Completion Promises and Enrollment Health

July 25, 2022
  • Enrollment Management
  • corporate
Young woman working with data.

Sponsored and Written by Tom Shaver, Founder and CEO, Ad Astra

Pandemic aftereffects, inflation, and economic instability continue to create uncertainty in the value and relevance of higher education for many prospective students and their parents. This uncertainty, and challenging demographic trends, have created an enrollment crisis for many institutions.

Re-establishing confidence in students and parents begins with a creative reimagining of the system’s fundamental design to combat two critical issues:

  1. Students invest time and accumulate debt without earning a degree.
  2. Colleges and universities losing tuition revenue needed to financially sustain many of their academic programs. 

Changing Dynamic

This redesign process begins with a reassessment of the current student population. Unlike in the past, today’s students must often work and/or support family members while attending school, and this trend shows no sign of abating. What hasn’t changed is the power of a degree to provide a bridge toward a better job or career path in the future. Yet too many students, especially working learners and students from underrepresented minorities, do not make it to the finish line of degree completion. Part of the solution lies within the control of our colleges and universities – providing a clear path to completion. 

Reassessment Needed

Flexible scheduling sits at the retention nexus of enrollment and completion – one of an institution's biggest levers to retain and re-enroll students. With the need to manage school, work, and family, students must have scheduling options that consider reliable and consistent availability of courses in the same modality, time, and location. Likewise, institutions feeling the pressure to attract and retain today’s students can benefit from guaranteeing a clear path forward from enrollment to graduation. 

Too often, though, progress becomes impaired by faculty-centric scheduling and an institutional tendency to fall back on a “business as usual” approach that restricts the creation of clear pathways to completion. Keeping our promise to provide clear completion paths means creating clarity for students and academic departments, offering the ability to plan into the future and support goals of on-time graduation.

Ensuring Enrollment Health

Managing sustainable enrollment health in academic programs can be accomplished by supporting the most popular modality, time, location, and course-taking pace. Such an approach also reduces misallocated faculty capacity by highlighting unneeded course offerings that fall outside supported completion paths.

Break it Down

  1. Design data-driven pathways – Good pathways improve enrollment health and increase course sharing and cross-listing opportunities.
  2. Make it clear – Regularly communicate schedule information and changes to students and advisors.
  3. Employ data-informed completion paths – Data provides a focused and productive discussion, highlighting the course offerings needed to provide clear completion paths for each academic program.
  4. Keep it student-centric – Instead of beginning with faculty availability, start with students first. Then add part-time faculty and virtual offerings to ensure clear completion paths.

Act Now

With uneven demand across higher education, institutions must quickly and thoughtfully rethink offerings to meet demand sustainably while making good on completion promises to students. Such efforts strongly increase the likelihood of attracting and retaining students and allow them to complete programs on time and without unnecessary expense and debt. 

The current economic situation and a looming recession offer even more reasons why institutions must pursue a different approach to scheduling, with courses based on student demand, allowing for predictable schedules across multiple semesters. By working together, we can meet complex needs and lived realities by helping students manage their life around college – meeting them where they are in the moment.