How can you increase student enrollment during the hottest time of the year, when applicants typically “melt” at the fastest rate?

“Summer melt” refers to prospects who applied, got in, but failed to show up for the first day of classes. We know that nationally, 40% of students melt away from their community college plans, according to the RISE Network.

But those aren’t the only enrollment losses over the summer. From our research, colleges also lose 40%-60% of their current students over the long summer break — the biggest between-semester loss all year:

In this blog, find out … 

  1. The state of community college enrollment now
  2. How to beat summer melt with your applicants
  3. Tips to retain your students across the spring and fall semesters and beyond!

The State of Community College Enrollment Now: Don’t Rest on Your Laurels!

“The declines in student enrollment are stabilizing now until about 2025,” says our CEO, Dr. Diane Walleser. 

Enrollment is up, but don’t be fooled, because 2025 is just around the corner! According to our new VP of Account Services, Lisa Kasper, resting on your laurels now is a bad idea:

“We’re experiencing a little teaser before the big drop,” says Kasper.

Increase Student Enrollment image: right now, we're experiencing an enrollment lift before a big drop, according to Lisa Kasper.

Why? First of all, let’s investigate why community college enrollment is up. 

In fall 2023, community colleges gained 118,000 students. That 2.6% increase was the highest growth of any higher education sector, according to the Community College Daily article, “Enrollment Growth Continues at Community Colleges.”

What’s the reason for the increase?

“The biggest surge in enrollment at many colleges was attributed to dual enrollment because those students are back in high school after the pandemic,” says Walleser. 

According to the Community College Research Center, “High school students account for one in five community college enrollments.”

In fact, dual enrollment students are responsible for 40% of the total enrollment increases at two-year institutions for the last two years, according to the article “Community Colleges Lead the Way in Enrollment Gains.”

The Problem with Counting on the High School Bump to Increase Student Enrollment 

While it’s great to celebrate enrollment wins, relying on a traditional-aged student population is tricky. Why? Because you just might fall off a cliff … The enrollment cliff, that is.

The enrollment cliff refers to the dwindling traditional college-aged population. According to Best Colleges, “If you graph demographic projections, the precipitous descent resembles a cliff beginning in 2025. Over the succeeding four years, the number of 18-year-olds will decrease by 15%.” [Read more about the enrollment cliff on our blog, “7 Proven Strategies for Increasing Student Enrollment: Unpacking Spokane’s Winning Tips and Tricks]

That’s why you want to make every prospect count and ensure your onboarding processes can stand the test of time. 

How to Freeze Summer Melt and Increase Student Enrollment

Promote Faculty Phone Calls to New Students

A warm welcome to your new students can help cool your prospect losses. 

“For incoming students, that call from a faculty member can really make or break their decision,” says Kasper. “It’s an experience that students don’t typically get at a two-year school, so it sticks out and raises the stakes.”

In our Media Prefs survey, students say their main supporters are their instructors. So, having your faculty members give new students a ring is an honor and a simple way to ensure applicants come to the first day of classes. 

“If you give your faculty a reasonable call list, there’s a good chance it’s going to get done,” says Walleser. “That faculty impact is exponential.”

Faculty impact is "exponential" to helping Increase Student Enrollment, according to our CEO.

And Don’t Forget Faculty Emails and Texts!

Similarly, provide your faculty with scripted email and text messages they can send incoming students. Our new Director of Marketing and Business Development, Chelsey Bowers, says a faculty toolkit can be just the thing to ensure your new students matriculate instead of melt.

“Get your marketing team to write scripts for your faculty and ensure they have everything they need handy,” says Bowers. “The last thing faculty need is more work.”

Prioritize Friendly Touchpoints to Ensure Smooth Onboarding and Increase Student Enrollment

“The assumption may be that applicants are doing the next steps to enroll, but they are probably not,” says Kasper.

Students are waiting for you to nudge them along to the next step in the onboarding process. If you’re solely focused on applicants who haven’t confirmed or prospects who haven’t applied yet, then confirmed applicants might drift away. As Kasper says, “It’s all too easy for those confirmed applicants to slowly and quietly disappear if you aren’t paying attention.”

According to our CEO, it’s a bit like dating. Just because a student has confirmed doesn’t mean they are married to your college! 

“We must continue to ‘date’ them,” says Walleser. “You cannot take your eyes off of any of those candidates. You have to lead them through the process and keep reinforcing why you’re the best choice for them.”

If you want to Increase Student Enrollment, our CEO recommends keeping your eye on the prize. She says, "You cannot take your eyes off of any of those candidates. You have to lead them through the process and keep reinforcing why you are the best choice for them."

To keep up a good relationship, it takes targeted CRM campaigns so your college can scale resources and keep tabs on students. And be sure to keep your messaging warm and friendly throughout:

“Heaven forbid students owe you some money, then that’s a whole different message they receive, and it can be really chilly,” says Bowers. “When we’re talking about the ‘wooing’ process, then all the messaging has to feel like we care.”

If You Can’t See Your Onboarding Leaks, You Can’t Increase Student Enrollment

“Enrollment leaks” are where students get lost in the onboarding pipeline, and those leaks are unique to each college. For example, students could get in a jam waiting to see an advisor, filing for financial aid, or clearing a vaccination hold. And we know if students are stuck for too long, college enrollment can suffer.

“Without realizing it, you may be creating long waits for students to complete a milestone,” says Walleser. “If you have long periods where students have to wait to go to orientation or register, you risk losing them.”

Colleges know they’re losing students but can’t pinpoint the leaks. At one college, it was a mystery why students weren’t registering … until we found applicants were waiting six to eight weeks for an advising appointment. If students get stuck in the pipeline, they will lose interest, feel like the school doesn’t care, and go to your competitors.

“You need to be informed of the bigger picture,” says Kasper. “Often, staff members are so busy processing, they don’t have the opportunity to lift their heads and see what’s actually going on at a higher level.”

Once Kasper had those higher-level conversations to identify leaks at her previous institution, the college worked in CRM flags and sent more targeted student guidance.

“Boom, our numbers went up — and it wasn’t anything earth-shattering,” recalls Kasper. “We just knew to send the right communications to the right students.”

Retention Reminders to Increase Student Enrollment

While summer melt typically refers to losing new applicants, your current students can also melt away during summer. So, how can you bolster retention before summer break? Again, your faculty is key!

“Take 20 minutes out of the last class of the semester to have students sign up for their fall classes,” says Bowers. “When students don’t get that guidance over summer break, they can fall off.”

Whether it’s a classroom discussion or posting on the learning management system, take the time to ping faculty so they can nudge students to register. As we know from our Media Prefs research, faculty encouragement is essential for persistence.

“We need to structure messaging to faculty and cue them as to when these conversations should be happening and what they should say,” says Walleser. “Creating talking points that help faculty indicate the registration windows is crucial.”

Don’t Forget to Motivate Your Current Students

From our research, we found that colleges could offer more encouragement, especially during the long holiday breaks.

“When we asked students about motivational messages, 31% said they do not get enough, which is significant,” says Walleser. Commend students on their achievements, build their confidence, and reinforce that they are closer to their goals. As our CEO says, “We have to continue to keep their eye on the prize.”

Have a Popsicle! How to Keep Cool and Increase Student Enrollment

Keep on enrolling students all summer long with some of these sweet solutions:

Enrollment-Boosting CRM Campaigns 

Enrollment-Boosting CRM Campaigns to increase student enrollment over the icon of a creamsicle. Ingredients: Friendly and encouraging campaigns with a sweet motivational filling

Need messaging with a warm, aspirational lift? Let our team do the heavy lifting and write your next CRM campaigns so you can launch them right away!

Onboarding Issues? Let’s Look Under the Hood!

Onboarding Issues? Let's Look Under the Hood! Over A chocolate-chip cookie ice cream sandwich with one cookie side lifted up. Ingredients: Data-driven diagnoses, a scoop of alignment and agreement, finished with a smooth, seamless onboarding experience to increase student enrollment

Losing students in the admissions funnel but not sure where? We can help you figure out the problem and get students back on track to matriculation. 

Communication Plans and Toolkits Are a Piece of Cake!

Communication Plans and Toolkits are a Piece of Cake! An ice cream cake with one slice lifted up. The icing reads, “One team, one plan.” Ingredients: A big-picture strategy paired with alignment and agreement around a delicious filling of custom messaging that’s just the right flavor for your students to increase student enrollment

Want to get your faculty on board with student outreach but not sure where to start? Is your messaging just not sweet enough? We can help you make a robust communication plan to keep everyone on the same page and create faculty messaging toolkits to beat the melt and boost enrollment.

Book a complimentary consultation today and find cooler ways of strengthening your outreach and retention efforts!

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By Published On: June 12, 2024Last Updated: June 12, 2024Categories: Blog ArticlesTags: , ,