New Year’s Resolutions, Meet Decades-Old Challenges
As we welcome a new year, many of us have set resolutions to make life improvements. From reading 100 books throughout the year to a two-minute daily plank challenge, the options are endless.
Unfortunately, and as assuredly as we make resolutions, we aren’t always equipped to meet them.
But reframing a resolution as a challenge resonates with me. Resolutions feel destined to fail, while a challenge is an opportunity to accomplish a difficult task. Who doesn’t love a good challenge? And who passes up an opportunity to overcome and stretch to new heights?
Challenges are nothing new for enrollment professionals. Long gone are the days when class goals were set (and exceeded.) Year-over-year growth became expected by leadership, unaware of the growing challenges that enrollment and financial aid teams were facing. Creativity, new techniques and availability of applicants have allowed professionals to meet the challenge laid forth and progress through the gauntlet of finalizing their new class for years. However, as new obstacles have been added to that gauntlet, it has become harder for enrollment teams to come out unscathed.
Say goodbye to the college pipeline of yesteryear
The traditional college pipeline is shrinking and shifting. The Great Recession generated much more than short-term economic disruption. For example, colleges in the late 2020s will see disruptions caused by a decreased birth rate during that time. The long-term impact means fewer high school-aged students are filling our traditional college-going pipeline. It is anticipated that over the next six years, we will see demand for regional four-year institutions drop by an added 11 percent.
Additionally, those same students question the cost and value of post-secondary education and the advantage that a college degree may provide. This was taking place well before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. However, the disruptions to the education system, the world economy and the great resignation have all resulted in a substantial shift in what people view as necessary.
Early in the pandemic, those in jobs requiring lower education levels were disproportionally impacted by pandemic-caused disruptions. As we have progressed through the pandemic, the nation has realized that service and skilled labor are our nation's very heart and soul, resulting in more open roles with increased pay for non-credentialed students. High school graduates are choosing to exit the college-going process in favor of joining the workforce, possibly deciding short-term payoff instead of long-term gain.
Academic fit and financial fit for every student
Long ago, the non-traditional student eclipsed the traditional college student on campus. What does that mean? Colleges have more students who fall into one or more of the non-traditional categories. They could be first-generation, low-income, parents, adult learners, working full time, caring for dependents other than children, and/or financially independent. No matter what boxes these students are checking, one thing is true: To successfully enroll and complete college, students need to find a good academic and financial fit at a college that creates a supportive and inclusive enrollment and learning environment.
As higher education professionals, it can be easy to think that prospective students know that some schools will offer a better fit than others. But for students, that is not always clear. For students, realizing that a school they have dreamed of attending may not be the best fit can be a difficult lesson that derails them from their education journey. Helping students identify the achievements that will indicate they are a good fit for your institution will help build trust and a clear path forward.
2022, meet micro-scholarships
Consider using micro-scholarships to provide a pathway of academic accomplishments that will best result in an academic fit for your institution. Not only will this help students stay on track – it will help pave the way to applying and enrolling at your school. Additionally, by offering micro-scholarships to ensure best-fit matches, you will also directly address many students' concerns around financial fit.
At times, it has been discouraged to talk about financial fit between students and institutions. This conversation is an important one. Financial friction is the number one reason students do not enroll or stay in school. This friction can come from many places, from the complexity in our application process to perceptions about affordability. Micro-scholarships can be used to drive early targeted engagement with students as early as ninth grade. In these interactions, you can encourage better behaviors that increase access to institutional dollars while building institutional affinity and access to support services.
Colleges and universities are not the only ones facing a gauntlet of challenges on the path to September. College students are traversing a similar path filled with unknown and overwhelming obstacles, many without a trusted guide. Colleges that build highly personalized and meaningful relationships will hold a competitive advantage. Targeted engagement and resources delivered over the years can help pave the way to college enrollment for students who may be questioning the value, timing, and affordability of a college degree.