A few weeks ago, I hosted a webconference on the community college grant funding outlook for 2017. One research update piqued interest among members: the proliferation of free community college programs—an ambitious endeavor to eliminate the financial burden that prevents many considering higher education. Today, over 150 free community college programs have sprung up across the country, and the list seems to grow by the week.
This should be cause for excitement—but could be an impetus for institutional redesign interventions.
An uptick in enrollment without support may lead to disappointing student success outcomes. Why? Because many colleges unknowingly create administrative roadblocks that cause students to abandon enrollment before class begins or drop out mid-semester before earning a credential, such as unclear next steps and confusing procedures.
Leaders at Danville Community College uncovered three barriers facing students upon entry, and worked with EAB to streamline the student experience. The result was an increase in applicant-to-enrollee conversion in the first semester alone, resulting in nearly $70,000 in additional revenue—just from better front-end processes.
The few, the busy, the tech-savvy
Danville Community College (DCC) is a rural school of approximately 5,000 students set in southern Virginia, less than a mile to the North Carolina border—an area formerly known for its tobacco, textiles, and railroads.
In the early 2000s, unemployed factory workers sought to learn new skills, which increased the average age and total enrollment for the college. Meanwhile, two surrounding counties have experienced a significant decline in total population and enrollment in the past decade.
According to AACC, over 70% of community college students are employed while enrolled in school, and struggle to balance course work between work shifts and family responsibilities.
Across the nation, students are demanding a simplified higher education experience, and this is reflected at DCC. Today’s DCC student is 20-26 years old, tech-savvy, and busy. At DCC, students prefer online communication and access to support services, making it easier for them to know what they need to complete and how to access support.
It’s not magic: It’s students + improved processes + technology
Led by EAB Consultants, DCC staff created a process map of the current student enrollment process, including application, financial aid, placement testing, registration, and orientation. The circular steps and redundant procedures revealed by our undercover secret shopping process shocked staff and presented three major challenges that lead to early attrition at the college:
- Too many campus visits
- Irrelevant and burdensome requirements
- Few ways to self-serve
The first step in elevating the new student experience was to reduce the number of times students had to visit camps to complete enrollment steps, thus reducing the number of times a student could abandon the process.
Before working with EAB, students at Danville were required to visit campus an average of four times before completing enrollment—a huge investment of time, money, and resources. With support from EAB, DCC leadership found ways to cut the number of required visits by half. Today, new students visit campus just twice: once to take placement testing, and once to attend orientation.
With a greater understanding of their students’ needs, DCC redesigned their orientation program, DCC Rocks, to be a one-stop introduction to the college. Students can pick up their ID and parking pass, meet with an advisor, and log-in to critical online resources, including Navigate.
Learn how the Navigate platform can support student communication on your campus
Lastly, new students are introduced to Navigate with a link embedded in their welcome email. Access has several benefits: students no longer need to visit campus for a “program placement” appointment and can receive personalized guidance about their major. The platform guides students to complete enrollment on time and at a higher rate than previously—77% of Navigate users at DCC completed enrollment in fall 2016, compared to the national average of less than 50%.
Student focus yields 4.6 % increase in a single term
Overall, the improvements Danville introduced to their onboarding process resulted in a 4.6% increase in applicant-to-enrollee conversion. In real terms, this means the college enrolled 39 more students in Fall 2016 than in the previous year.
Each student enrolled in an average of 12 credits, resulting in additional revenue for the college in the firm term—a much-appreciated financial bump given the budget-constrained environment community colleges operate in.
For colleges seeking to match the outcomes Danville achieved, keep the following advice in mind:
- Include a diverse range of staff across departments to understand the student experience.
- Don’t shy away from seemingly small changes to the student experience—these can have a big impact on enrollment patterns.
- Embrace new ideas—progressive leaders know that finding the right balance between change management and smarter technology can accelerate and elevate student success on campus.