From your steeped-in-student-recruitment vantage point, you see quite clearly the symbiotic relationship retention has with your recruitment efforts and resulting yield. It has everything to do with your student services, student success, and all the small-batch interactions you do to ensure your students experience both.
As David Hautanen, Vice President for Enrollment Management at St. Mary’s College of Maryland said so well in a recent Recruiting Intelligence post: "Retention is both a moral and economic imperative." We wholeheartedly agree. And it is as true for students as it is for institutions.
We can dive into all of this with you at #Nafsa2022 in Denver. Let us know if you’ll be there and want to share a cup of coffee.
As campuses across the globe emerge from their pandemic safety bubbles and return to recruitment as usual (more or less), now is a really good time to rethink your institution’s retention efforts—and the student-first mentality it requires.
The bottom line: it’s your team’s soft skills that matter most and their availability to use them. Read on for our take…
Move beyond the hard sell.
Boiled down, recruitment zeroes in on your high-quality programs and faculty, facilities and campus environment, and your inspiring outcomes. You might consider these some of the “hard sell” tangibles. Add to that your efforts to communicate the intangibles of your institution’s aspirational truths and you have the recruitment marketing plan. Or at least the messaging for it. (You’ll still need all that operational stuff around audience targeting, segmentation, channel selection, campaign execution, tracking, and analysis – all the stuff our team is known for).
Once your prospective students actually enroll, it’s all-in on retention-focused initiatives that connect the dots between the aspirations you promised and the reality that actually takes shape on campus. You see the first-year orientation as just the starting point, not the finish line, right? Just checking.
That first year is just so critical. If you can turn a freshman into a sophomore, odds are in your favor they will stay through graduation. Early and often interactions really do pay off. And with the dramatic rise in student demand for mental health support, the level of effort required for retention is growing. So…
It’s about the soft skills.
Think of your retention-focused work as akin to your institution’s soft skills: getting students involved with the campus at many levels, helping them make personal and emotional connections to your institution and community, and setting them up for personal success beyond academic success.
You may recall the advice four international students at AIEA2022 said they would give to friends back home about studying in the US: “Come here to study but be ready. It is on you to find the opportunities.”
Because what students are telling us is they need more touchpoints. They need someone to invite them to join something. And they need that encouragement more than once. And the invitation needs to be personal. Mass emails are not invitations. They are just one more in a steady stream of emails your office sends and students delete.
Students need the kind of touchpoints that build affinity with your institution. The kind that looks them in the eye and not their phone. To that end, we offer a few suggestions, reminders really, of what you need to be doing right now to engage with students and retain their enrollment.
5 Recommendations Right Now
These are just a few ideas. We’ve got so many more.
Bonus Point: Use of technology (artificial intelligence) to help you understand which students might be struggling can be extremely powerful and helpful. It can also be done in creepy ways. And it can be time consuming and costly to implement. Not all institutions are ready and able to pursue this path. Something to consider while you get your people and their soft skills mobilized.
The key takeaway: it’s your soft skills and small-batch interactions that make all the difference in your rate of retention. If you need a partner who can help recruit and retain students, we know a great agency – a group of energetic folks with a deep understanding of the big picture. Be in touch.