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4 Strategies for Data-Informed Enrollment Management

Reading time: 4 minutes

By Earl Sires

Several students are suing the University system of California, claiming that requiring SAT or ACT scores for admission is discriminatory. If successful, the lawsuit could reshape the admissions landscape nationwide. This hot-button topic was touched on in a recent webinar, which centered on how predictive analytics can improve enrollment management strategies.

The webinar featured Dr. Bryan Terry, the Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management at Arkansas State University.

In the webinar, Dr. Terry says, “When things happen in California and Texas, the rest of us tend to adopt whatever strategies they’re going with. If they start to really take a hard look at those test scores and say hey, this is not in our best interest, the rest of us will probably follow suit.”

With this potentially significant change in mind, what better time to reassess your strategies to see how they can be strengthened and made more effective?

Here are the 4 Data-Informed Enrollment Management Strategies we’ll discuss today:

  • Take Inventory of Your Data
  • Tailor Your Admissions Outreach
  • Identify Barriers to Student Success
  • Respond to Red Flags

Take Inventory of Your Data

Earlier in his career, Dr. Terry helped the University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s improve its enrollment management strategy. The numbers of newly-admitted freshman were declining, as was the retention rate.

The first step in rectifying the problem was taking inventory. What data did the University have available to work with? “Everybody benefits from taking a data-driven look at what’s happening, and what trends you can see just from the inside,” says Dr. Terry.

The data was collected and compiled, then turned into easy-to-understand reports accessible to staff and faculty across the campus. Reports were automatically updated with the latest information. With access to live, digestible data, departments were armed to take action and adjust strategies.

The end result of this effort:

  • A turnaround in the declining number of incoming freshmen
  • A 4.5% increase in retention rate

Knowing is half the battle. Equipping your stakeholders with accurate  information they can understand is a critical first step in reversing negative enrollment trends.

Tailor Your Admissions Outreach

All Universities work with limited monetary resources and time. Organizing outreach to prospective students makes enrollment management more efficient.

To tailor admissions outreach, Dr. Terry identifies three distinct groups of students. Each group requires a different “touch”:

  • For high-achievers, Dr. Terry found that having faculty reach out is most effective.
  • For students applying from a distance, student advisers make contact to speak with the applicants about life on campus.
  • For high-need students, the financial aid office makes the call.

Dr. Terry says, “It’s all high-touch, but you really can’t expect to have faculty members calling 2,700 people… we really want to use their expertise to get to the right students.”

Using data to prioritize staff time has led to a more streamlined and logical approach to student outreach. The University is able to put the right person in touch with the right student to make the most impact in convincing them to attend.

Identify Barriers to Your Students’ Success

Dr. Terry highlights that student retention is another key area where predictive analytics can improve enrollment management strategies. Using a predictive model, you can gather information on which of your students is headed in troubled waters and set up early-alert programs for students who are at high risk of attrition.

The Institutional Research Department at UNC Greensboro evaluated data and identified three key indicators that a student is headed towards academic danger:

  • Aberrant grade distributions within and between instructors
  • A high rate of grades comprised of D’s, F’s, or Withdrawals (DFW’s)
  • Combinations of challenging courses that should not be taken in the same term

They shared this information with faculty and advisors using visual dashboards, enabling faster and more targeted intervention to keep students on track. When a student with a high DFW rate registers for several challenging classes in the same semester, an adviser can reach out to guide the student to a better decision.

Respond to Red Flags

Seeing trends as they develop allows you to be proactive about solving problems before they become crises.

In the webinar, speaking in reference to enrollment likelihood and financial aid, James Cousins (Rapid Insight’s Analyst Manager) points out, “you can figure this sort of thing out proactively… which takes away a lot of the uncertainty and enables you to avoid negative outcomes.”

An example of this comes courtesy of the University of Alabama. The school’s predictive model suggested that when a student requests a copy of their transcripts, there’s a higher likelihood that they are planning to leave. Armed with this information, the University now takes action when a student asks for a copy of their records, intervening to motivate the student to stay.

With predictive analytics, you are able to stay a step ahead. Does it appear that more intervention is going to be required in the coming semester? Predictive analytics will allow you to start planning for that to make sure you have the resources in place to do an effective job counseling and retaining students.

If the next group of incoming students is predicted to need more financial aid, you can put emphasis where it needs to be. In other words, there’s no need for a wait and see approach; you can start working on problems before you feel their impact.

In Conclusion:

As we approach the enrollment drop-off cliff predicted for the mid 2020s, it’s time to put plans in place to prepare for it.

Dr. Terry points out that the downward trend in college enrollment is already noteable. “Over the past probably 10 years what we’ve noticed is those [high school] students that are graduating, the numbers that are going to college… that number is dropping dramatically.” The choice is to wait for the drop-off to arrive, or to embrace change and integrate data into your process.

The outcome of the case in California remains to be seen. Rapid Insight is an affordable, easy-to-use predictive analytics platform that will enhance your enrollment management strategies no matter what the court decides.

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