Stop losing students before classes even begin

Financial surprises can reverse a first-generation student's decision to enroll

Financial surprises and other barriers can prevent incoming students from ever starting school.

For example, data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that community colleges lose 56% of all applicants before the first day of class, according to Melinda Salaman, a director of strategic research at EAB.

"Unfortunately, a very small percent of those lost applicants enroll at another college or university, essentially squashing their dreams of higher education before they even begin," Salaman says.

Houston Baptist University (HBU) noticed signs that students were struggling with financial aid paperwork and all the other tasks needed to start each semester, says James Steen, VP of enrollment management. Around 41% of HBU's incoming students identify as Hispanic and many students are also first-generation.

Project Day One, as HBU calls it, aims to ensure that students start off each semester on the right foot. HBU provides extra support for not only financial aid requirements but also course registration and other kinds of paperwork.

A big part of Project Day One is communication. First-generation students don't have mentors at home who can guide them through the enrollment process, so extra nudges from their school are a big help.

For example, some students were unprepared for what would be expected of them financially in college, so HBU adopted a mobile app to help students track their financial aid steps.

"We know more than 95% of students have a smartphone in their pocket," says James Steen, VP of enrollment management at HBU. "So we had to figure out a way to get to them."

The extra communication also helps HBU officials identify students who could benefit from small amounts of additional financial aid.

"We've seen some nice increase in retention, and a lot of it stems from the fact that students are more aware of the process," Steen says of Project Day One (Smith, Inside Higher Education, 1/24).

Addressing enrollment barriers yielded one school $70,000 in tuition revenue

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"No men allowed"—the rise of female-only engineering dorms

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