Each year, vast numbers of students leave college before graduating. Contrary to popular belief, these "stop-outs" are often in good academic standing and many intend to return. Unfortunately, most stop-outs do not re-enroll. Institutions that coordinate outreach to stop-outs and reduce barriers to re-enrollment are growing enrollments and tuition revenues while boosting completion rates.
Sizing the opportunity: A million stop-outs...and counting
Of those who entered college in 2008, an estimated 386,000 students stopped out in the four-year sector alone—comprising 17% of the entering cohort. Alarmingly, the majority of stop-outs leave in good academic standing, with half of them achieving a GPA greater than 3.0.
Despite this sizable college-ready market, most re-recruitment efforts lack accountability, coordination, and the resources to move the dial on re-enrollment.
Building a successful re-recruitment campaign
Enrollment managers can take strategic leadership over re-recruitment, with the most effective levers—admissions, financial aid, and the registrar—typically centralized under their purview. Our research has identified three EM-led re-recruitment imperatives:
1. Employ targeted and personalized communication
Outreach should highlight an individual student's credit accumulation and closeness to completion. While traditional email/phone outreach may suffice for recent, easier-to-reach stop-outs, older, long-term stop-outs may require additional outcomes-based marketing, such as employment rates or progression to graduate programs, to remind them of a degree's value. All outreach should emphasize financial aid and support services.
2. Leverage financial aid for re-recruits
While small financial incentives are effective for short-term stop-outs, larger discounts should be offered to longer-term stop-outs. To increase inquiries, customized financial incentives should be highlighted in initial re-recruitment outreach.
3. Reduce barriers to re-enrollment with high-touch counseling
Re-recruits often need help re-applying for financial aid and navigating registration because of changes to degree requirements. EMs should train their functional units and academic departments to deliver a streamlined re-enrollment onboarding process that meets the unique needs of stop-outs.
Low-hanging fruit: A high-ROI investment
The results of effective re-recruitment campaigns are impressive. For instance, the University of New Mexico uses a comprehensive direct mail, email, and phone outreach strategy that offers a maximum per term discount of $750 that garners ~240 re-enrolled stop-outs each year. EMs are understandably concerned with spreading admissions staff thin, but successful re-recruitment operations, including outreach and onboarding, can be accomplished by dedicating just 0.5-1.5 FTEs per year.
The key ingredients for success are centralization and standardization, so that re-recruits don’t get lost in the shuffle between offices in the re-enrollment process. When EMs take leadership over re-recruitment initiatives to ensure that communication, financial aid, and onboarding for stop-outs are done in an integrated manner, institutions’ returns from re-recruitment easily outweigh the costs.