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5 Steps to Lower Student Barriers to Enrollment and Strengthen Your 2020 Results

Provide new paths to help students move forward.

While the current crisis has presented new challenges for students, families, and the institutions that serve them, there is also opportunity for us to rethink some of the ways enrollment offices have traditionally approached applications, yield, and melt. We can better accommodate the situation students and families are in today, while still providing the best of what higher education has to offer. In fact, many of the practices implemented this summer will shape an altogether new approach to recruiting and enrollment.

With that in mind, here are 5 steps that can help students advance toward enrolling with your institution.

1. Offer a formal summer student program to committed students

Consider those students who have deposited and other committed students (more on that next) as “current students” right now. Create a formal program that gets them immediately engaged with your institution. The historical mindset is to get them ready for day 1 on campus; change your mindset and develop a program where day 1 is the day they commit. This is different from orientation; this is a formal program that has immediate experiences and results.

A formal program has a name and structure to it. Don’t simply make a set of services (such as tutors or career services resources) available. Instead, construct a program and invite newly committed students to participate. Set up a date and times for things like college preparatory courses for partial credit, learning about majors and careers, and meeting fellow classmates. Conduct exclusive and unique live, virtual tours for committed students.

Keep in mind, this can be accomplished online/remotely, and using existing platforms.

Tip: Have a structured, unique program that delivers real experiences and opportunities. Offer set times and dates for them to participate right now.

2. Rethink deposit = commitment

The world has changed for your prospective students. For many, this includes their financial situation. Your goal is to identify those who are most interested in joining your institution and provide them a path, other than depositing, to be a committed student. Now, you do want them to show they are serious about attending and you do want them to take a step to indicate a level of interest or commitment, but rethink what that step is. You could take a page from your athletics department and ask them to sign a digital non-binding letter of intent. Or ask them to take a fun online quiz: answer these questions about our school—and have the last question be about their intent to join your institution, such as are you seriously considering our institution for fall semester? If they answer yes, ask, would you like us to consider you a committed student, which provides you unique access to an exciting summer program?

Tip: Rethink how to define what it means to be a committed student. Welcome those students into your committed student program and begin to build affinity and engagement immediately.

3. Change your dates.

Your dates are important—to you. But right now, they are not important to your prospective students. They are finishing their senior year at home without graduation ceremonies, without saying goodbye to their friends, without the ending they envisioned. They’re concerned about their credits, their transcripts, and their family. Instead of adding to their pressure with the stress of potentially missing a deadline, make it easy to indicate a commitment.

Once they do commit, share dates such as financial aid forms, housing forms, and deposits—but be flexible. Give them incentives to act, while keeping the door open with second and third options.

Tip: Create a series of dates, helping drive action but leaving flexibility. Think of this like early admission into rolling admission.

4. For many, provide flexibility in your application requirements

Consider removing testing as a requirement and using grades, an essay, recommendations, and perhaps an online interview to determine whether a student is admissible. Students are now missing dates to take entrance exams. Some may now not have a score, or some were expecting to increase their score. Lower the barrier for application completion; use the information you have, and advance students forward in the process.

While an official transcript is ideal, an unofficial transcript keeps the ball moving forward. The goal right now is to lower the barriers to getting a student through the admission process. You can review the unofficial transcript and advance a conditional acceptance. The key is to not let the student sit in an incomplete application bucket.

Tip: Remove as many hurdles as possible to making a decision on a student application. Get students out of an incomplete application status and into your admitted student programs.

5. Offer a Bridge Year program

For various reasons, some students will not be ready to attend full-time this fall. Right now, the decision would be between your institution, going online, a local alternative like community college, or just taking a “gap” year off. Give them a new option!

Consider a model that is more like your professional studies program. Develop a part-time program that includes a small number of online courses and a couple of on-campus days. The cost of this program will be less, and it will be a better financial fit for those students and families who cannot take the full step this fall.

The benefits of this approach are many. It keeps the student advancing their education, it builds college credits, and it allows the student to build trust and affinity with your institution. They are your students! This program is the bridge to bringing them into the fold full-time in 2021.

Tip: Offer a new path—a part-time program that offers a bridge to becoming a full-time student.

While it can be daunting to deviate from established plans and processes, the situation necessitates it. Act with empathy, flexibility, and creativity to serve the best interests of your future students and their families. Ultimately, the processes, pathways, and programs you build will better serve your institution now and into the future.

Jim Rogers is the CEO of 3 Enrollment Marketing.