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They’re Ready to Enroll. Are You Ready to Retain?

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Breathe. Relax. Celebrate.

Since the onset of the pandemic, new student enrollment numbers have decreased year-over-year. Until now. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, new first-year student enrollment is up.

  • Freshman enrollment for fall 2022 is up 4.3 percent from last year

  • Community colleges saw an increase in freshman enrollment by 6.1 percent since fall 2019

  • Latinx student enrollment increased by 1.6 percent, while Asian student enrollment saw a 1.8 percent increase

Though it’s difficult to say whether or not this trend will continue, there’s another significant increase occurring for the fall 2023. Another metric admissions officers will hang their hat on. Increased freshman enrollment for fall 2022 and, now, increases in college applications for fall 2023.

Reports from The Common App

In January 2023, The Common App reported that applications aren’t just up, they’re streaming in; and doing so at rates much higher than pre-pandemic. For fall 2023, more individual applicants submitted applications at rates higher than they did for fall 2019.

  • There has been a 24% increase in first-year applicants from fall 2019 to fall 2023

  • Underrepresented minority and first-generation applicants also both saw hefty increases, increasing by 37% and 43% respectively

  • Students applying to public schools are up 47% and private schools have seen a 25% increase

These increases in first-year applicants are promising, and they are most likely causing some enrollment professionals to question the enrollment cliff that is predicted to arrive in 2025.

The problem, though, is that as campuses celebrate this boom in freshman enrollment and applications, they may be overlooking the fact that overall enrollment has remained relatively the same, even declining by 0.6 percent. There is a need to ensure that increases in freshman enrollment don’t end with decreases in continuing enrollment.

They’ve Enrolled. Now You Need to Retain Them.

As many colleges and universities have celebrated their increases in new student enrollment, they must also keep a close eye on their continuing students. While new student enrollment may be up, national data indicates these first-time students face challenges with persisting:

  • 24.1% of first-time full-time freshmen leave college within 12 months of first enrolling

  • 18.4% of first-time students enrolling at 4-year institutions drop out, and this number increases to 39% for students attending 2-year colleges

  • Students from lower-income families are 79.3% more likely to leave college, and first-generation students drop out at rates 23.5% higher than the average

The good news is that we know why students leave college. Significant research has been done to tell us why students stay enrolled, why they keep going, and what motivates them. We know the barriers to student persistence, with study after study reinforcing the challenges faced by today’s college students.

  • Academic engagement

  • Financial distress (including food and housing insecurity)

  • Wellness (specifically mental health and well-being)

  • Sense of belonging

Surveys at the end of the semester showcase these student struggles but, by that time, for many it is too late. When you finally see the results, they’ve already left your campus with no intention of returning. It’s possible that you had some of this data earlier in the semester due to an early warning system, but even those systems are not providing you with the exact challenges individual students face in real time.

Real-Time, Student Feedback.

It’s time to get real; to get to the true reason an individual student is struggling and may choose to leave; to get this information in real-time so that you can intervene immediately with personalized recommendations and interventions. It’s time to rely on the voice of your students at the exact moment they are speaking out for help. By hearing the individual student voice, colleges and universities have a better chance of reaping the long-term rewards of the boom in new student applications.

Capturing the student voice can easily be done through check-ins and interventions delivered directly to students through SMS text messaging at the times of the semester most commonly known to be challenging. This requires more than a chatbot who provides standard responses if and when a student decides to seek support.

  • It requires one that is built on decades-long research on student persistence

  • It requires one that offers an Adaptive AI Framework, learning from each interaction and using millions of student interactions to offer personalized check-ins and interventions through SMS

  • It requires one that is responsive to their needs and doesn’t wait for the student to reach out, but instead proactively checks in with students on a regular basis

  • It requires one that your students feel connected to, engaged with, and a representation of the ways in which your community cares about them

Ultimately, colleges and universities need a solution that captures the student voice, provides real-time interventions and responses, and continues the conversation by checking in with the student consistently throughout each semester.

Now, Back to the Question at Hand.

They’re ready to enroll. Are you ready to retain? Enrollment managers can celebrate the first-time enrollment increases from the fall of 2022 and get excited about the significant boost in applications for fall of 2023. All of that celebration and excitement, though, will be for nothing if those same students aren’t still on your campus twelve months later.

You need to go beyond standard or canned chatbot responses to incorporate your students and their voice into the support you provide. You need to move towards a more student-centered, individual student data-informed, proactive approach to supporting student persistence. If you do, yours may be a campus that sees not only an increase in applications and first-time freshman enrollment, but also an increase in the number of those students you see persist.



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