One of the most critical questions facing colleges and universities today is not just how to recruit students for their freshman class, but how to retain them until graduation with yield campaigns.
As a student makes a deposit to his or her chosen college, the task of retaining that student until graduation has only just begun. Simply because a student has been accepted and has enrolled in no way means that she is fully vested in the college, or that she is going to stay for the long haul of a four-year education.
In fact, the interval between acceptance and the first day of classes may be the most critical time for an incoming freshman who wants to feel he will fit in to the campus culture.
Turnover rates for some colleges can be high despite yield campaigns. Say a college loses half their incoming freshman class. Now the cost to fill next year’s class is compounded by the fact that there are still not enough students. Studies have shown that if a student makes it well into their sophomore year, they are far more likely to graduate.
What makes them want to stay?
The answer is actually simple: the feeling that they belong. And that belonging begins long before classes do.
New students need support as they prepare to commit to enrollment. One significant way to get a new student engaged is orientation—not only the orientation activities themselves but also the preparation for orientation. This is a great opportunity to generate excitement and maintain a sense of momentum; posting the itinerary for orientation, for example, on the school’s website and social media can generate that excitement and give the student something to look forward to.
Involving students in clubs, student organizations, and sports can help them get socialized in the new campus culture, but this doesn’t have to wait until the fall semester. Websites and, importantly, social media sites can be used to post lists of clubs and activities. Images of engaged students participating in clubs can convince incoming freshmen that there will be a culture they can join not only in their first semester but now. The early buy-in may prove critical for retention efforts.
Social media is helpful. After all, students frequently use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as a main mode of communication with their peers. They also frequent YouTube as much as, if not far more than television, and many colleges have established their own YouTube channels with everything from interviews with students and faculty to college-inspired songs and raps composed by students that act as the perfect advertisement.
Some of the best college websites post information about the surrounding area. What are the cultural events? The best places to eat? How long does it take to drive or walk to the nearest urban centers? All these ideas share one idea in common: they make the student feel at home before they even arrive by engaging the imagination.
And, of course, don’t forget parents. Providing information for mom and dad about parent visits, financial aid, and how to send “care packages” is essential to calm their nerves, as well. After all, their child is going away—sometimes far away—to college. Parent buy-in is every bit as important, as it will further bring the college to the student’s home.
What this all adds up to is a retention strategy and yield campaigns. Retention efforts are made easier by a purposeful communication between the college and the new student. Just because a student is enrolled does not mean the job is done. The more at home a student feels, the more likely they are to stay. The process starts as early as acceptance, and the long-term payoff is a 2021 graduating class at least as big as the 2017 freshman class.
At Capture Higher Ed, our communications team develops yield campaigns for our partner colleges. We find the areas that engage students—residence life, clubs, social media—and we keep them interested. Capture is determined to make an admission department’s job easier.
In the long run, we save our partners the additional cost of losing the very students we may have helped enroll in the first place.
By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed