Breaking Enrollment and Retention Records at Lipscomb UniversityReading time: 6 minutes
Like most institutions, Lipscomb University feared the worst about the Fall 2020 semester. Forecasts for enrollment and retention were bleak, and the school faced the additional challenge of migrating to a new Student Information System amid the chaos of confusion caused by COVID-19.
Thankfully, the school had a strong automated data access structure, established by Matt Rehbein, the Director of Institutional Research. In a recent webinar, Rehbein discussed how the school used Rapid Insight’s Bridge to produce automated dashboards, which enabled the admissions team to conduct targeted outreach to students who required help moving through a new virtual registration process.
The dashboards, paired with dedication and effort, equipped Lipscomb to far exceed their expectations. Lipscomb didn’t just meet their goals: they broke their previous enrollment and retention records, even despite the challenges of the pandemic.
This blog post features five questions that Matt Rehbein and Johnathan Akin (Lipscomb’s Assistant Vice President of Undergraduate Admissions) discussed during the recent webinar, highlighting the immense benefits that Bridge brought to Lipscomb’s enrollment and retention initiatives.
1. Setting the Stage
When faced with the anxiety of registering a new class amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, what questions were on your mind? What obstacles did you face?
When COVID struck, we were about to throw a large event on campus for our accepted students. Within ten days, we had to turn it into a virtual event.
Shifting to a virtual event would have been challenging even if we’d all been able to work together from the office. But we moved immediately to a remote work environment, adding even more complexity to the situation. I’m sure that many schools were similar to Lipscomb in that we did not have much infrastructure in place for remote collaboration.
Also, we were in the midst of implementing a new Student Information System. With everyone working remotely, we lost some of our ability to train in the new system but had to go live with it anyways. This created an additional challenge for my team. We did not yet have an in-depth understanding of the system from the students’ perspective. In a sense, we were the blind leading the blind registering students in the new system.
Finally, as a university, we’d never virtually registered our class in the past. We’d always registered students in-person in a series of enrollment orientation periods during the summer. All of those events were canceled and moved online.
So, when COVID struck, we were attempting to virtually register our new incoming students, in a completely new online system, while adjusting to working together remotely. There were a lot of challenges at Lipscomb on the enrollment management side, to be sure.
2. The Benefits of Data Access in Admissions and Enrollment at Lipscomb
It’s my understanding that the automated dashboards and reports we created for the enrollment management team in Bridge were a big help in facilitating your work. Could you elaborate on how your team used the dashboards and reports?
There were two key areas where the dashboards and reports were a game-changer for us.
First, it helped on the Financial Aid side by clarifying which students had and had not filed a FAFSA application or received a financial aid award.
When we went virtual with the registration process, we had 700 students registering in one week. We set a maximum number of 150 students who could register per day to ensure that we could help any students who needed it through their challenges. The dashboards helped us structure and organize which cohort of students could register for classes online each day.
I lived and died by the dashboard this summer. I waited for every hourly refresh to know who was registered and who was eligible to register each day. It helped my team be more proactive in communicating with students and shepherding them through a process that was new to all of us. We could identify which students had issues registering, then reach out to assist those who needed help.
Each morning, from 9 am to noon, students would register, and then I’d share updates with my team. We’d immediately get on the phone and call the students who hadn’t registered yet to assist them through the process.
Typically, registration is more of a handoff process. It’s not usually something my office would oversee. It’s generally in the registration and orientation team’s domain, but this year called for a change of procedures. It opened up new opportunities for us to collaborate with other offices on campus and provide for our students.
The second area where the dashboards played a key role is in reducing summer melt. We saw a significant decrease in our melt, which is highly unusual. Working closely with the dashboards kept us connected with the students we needed to be in touch with. On actual move-in day, 100% of our students showed up. Everyone that we expected to be there was there.
3. Fall 2020 Without Bridge
Had we not had this automated data-delivery system in place, how do you think it would have changed the situation?
Without the dashboards, we would have had a customer service challenge on campus. Since our enrollment office did not yet have an in-depth understanding of how to use the new registration system, we would have had to depend on students notifying us of issues instead of proactively reaching out to assist them.
In enrollment, you often just stop hearing from students because they reach a point where they can’t maneuver through the process. They just drop out and go silent. This summer, we were able to anticipate problems before they even happened.
I saw the best collaboration in my sixteen years at Lipscomb between the Registrar, Financial Aid, Orientation, Housing, and Enrollment departments. All of us worked together.
I can say with 100% confidence that we would have had a loss of enrollment had we not had the tools and data to help us navigate this season.
4. Lessons for the Future
How did this experience potentially change or shape how you do things next time around? Knowing that we have this automation in place, how does that change your perspective on managing an incoming class?
Typically, once a student has committed, deposited, and registered for orientation, we pass that student off to another office on campus to take it from there. In the past, if I had conversations from that point forward, it would have been at a high level, about the total number of students registered, perhaps.
This experience allowed me to pull back the curtain and see the registration process from a different perspective. My team is going to be able to ensure that our students are actually here. We’re now able to step in alongside the Registrar and make sure that students have what they need to register and commit. I expect these new procedures will reduce melt and increase enrollment going forward.
5. Collaboration Going Forward
It seems there is a lot of fruit that can still come from this IR and Admissions collaborative relationship. What are your thoughts on how we can continue to drive successful outcomes for the next class and beyond?
This experience opened up a whole new layer of opportunity for us. It’s going to help us clean up a lot of our data. It’s been a very useful way to bring multiple departments’ data together more comprehensively.
The data-sharing system connected our admissions CRM with data from other departments. I’m excited to see where we can go with the financial aid side of the house, in particular. We’ll be able to see where we stand at any given point on FAFSA compared to previous years.
I also hope that we’ll further develop our modeling capabilities to see who’s looking at our inquiries and clicking out, and which groups of students are most likely to enroll. In what ways can we treat those students a little differently, knowing that they already bought into what we have to offer?
A Bridge to the Future
As Akin makes clear, the collaborative approach that the data automation system uncovered is as valuable a win for Lipscomb as their record-breaking enrollment and retention rates. Rehbein remarked that a budding network of “citizen data scientists” is emerging on campus. “This group is confident and excited to access their data and put it to work in improving outcomes in their departments,” Rehbein said.
Amid the negative impacts of the virus on higher education, Lipscomb’s story is a welcome note of positivity. A strong data access structure increased meaningful interdepartmental collaboration, uncovered new opportunities to improve processes, and helped the school achieve record-breaking admissions success.
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