Over the summer, I hosted a small virtual gathering of enrollment chiefs at several colleges and universities. There was lots of talk about strategies to retain students during the pandemic, especially if they were learning remotely.
“Our student success efforts have been on auto-pilot,” one vice president said.
Why it matters: Since the Great Recession, the pressure has been on colleges and universities for improved retention, higher graduation rates, and more engaged students.
- Over the last decade, colleges have invested heavily in academic advising to keep students on track, and more recently in mental health and wellbeing, understanding that students weren’t making it to graduation for more just than academic reasons.
- Colleges also tried to prove their return on investment and value of their degrees through the outcomes of their graduates, specifically jobs and earnings (an issue I addressed in the last editon of this newsletter).
- Author and investor Ryan Craig, along with many others, have argued that colleges need to do even more by adding skills training to their traditional curriculum (learning how to use Salesforce, for instance).
But, but, but: Such a narrow measure of ROI—the job after graduation—ignores the value of what happens in the intervening years when a student enrolls in college and before graduation.
- Yes, campuses have focused on “services” to students, but they really haven’t connected them together and concentrated on the overall student experience.
- While colleges may have succeeded in improving student advising, for instance, or career services, they haven’t reduced the friction between those offices, so that students feel less frustration going from the registrar to financial aid to their academic adviser.
What’s happening: This “student experience”—which includes every interaction a student has with an institution from the classroom to career services—is critical to shaping a college’s brand and overall performance.
- Perhaps even more important, these experiences are linked to academic success and even graduates’ well-being.
Gallup research of college graduates has found a connection between what students do in college and how they fare later in life.
What’s next: The Chief Student Experience Officer.
- Over the last year, I’ve seen a few colleges hire for such roles, taking a page from the corporate world and Chief Experience Officers.
- Now while some might see yet more administrative bloat in such titles, in many ways these individuals bring a data-driven approach to recruitment, admissions, enrollment, advising, online learning—basically every interaction a student has on campus. And if they succeed in increasing retention and student satisfaction, they probably end up paying for themselves.