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.