instructors are often the ones who observe student behavior closely, they can identify troubling patterns and talk with students directly. As an institution, you should prepare your instructors for this type of intervention by offering training programs and workshops.
- Change the orientation program: orientations are devised to prepare students for their studies. The orientation or welcome package will include information regarding pertinent resources and where students can access them. If you want to increase enrollment, you should update your orientation frequently to remind students where they can find assistance for a range of services if they need them.
#5 Improve Digital Marketing and Social Media Presence
A significant proportion of students who enroll in community colleges find programs online. For someone who is considering returning to community college, encountering an advertisement or promotion while they scroll social media might encourage them to explore the institution in more detail and eventually apply if they think it’s the right fit.
This observation underscores the advantage of having a strong social media presence. Even for enrolled students, staying engaged and informed about campus initiatives or activities can help connect students with each other and encourage more meaningful and intentional interaction. The best way for community colleges to communicate with students and potential students is to have excellent social media and website management. Consider these improvement methods:
- Focus on two-way communication: when you’re developing and enhancing your social media presence and optimizing your content, you should make the experience interactive. Include an easy-to-find “contact us” button or promote satisfaction surveys so you can learn more about your students.
- Hire a management team: when you’re trying to engage with students via social media, you need to be responsive. When loads of students are asking questions or remarking in comment sections, it can be difficult to respond to all of them. When the volume of your engagement reaches critical mass, it’s important to implement a dedicated social media team that can simplify and maintain high levels of interaction.
- Activate multiple channels: to optimize engagement and the circulation of information on your platforms, you should have multiple channels active. For example, BeMo is on , , and . Segments of your target audience might prefer using only one social media platform, so it’s good to accommodate different interests.
1. Why is student enrollment important?
Obviously, enrollment is the lifeblood of the community college, but it is also important for students in helping them earn degrees that can increase their salaries and job prospects or acquire credentials to transfer into university programs.
2. What are some factors influencing enrollment rates?
Some of the most frequently cited reasons for students to not enroll or to drop out include tuition costs, a lack of transparent information and support, and scheduling conflicts or other obligations.
3. What is a plan of action?
A plan of action is a sketch of how you intend to increase enrollment and engagement. This plan should use analytics to help support the development of initiatives, and it should be clear and accessible to faculty and students.
4. How can I create a better social media platform?
Your priority should be to encourage two-way communication. That is, students should be encouraged to interact with your content in ways that help connect them with resources and other important information.
5. How do I improve advising?
Your advisors should be trained to help students set goals and identify any dropout risk factors, such as poor grades, lack of attendance, and frequent late assignments.
6. What’s the best way to prevent dropout?
The best thing you can do to increase enrollment rates and prevent dropout is to design an immersive and accessible orientation package. The idea is that you need to communicate more frequently with your students to help connect them with resources and present ongoing learning opportunities.
7. Is social media important for increasing enrollment?
Yes, you will need an active and engaging social media presence across multiple channels to ensure potential students have access to information about programs and how they can apply.
8. What constitutes a good partnership for community colleges?
Partnerships can take a variety of forms, but the most common and auspicious ones include community-based organizations, apprenticeship committees, and workforce development agencies.