Drawing on its findings and experience advising nearly 500 colleges and universities nationwide, Hanover Research has an inside line to higher ed and the major themes in which schools are entrenched.
In the post-pandemic world, young adults are more skeptical about the traditional high-school-to-college funnel, noting its financial burden, lack of workforce focus and how bewildering it can be going in without a sense of belonging or real-life skills. Colleges embracing the times are implementing strategies to stay ahead of enrollment and retention.
Curricula pivot to prioritize labor-market learning
As of May 2022, 39 million students completed only some college or left without a degree, according to National Student Clearinghouse data. Half of all community college students struggle with picking classes around their job. With a student body losing steam midway through a college or university program and facing barriers to even finding time to schedule classes, stackable credentials are an emerging model for people hungry for education on a tight routine.
Employers are highly interested in their value as well, with 76% of them more likely to hire a candidate who has earned a professional certificate.
Applicants are risk-averse to burdensome debt
Three in five prospective students cite paying for college as their top concern for attending college, which can create a barrier to enrolling in the first place—and their fears are not unfounded. Over 60% of students from the 2015-16 graduating class are still paying off debt.
Some schools are bold enough to explore implementing “no-loan” policies that promise students 100% of their expenses will be met with grants, scholarships and other tuition assistance strategies. An initiative like this, however, requires millions of dollars and is obviously not feasible for every institution. Instead, schools are exploring better ways to advise students on how to curb their expenses, such as streamlined pathways to encourage Advanced Placement courses and employer-sponsored tuition assistance programs for nontraditional students.
More from UB: Reaching Gen Z: Action steps colleges can take to ensure they are interested
Revising revenue streams
Cost-cutting may seem the most obvious way to help institutions maintain long-term solvency amid wilting enrollment numbers, prohibitive inflation hikes and declining respect for a college education.
With federal grant funding at nearly $200 billion, colleges and universities are devising stronger initiatives to be competitive for those dollars. While fundraising is a time-tested revenue stream, schools less endowed with wealthy donors are coming up with creative new revenue-generating ideas. Unity College in Maine, for example, is instating public workshops and offering customized workforce training for businesses.
Cultivate community for tender students
Students seek a strong sense of belonging, especially among a diverse student body adjusting to living in a completely new environment. More than 50% of students reported being singled out at their institution based on their identity, which is likely to contribute to the one-third of students who have seriously considered withdrawing from their programs in the past six months.
Hanover suggests culturally relevant services be offered that help affirm student individuality. For at-risk students skeptical about professional services for mental health needs, nontraditional resources such as peer-supported mental health programs can do the trick.
Here are five more strategies Hanover suggests to boost student retention.
Innovative marketing tactics with measurable results
Traditional media and outreach models aren’t as effective as they once were. Colleges are moving toward a digital-based, business-like approach to their marketing strategies, such as employing data analytics to maximize ROI and refine campaign tactics. Institutions are also reportedly leveraging social media “influencers” and developing branded partnerships.