Last week at the kickoff of our annual Community College Executive Forum meeting series, we brought 20 community college presidents together to consider the future of community college enrollment and student retention.
Community college leaders are confronting a stark challenge: Declines in public funding and increased competition across higher ed have resulted in a roughly 1% annual decline in revenue since the recession.
During that time, federal and state funding has plummeted and community colleges have lost over a million enrollments. The recent growth in state promise programs has provided some relief, especially in states like Tennessee and Rhode Island. Even so, a further 4% drop in the traditional-aged enrollment pipeline is projected in the next few years. These factors make it clear that status quo solutions won’t be enough to address our current challenges. In fact, community colleges must take dramatic steps just to remain financially stable.
During the meeting, we discussed ways to capitalize on opportunities to enroll new students and retain those already on campus. We've compiled a few of the most-powerful strategies to target six specific student populations:
1. Dual enrollment students
Community colleges should capitalize on the double-edge sword of dual enrollment. State-level variations in accreditation, funding, and policy make dual enrollment a popular (and at times, even controversial) topic in the two-year space. But continuing public pressure means that colleges need to acclimate—and fast—to take advantage of potential benefits. In response, Merritt College expanded their enrollment funnel and improved course persistence by making dual enrollment part of the default curriculum for all local high school students.
Turn dual enrollment into meaningful college prep for your targeted students
2. Adult students
A five-week course (yes, just five) boosts access and outcomes for adult part-time students. Sixteen-week term lengths do no favors for working adults, yet most colleges resist shifting the academic calendar because of concerns about financial aid or academic rigor. Chemeketa Community College turned to an ultra-compressed hybrid course to serve adult part-time students with busy schedules. The result: Greater student effort and engagement than in traditional formats, and identical performance.
3. Traditional students
Colleges are sitting on a gold mine of free prospective student data. Data partnerships with K-12 feeder schools and current dual enrollee interest surveys are just two ways colleges can turn existing relationships into valuable insights. In only three weeks, Houston Community Colleges implemented a data-sharing system with local high schools that granted automatic admission to all students, and garnered 260 new college enrollees.
4. Stopped-out students
Targeting stopped-out students helped one college solve enrollment problems—and generate over $300K in revenue. Poor retention trends mean stopped-out students are everywhere—and most want to come back. While many colleges struggle to identify and engage these students, Pueblo Community College used internal student data to conduct targeted outreach and offer low-risk incentives to stopped-out students. Since 2016, their efforts have produced nearly 200 re-enrollments and $343K in net revenue.
How to support stop outs and prevent drop outs
5. Generation Z students
Gen Z is majorly tuned into ROI, an opportunity community colleges shouldn't pass up. Unlike their millennial predecessors, Gen Z is less concerned about brand name and more focused on value. Middlesex Community College markets the value of their transfer and career pathways to college-bound students to maintain an edge over higher ed competitors in a crowded local market.
6. Part-time students
If you want part-time students to take advantage of student services, schools should take the services to them. Helping part-timers succeed means putting the students first and leaving the office behind. Pensacola State College offers online, interactive tutoring to students in gateway math and science courses who can’t visit the tutoring center. Students who access the virtual tutoring services have average course pass rates 15% higher than their peers.
Why part-time student support may be the key to ed equity