Rethinking Recruitment: Dual Credit Academies and Developing Robust Enrollment Pipelines
The smoke signals for higher education could not be clearer. Reduced funding and greater competition for fewer traditional-age students are forcing colleges to seek innovative ways to garner students in an effort to maintain current numbers. Many institutions are throwing large amounts of money at rebranding efforts and then aggressively marketing and recruiting new students. This may provide a temporary bump in enrollment numbers, but as the student demographic realities and greater competition continue to materialize, it will become clear that throwing money at the problem was more wasteful than prudent.
The time is right to rethink recruitment and where our students come from. Over the past decade we have witnessed a rapid blurring of the demarcation between high school and college. When I went to high school there was no such thing as dual credit and taking college courses while still a junior or senior in high school was not an option. Now, it is rapidly becoming the norm. This is especially true since the Great Recession and we have witnessed a hollowing out of the middle class. The economic recovery since 2008 has been bifurcated such that the wealthy not only recovered, but prospered. Those middle class and below with few financial investments and low-skill jobs have seen their personal recovery extremely muted and, though all parents want to see their children have a better life than their own, college may look out of reach for this group.
The saving grace for this demographic has been dual-credit courses. While students remain in high school they are able to take college-level courses with nearly all tuition costs usually provided through state funds. A student could, and often does, enter a four-year institution out of high school having already earned many credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Through dual credit, a four-year degree suddenly becomes more affordable to a greater number of families.
Colleges would be wise to establish close relationships with their local school systems to begin preparing students for college as well as laying the groundwork and name recognition that bring these students to their campus for dual credit, which will lead to many of those students continuing their postsecondary education at that institution. This can be an effective way to create a pipeline of students with very little money needed for marketing and recruitment. Dynamic and skilled faculty teaching the dual-credit students accomplishes two important objectives. First, these courses provide great preparation for the students to continue their college work. Second, these courses and faculty act as recruitment tools such that we have found that nearly 50 percent of our dual-credit students eventually matriculate to a bachelor’s degree program at our institution. One effective way to begin this process is to establish a Dual Credit Academy as an umbrella structure under which many activities could reside. Students want to be a part of something and feel connected to a group (look no further than the influence of social media to substantiate this claim) and being part of an “Academy” is very powerful.
The Dual Credit Academy could be the vehicle by which assistance is provided to students in preparation for dual-credit courses or simply orienting them for college. Faculty or college-age tutors could work with elementary and middle school students. Tutoring, by faculty or university student service groups, could be offered to K-12 schools. We should be regular fixtures in the buildings of our local public and private schools. Teachers and administrators really like this as it takes pressure off of teachers to do after-school tutoring and establishes a true partnership between higher education and K-12 systems. Further, not all tutoring must be done face-to-face. Simple but effective videos can be developed between the classroom teacher and faculty member that address specific topics in which students are struggling. They just need to be viewable on a smart phone or tablet, the technology of choice for this generation of student.
Once a great relationship has been established with the local schools, it might be possible to have an office space dedicated to your institution. Provide a faculty member the time to dedicate efforts to coordinate the activities, which could also mean teacher professional development, and be a regular presence in the school. Every school is different and their needs will be different and dependent upon the teacher and student populations. The key to any successful effort in this area is to establish a respected relationship between the K-12 schools and the college. There are many models to effective dual credit; students attend classes on the campus of the college; faculty travel to the school and hold class at the high school; online delivery of classes; and synchronous, interactive delivery to high school classrooms using a large monitor and two-way cameras from a classroom on the college campus populated with college students. These are few we have done at Valdosta State University that have been successful for us.
The age of “if you build it, they will come” is long gone in higher education and those that cling to this thought will slowly wither and disappear. We must, in higher education, take a proactive stance to support our K-12 schools, assist the students in their preparation for college, and form strong partnerships with our local school systems. There is no longer a clear separation between high school and higher education and we must be creative, innovative, and set our higher education arrogances aside to partner with the children and schools in our local areas. This not only helps the students and teachers but also creates a pipeline of students that will choose the known college over the unknown. Their future is brighter as a result and the future of many colleges across the country may actually depend upon it.
Author Perspective: Administrator