My father has held elected office in a small Ohio town for some 38 years.
On election nights, I would join him at headquarters to watch the results come in—a steady flow of suspense (and relief) as the precincts closed. Perhaps because my dad almost always won, election nights were exhilarating for me. But over the years, I became increasingly aware that for most candidates fear and doubt grew with each results update.
As a past enrollment leader, I've had the same election night experience watching fall enrollment results roll in at four-year institutions.
And like the candidates who wind up giving concession speeches, many institutions then spend a lot of energy trying to understand what happened, why, and what actions to take in order to strengthen their performance the next time around.
Know and grow your base
Most institutions are failing with transfer enrollment simply because they aren't pursuing this huge, well-qualified pool of prospective students. A recent survey by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education revealed only 29% of four-year institutions have a comprehensive transfer plan.
And although enrollment leaders know the high school graduate pool is shrinking, most have chosen to double-down on growing first-time new students in lieu of strengthening their transfer enrollment programs. This focus has created barriers for two-year college students at every stage of the transfer process.
Is your school missing this large pool of well-qualified, eager students?
Revise your approach to transfer enrollment
As more institutions post their fall enrollment numbers, we will see that a lot are struggling to achieve their goals. In the spirit of helping them to "get it right next year," I want to consolidate the six essential transfer enrollment strategies I've shared in past blogs.
1. Identify gaps in transfer-friendliness
I believe that most enrollment leaders understand that their institution must be transfer-friendly—their schools have to holistically serve and support transfer students.
Since enrollment managers are often uncertain how to identify and correct the gaps to achieve a transfer-friendly admissions process and culture, make sure your program includes:
- Formal 2-year partnerships and relationship-building efforts
- Dedicated transfer admissions staff, structures, and resources
- Formal, up-to-date articulation agreements and transfer pathways
- Clearly communicated course equivalencies and timely credit evaluation
- Online content and materials that support the unique needs of transfer students
2. Assess the quality of your two-year partnerships
Two-year partnerships are the centerpiece of a successful transfer program. As an enrollment leader at Franklin University, I had the opportunity to lead and grow Franklin's 230-member Community College Alliance, cultivating relationships with two-year college advisors to best support transfers when they need it most—as they enter the decision phase of their transfer journey.
To help enrollment leaders evaluate the strength and scope of their own two-year college partnerships, we developed a diagnostic tool to highlight strengths and pinpoint areas for improvement.
3. Mitigate the loss of transfer credit
Many four-year institutions do a poor job of helping students transfer their credits. Sometimes past coursework does not count toward major degrees, sometimes only a few credits are permitted, and, often, information about the credit transfer process is confusing or non-existent.
To mitigate the loss of transfer credit, I suggest you:
- Study credit loss among transfer students to your institution
- Validate data availability to identify efficient or inefficient two-year college pathways
- Establish regular, reliable processes for updating and improving program articulation
- Provide transfer students with credit evaluations prior to admissions decisions
4. Build transfer specific event strategies
Most four-year institutions offer far fewer campus events for transfer students than first-time, full-time prospects. Because two-year colleges now recommend that transfer students visit several potential four-year institutions, those that invest in transfer-specific events that feature tailored messages, resources, and campus visits will sway transfer students to their campus.
5. Dedicate transfer admissions staff
Across the country, two-year college advisors continue to groom well-informed transfer student consumers by helping students evaluate which four-year institutions best meet their needs. However, I find most four-year schools miss the opportunity to help inform this process because they have insufficient transfer admissions staff to build and maintain relationships with two-year college advisors. Dedicated staff is necessary to communicate your commitment to transfer students: Be sure advisors know that you provide transfer students with pathway and preparation resources, as well as guidance through the application process.
6. Provide easy access to online information
A lot of schools I visit wrongly assume that their transfer student information is easily accessible, when, in fact, it is lost in a long series of website links or, worse, missing altogether. While most four-year institutions detail their admissions process both on- and offline, it is wise to differentiate your institution by communicating simple, straightforward transfer steps and timelines to completion, including essential financial aid deadlines, requirements, and contact information.
As you complete your assessment of fall 2017 and look ahead to 2018, you’ll likely confront increased competition for undergraduate students and continued pressure on tuition revenue. With a comprehensive transfer plan, I’m confident that you can overcome those hurdles, strengthen your enrollments, and create a winning class of transfer students.
Fortunately, unlike candidates after elections, you don’t have to wait four years to get it right.