A large part of higher education is adopting and following the new trend—having the latest quality enhancement plan, new academic pathway programs, the integral first-year experience program, or living-learning communities. Regardless of what the program is, almost all initiatives boil down to one fundamental question: “How can this positively influence student success?”
A few months ago, a leadership team from our institution attended a unique conference that integrated elements of recruitment and retention as they relate to student success. During the address from the keynote speaker, I found myself at an important juncture. The address was delivered by Dr. Mark David Milliron, cofounder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning.
“Why are we so consumed with post-mortuary analysis in higher education?” he asked. That question served as the catalyst for a shift in my thinking about how we as educational practitioners should adapt our processes during the initial stages, rather than after we have concluded our program, for assessment.
Throughout the conference, I began to understand how positive recruitment efforts lead to tighter retention numbers, and how both spheres operate as a couple in a complementary relationship. The institution cannot graduate students without having students. Likewise, schools cannot recruit students without having retained students.
I often hear my peers (myself included) say that departments within their institutions work in independent silos. These individual silos do not know what others do—such as admissions departments not working in tandem with orientation programming or student life departments failing to work with retention offices.The overarching analysis must bridge metrics from start to finish and drill down into the data to paint the picture of the students’ journey through your institution.
Before pursing any action plan, it becomes increasingly important to establish clear measurable objectives. Almost all admissions staffers are familiar with applicant yields, but how does the application-to-enrollment stage increase?
With Dr. Milliron in mind (post-mortuary data), we need to remember to evaluate and analyze during the process rather than after. In my institution’s own admissions model, we did not adapt our process until after the recruitment season was over. As a result, our institution received an influx of applicants, which sounds great because that translates to more enrolled students. However, we did not know that our outreach department incorporated a program in which they assisted students with the online common application with one caveat—that they completed our institutional application regardless of where the student wanted to attend.
This program served as a demonstration of how to apply to college for at-risk students and presented the illusion of an increase in the applicant pool. Even though our fall enrollment increased by 7 percent and our applicant base increased by 20 percent, fewer students actually enrolled. Stopping and looking into the issue, or even working with our colleagues in the outreach area, would have explained the sudden rise in our applicant pool.
When I began working with our retention officer, we were able to bolster reporting efforts, collaborate on ideas, and ultimately increase our group thought process. Sometimes it is much easier said than done, but getting other team members involved can offer better insight into a specific issue. Never shy away from having a fresh set of eyes—especially from another silo—review something in your area.
Samuel L. Vasquez, MEd, is the recruiting and outreach coordinator for Howard College in Big Springs, Texas. He is also an adjunct faculty member teaching freshman seminar courses.