It’s Reenrollment and Retention, Stupid!

In 1992, Bill Clinton rode to victory over a president that just a year earlier registered a nearly 90% public approval level in the wake of the first Gulf War. Many political observers argued that the victory was made possible by Clinton’s understanding of these four words – “It’s The Economy, Stupid!” With the current turbulence and uncertainty in the non-traditional student marketplace, especially for for-profit schools, we think that we will begin hearing the words, “It’s Reenrollment & Retention, Stupid,” in the very near future.

While many for-profit institutions are fearful that new enrollment growth will be severely curtailed by increased scrutiny and pending “Gainful Employment” regulations, many schools that have been successful with their recruitment over the past years are sitting on a potential goldmine that can help buffer their financial performance during the short-term even if they experience declining rates of new enrollment growth. In the long-term, this treasure chest can help create substantial new enrollment growth as well as many other benefits.

What is this panacea? It is Reenrollment & Retention! We will leave out the other part of the phrase as none of our clients and readers are stupid! That said, if schools focus on these areas with even half the intensity that some focus on recruitment, they will be amazed by the positive results.

We all know what retention is. We may, however, not be as familiar with the termreenrollment. Reenrollment intervention is the practice of ensuring that students reenroll each term instead of stopping out of a program. This is especially important for non-traditional learners such as online students who are taking part in accelerated terms (some as few as 4-5 weeks.).  Unlike traditional or campus-based students, these learners are not physically connected to an institution. As a result, they may not know what they need to do and when they need to do it – to maintain continuous enrollment. These learners are also leading busy lives where educational pursuits often take a back seat to professional and family needs.

The benefits of ensuring on-going enrollment are clear. First, an institution maximizes its tuition revenue. In the long term, we have found that students that do not stop-out are less likely to dropout of a program altogether, thereby, improving retention. Even the most committed and engaged students are more likely to leave for good if they stop-out for even one-term, unless they are actively encouraged to return.

Although the right reenrollment platform can dramatically reduce stop-outs, it is difficult to eliminate them all especially as it relates to non-traditional students. Work, military deployment, health problems, finances, or family issues are all reasons why a student may need to sit out a term. Reenrollment intervention is designed to maintain contact and connection with these students with the goal of them resuming their education as quickly as practical.

I can attest to this first-hand. In 2009, I began a full-time classroom doctoral program on the weekends at the University of Southern California. I loved my first few terms and could not imagine ever not completing the program. Well early this year, my Mother passed away unexpectedly and at the same time we landed a large contract that took much of my attention. I decided to stop-out a term during the add/drop period which was a wise decision. During that term, I became quite accustomed to having my weekends free again. When it came time to register for the next term, I came up with a handful of compelling reasons why I could not return at least immediately.

With the growth of my business, being a parent, etc., chances are had I not returned, I would have put off doing so even though that was not my original intention. What inspired me to return despite all the reasons I had not to? A mentee and client of mine in higher education essentially told me “I had to.” You can’t say no to a client! I was also motivated by calls and emails I received from fellow students in my cohort who told me they were looking forward to seeing me in the next class. So, I went back and I am working on my dissertation as we speak. Luckily, I had a strong social network that motivated me to return to school.

But what about the single mother of 3 children who has been out of school for the past 20 years and is working on completing her bachelor’s degree? Does that student have a mentor and classmates that are holding them accountable? Probably not! That’s where reenrollment comes into play!

Reenrollment provides a consistent, personalized support system for every student. Each student is assigned a dedicated counselor that follows a very specific methodology that enables them to build a relationship with their students, check-in with them often, and help them through obstacles that can cause a temporary or permanent stop-out (or even a class drop). Coupled with proprietary tracking and relationship management technology, these counselors can have profound impacts on student persistence as well as enhancing student connectivity to a particular institution.

Similar to an Enrollment Counselor that works tirelessly to recruit a new student, a Reenrollment professional works diligently to stay connected with their students on a regular basis and sometimes more often if a student has not been attending class, made a payment, registered, or just needs extra encouragement. Reenrollment personnel typically have the same or greater qualifications than Enrollment Counselors. In fact, many of our Reenrollment team members have Masters degrees. Like a recruiter, they do what it takes to reach their students – email, phone calls, text messages. If they cannot reach a student during their shift, they call that student on the weekends or well into the evening. They do whatever it takes to ensure student persistence, success, and the removal of as many obstacles as possible. As a result, the return-on-investment to an institution can be considerable.

We work with an institution with a large online presence. Prior to a reenrollment intervention program, an average of 22% of the program’s students were dropping at least one class each term – mainly due to minor reasons including not having the appropriate text book, forgetting to login to a class, not registering for class, forgetting to make a payment, etc. Within six months, the drop rate was down to 8%!

Another institution we work with was losing over 30% of their revenue every term due to drops and 72% of the students that stopped out never returned. Within a year, the introduction of reenrollment support reduced the lost revenue rate to less than 10% and those students that did stop-out returned in subsequent terms 67% of the time – a huge turnaround. This particular school estimates they saved over $ 8 Million in revenue during the first year of providing this valuable support to students. I had the pleasure of attending this institution’s graduation event last spring. I was pleasantly surprised to see students embracing their Reenrollment Counselor more often than anyone else. It illustrated the bond developed by student and their Reenrollment Counselor.

Reenrollment should not be confused with Academic Advising – both which are critical support components. Reenrollment and Academic Advising staff typically coordinate their efforts loosely, however, they play very different roles that are almost impossible to combine without detrimentally impacting either or both Academic Advising and Reenrollment support.

Whether due to recent scrutiny or heavier competition, new student recruitment is generally a costly endeavor. This alone provides schools with a profound financial incentive to take steps to maximize persistence. Reenrollment support can also provide schools with an innovative differentiator in terms of how they support students and fulfill their educational missions. The increased retention that reenrollment counseling can stimulate helps create better student outcomes, higher loan repayment rates, and enhanced institutional reputations. Finally, schools arguably have an ethical and moral responsibility to help students be successful.

Until now, with certain exceptions, it has been mostly not-for-profit institutions that have championed reenrollment solutions. It will be interesting to see if the for-profit sector embraces this type of support and leverages it against their large student populations. Any institution (for-profit or not-for-profit) that is serious about revenue growth and student outcomes should seriously consider this ROI positive support system.

10 Major Innovations Key For-Profit Institutions Are Employing Right Now

In our last article, we highlighted how for-profit institutions are reinventing themselves in light of proposed Gainful Employment regulations and significant public scrutiny.  Some for-profits have taken a wait and see approach. The majority, however, are taking bold steps to maintain their relevance and enrollment growth in this changing environment. Many of these initiatives are focused on increasing student engagement while enhancing learner satisfaction and maximizing best outcomes.

Here are 10 initiatives that both large and small institutions are executing to reinvent and strengthen their offerings. While many of these concepts are not new ideas, schools are utilizing them in innovative ways as they adapt to new realities.

1) Next Generation LMS

For-profit schools are leading the charge to develop intelligent learning management systems (LMS) that determine the most effective learning style to present curriculum to individual students in order to maximize their success. These systems can employ a learning modality that best supports each unique learner on a per lesson or per course basis. Such adaptive learning technologies individualize learning and focus on subject mastery versus simply presentation. Additionally, these technologies have been shown to increase non-traditional student course completion by up to 42%, making them extremely attractive for institutions focused on improving outcomes.

2) Persistence & Motivational Assessments

For-profits are beginning to rely on simple online, non-academic assessments that measure a prospective student’s ability to persist as well as their motivational level.  Besides providing key information about a student’s chances for success, these tools are most helpful in helping retention/reenrollment counselors, academic advisors, and instructors to develop individualized counseling and follow-up strategies that best serve a student’s needs. By way of example, if an assessment suggests that a student has limited self-confidence as it relates to their ability to be successful, the student’s retention counselor and academic advisor can check-in with the student more often while faculty can provide extra instructional support and motivation.

3) Reenrollment Counseling & Coaching

Many schools are beginning to realize that enrollment counseling is essential throughout the entire student lifecycle to drive persistence, not just during the recruitment process. During the enrollment process, a student is introduced to a dedicated Reenrollment Counselor who becomes a student’s on-going coach and key point-of-contact. This counselor is responsible for developing a relationship with their students, understanding each student’s unique situations/objectives, and providing motivation to each learner. By checking in with their students at least once a term and personally engaging students more frequently who have failed to login to class, order books, register for a new term, complete their financial aid paperwork, or linking students with school services, such counseling efforts can significantly improve persistence by removing the most common obstacles that routinely cause students to stop-out.

4) Testing Labs

A few for-profits are following the path of high-tech companies that have set-up elaborate testing laboratories to test and improve products. For-profit institutions are testing the effectiveness of everything from new marketing pitches to curriculum and instructional delivery approaches in experimental environments. These labs are relatively new but are beginning to help their for-profit operators improve efficiency and effectiveness.

5) Student Concierge Hotlines

Some schools with non-traditional populations have maintained 24/7 “Student Concierge hotlines for years, however, many more for-profits are beginning to implement these student help desks. Most of these lines can assist students with basic questions regarding registration, financial aid, technical support, and student services. The most innovative hotlines can help students with Microsoft Office questions, providing referrals for day care or community services, and even providing students with connections to real-time tutoring support day or night.  More importantly, these hotlines can provide students with a friendly voice, encouragement, and a connection to an institution even on the weekends or late at night when non-traditional students are typically focused on their studies and may need the most support.

6) Career Placement Coaching

A number of for-profits have provided their students with career placement services with mixed success. Now, some for-profits are expanding these placement services to include career coaching that begins immediately upon matriculation. Schools are finding that this coaching not only better positions students to find a job after graduation but also consistently reminds the student why they are in the school in the first place, thereby, theoretically improving retention.

7) Mobile Learning

Just as the computer has been key to the growth of online learning over the past 15 years, many schools are betting that smartphones, iPods, and iPads will take on new prominence in delivering education to students. While smartphones and other mobile devices cannot yet be exclusively used to complete most online programs, many schools are adapting certain types of content so students can learn on the go with their mobile devices. Making content available in this fashion can increase the amount of time students spend engaged in their coursework.

8  All You Can Learn Pricing

Following the not-for-profit Western Governors University model, a few for-profits are considering flat-rate pricing in which students can take as many classes as they can for one flat amount during a term. While the jury is still out on whether this type of model is scalable, some institutions see this tuition arrangement as adding value and encouraging increased student engagement.  On the other hand, such arrangements can encourage students to bite off more than they can chew which can detrimentally impact student success and persistence.

9) Practical Learning

Some schools are expanding partnerships with industry, non-profit, and governmental organizations to provide integrated practical learning experiences embedded within their content. More than case studies, these partnerships provide participating schools with customized real-life content that is designed to augment traditional curriculum and expand student engagement as well as mastery of key concepts. One innovative program has even established a unique partnership with a nationwide organization that allows students to participate in an actual hands-on practical learning experience – even on evenings and weekends when they are most likely to have free time. Since doing so, this school has experienced significant increases in student satisfaction and retention.

10) “Smart” Early Alert Systems

We have all heard about the value of early alert systems as it relates to improving retention and overall outcomes. For programs with early alert processes, they are typically limited to detecting students who have failed to login to a course for a pre-determined period of time or are receiving poor grades in a specific course. By the time such information is followed up on, it is often too late to perform a successful intervention.  A few schools are looking at ways to make their early warning systems more dynamic and proactive.  One school we work with relies on a system that constantly scans for 31 unique warning indicators that may suggest a student might be in jeopardy, providing key information to all stakeholders in a learner’s success – students, retention counselors, academic advisors, and faculty members.