Written By: Robyn Shulman
It is no secret that many non-profit and for-profit higher education institutions are suffering from low enrollment numbers, facing fierce competition, and have yet to move with the e-distant this and the e-learning that. The bottom line, the numbers, the data, and the projected outlook tend to be many of the common phrases we hear today. So, what is the bottom line? How do institutions attract and retain students? Below is a list I have put together that can help your institution not only survive, but thrive. Please note, this information is geared more toward the non-traditional graduate student (not undergraduate, as that is an entirely different ballgame).
1. Forget the Numbers, and Focus on the Students.
Without the students, there is no institution. They are the reason, and the only reason the college or university exists. Students are the priority and thus, should be treated as such. Give them undivided attention, the flexibility they need to succeed and the respect they deserve.
2. Don’t Harass Prospective or Enrolled Students.
Refrain from calling and emailing 5 times a week. This has happened to me as of recent. This is a very big turn off. The institution looks desperate and becomes an annoyance when I am making dinner for my family. Treat prospective students as adults, as they will return your call if and when they want. One or two calls may be acceptable, but 5 in a week is not.
3. Listen to the Students’ Needs, Don’t Simply ‘Hear Them’.
Pay close attention to these needs and/or complaints and take them into account accordingly. Believe me, students talk A LOT, post comments on yelp, facebook, linkedin, and twitter. There are even professor review sites now! Take notice of how you treat the student body.
4. Create an Infrastructure that Flows Easily.
Non-traditional students tend to be working full time, raising kids and/or providing for an elderly parent. They are tired, overworked, and are being pulled in thousands of directions. Build the institution with a focus on providing easy access to information. Provide students with live human people to speak with, not just voice menus. Make this experience the break they need from ‘life’. School can and should be a great time for adults to come together with common interests, lively conversations and similar goals. Classes should be fun, exciting, engaging and well worth their time and money spent. School should not be a messy paperwork job with unnecessary errors and mistakes. Answers should come from the experts that the student is seeking, not just from anyone who answers the phone, as this is a very unwise move. When the wrong people answer the wrong question, disaster will be straight ahead.
5. I Cannot Stress This Enough: Listen to Those Working Within the Institution. Create a culture of warmth, agree to disagree and promote teamwork. The staff and faculty have years of experience, know the university and type of student body. Don’t dis-regard them in terms of work, suggestions and improvements. The staff and faculty are an administration’s hidden jewels. Share in the governance of the university by creating a bridge together, and you will hear more students walking above you.
6. If Possible, When Hiring Student Advisors, Choose Wisely. Why? Students love advisors with whom they can relate! Hire positive, outgoing advisors who have the ‘been there done that’ prior knowledge and experience to share (either by going through the degree and/or profession, OR if you can find someone with both of these experiences, and one who can provide warmth and understanding, you may have just hit the jackpot). Students do not like robots spilling out program information, they like real people who can help them and who they can relate to. Finding commonalities between an advisor and a student can change the entire playing field. These advisors will have employment histories, connections, and can provide specific career guidance to the student.
7. Remember Who Your Students Are: Non-traditional, Adult with Kids, Single Moms, Working During the Day, and Tending to Kids at Night.
Give them options on when to talk and conference. If possible, schedule phone and email conferences around their schedule, not the university standard hours. Non-traditional students love to pick up the phone for a quick question or two at night, or on the weekends. They don’t want to hire babysitters and come into the campus if it is not necessary. Advisors should return a call or email at least within a 24-48 hour period. Manage the hand-holding appropriately.
8. Move with the Future, but don’t Lose the Integrity and the Basis of the Institution. This means, yes, get moving with those online and hybrid offerings and realize this is the way education is moving. However, keep the respect, theory, and basic principals on which the institution was founded.
9. Value the Employees and Provide an Environment for a Strong Work/Life Balance. The happier the employees, the happier the students. Treat the employees as they deserve, pay them accordingly for their talents, and show appreciation. Administrators should not just say it, they need to show it in their actions.
10. Finally, Envision and Celebrate.
When students needs are met beyond their expectations, they will come and they will tell their friends and their friends and so on.
This blog is dedicated to all of the amazing faculty members and students I have worked with over the years. You all know who you are. Thank you.