Institutions Must Focus on Process Efficiency to Drive Enrollments and RetentionEric Weldy | Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, Northern Illinois University
Every year, higher education institutions across the United States spend huge amounts of their limited resources on marketing and communications efforts. This outreach is seen as critical to driving enrollment numbers up but the impact of marketing on enrollments and retention is not as significant as the impact of enrollment management. In this interview, Eric Weldy reflects on the importance of highly efficient and effective enrollment management processes on student success, especially for today’s more non-traditional student population.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are the three most significant ways that student preferences and expectations have changed over the past decade, especially when it comes to administrative bureaucracy?
Eric Weldy (EW): Over the past decade student preferences and expectations have changed in a number of ways. Today’s college students expect the following from their university:
- A wide variety of diverse choices
- High quality service at a reasonable price
- Little to no waiting.
Today’s college students have grown up in a world in which they are used to having lots of choices. Much of this has to do with advances in technology that allows them to access unlimited information in seconds. Technological advances have played a pivotal role in shaping students preferences and expectations.
While higher education institutions are known for many positive things such as the pursuit of knowledge and freedom of expression, they are also known for their administrative bureaucracy. Higher education institutions rely on rules and procedures, separation of functions, and a hierarchical structure in order to exercise oversight control. However, for many higher education institutions, this can lead to them becoming inefficient and dysfunctional. This, in turn, keeps universities from meeting the needs of today’s college students. Any university that is not able to offer its current and prospective students a wide variety of diverse choices, high-quality service at a reasonable price, and little to no waiting (length of time it takes to provide services), will have much difficulty in recruiting and retaining students.
Evo: How closely related are these changes in student preferences to the growing population of adult, working and other non-traditional student demographics on campus?
EW: Today’s non-traditional/post-traditional students have very little time to waste. Many are trying to balance their pursuit of a terminal degree with working a full- or part-time job in order to provide for their family, along with raising children.
As such, those interested in pursuing a college degree are seeking a university that is able to meet their needs without forcing them to make major changes that will interfere with or disrupt their current lifestyle. For example, it is very difficult for a non- or post-traditional student to take courses on campus during the day (8:00 am to 4:30 pm) when they are working. On-campus courses offered after 5:00 pm, on weekends or online are more suitable and allow them to continue to provide for themselves and their families.
Evo: What impact can highly efficient and effective enrollment management processes have on the student experience?
EW: Universities hoping to recruit prospective students and retain them at a high rate must understand the importance of establishing highly efficient and effective enrollment management processes.
Higher education institutions that are able to recover from declines in student enrollment have done so because they recognize the importance of establishing enrollment management processes that put the needs of students first. Any thoughts of changing or implementing new enrollment management processes must not move forward without administrators being able to first answer one key question: What impact will this change in policy or procedure have on a student’s ability to complete their degree, and in a timely manner?
While all institutions like to think they have the best interest of students at heart when implementing changes in policies or procedures, the results of their decisions can sometimes leave students with the opposite impression.
Evo: How must institutional approaches to enrollment management evolve to better address the expectations of today’s students?
EW: In order to meet the expectations of today’s students, institutions must have a student-centered approach to their enrollment management plan. Institutions that unknowingly create barriers to student success do so because they implement changes in policies and procedures that benefit the administration and not the students whom they seek to serve. Today’s students are looking for a university that has their best interest at heart.
Institutions end up spending millions of dollars each year in marketing and communications to attract prospective students. They commit even more in time and resources to get prospective students to enroll. Once students have enrolled, institutions must show the same drive and determination to retain them. Institutions that have had success in maintaining or increasing enrollment know the importance of not resting on their laurels. Having a student-centered approach to enrollment management will go a long way to not only meeting student expectations, but also enhancing the student experience both inside and outside the classroom.
Author Perspective: Administrator