Eduventures Sponsored Thought Leadership Initiative. Closing the Degree Completion Gap: Challenges and Opportunities

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1 Eduventures Sponsored Thought Leadership Initiative Closing the Degree Completion Gap: Challenges and Opportunities Sponsored by Smart Degree May 2014

2 Table of Contents SPONSOR S PERSPECTIVE: SMART DEGREE... 1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY... 4 INTRODUCTION... 4 The State of the Market... 6 Who are Degree Completion Candidates?... 9 DEVISING AN ACTIONABLE DEGREE COMPLETION STRATEGY Where do Prospective Students Come From? Converting Prospective Students to Applicants Prompting Accepted Students to Enroll Understanding Key Retention Drivers NOTES b

3 Sponsor s Perspective: Smart Degree SPONSOR S PERSPECTIVE: SMART DEGREE By 2018, the majority of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. In 2011, a sample of Monster.com postings found that 60% already required a bachelor s degree or higher. Despite these career requirements, 90% (54 million) of U.S. adults age 25 and older with some college credits but no degree are not currently enrolled in school. For higher education institutions, there is incredible potential within this degree completion market. Three primary barriers impact an adult or nontraditional student s likelihood to enroll and excel in a degree completion program. Academic Preparedness: After years outside the classroom, many students are no longer prepared to face college-level work, particularly in the areas of math and English. Financial Preparedness: Many adults are already managing heavy debt burdens and are reluctant to take on more. The increased cost of education, combined with questions about return on investment, adds to this hesitation. Personal Preparedness: In addition to family and career, nontraditional students must learn to balance school demands. They face complex and confusing decisions, and many simply do not know how to get started. The structural problems of high and growing college costs, combined with the complexity of the higher education system, create confusion. Unfortunately, the degree completion re-entry processes remain largely unaddressed, while fragmented policies designed to increase adult degree completion add to the disarray. MOOCs, hot during 2013, proved only that it is easy to get free registrations. Tuition guarantees are freezing the institutional problems in place, and pay it forward proposals are simply pushing our problems to the future. New rating systems, proposed by President Obama to support his degree completion goals, have created significant uncertainty about what will be measured and how. The potential for undesirable outcomes, if schools choose to focus on the numbers instead of student results, is a real possibility. Smart Degree is an integrated solution that reduces both cost and uncertainty relative to proposed solutions. Current Problem #1: Enrollments are consistently down. During the school year, enrollments were down as much as 2%, according to The New York Times the first significant decline since the 1990s. Opportunity: Attract more of the 54 million adult learners who are not enrolled in degree programs by reducing the cost and uncertainty currently blocking their success. According to Public Agenda, most students who have dropped out of school have thought about going back 65% have thought about it a lot, and an additional 24% have given it some thought. 1

4 Sponsor s Perspective: Smart Degree Current Problem #2: Retention is poor. According to Complete College America, only 60.6% of full-time students and 24.3% of part-time students earn a bachelor s degree within eight years. In addition to impacting retention rates, this dramatically increases the cost of recruitment. Opportunity: Recruit students who are prepared for education and career success. Mentoring and remediation prior to starting back at school has proven to significantly boost retention rates. According to a Stanford study, students coached by phone, , or text messaging were 15% more likely to stay in school than those who were not coached. Current Problem #3: Recruitment is expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating. Eduventures estimates a median cost of $2,030 to enroll a single student. And that figure is much higher if you are calculating cost per graduate. It is obvious that the current inquiry generation model is broken. Opportunity: Find a better way to recruit students. It is possible to recruit students who have demonstrated motivation and are prepared to graduate and succeed in a career. The key is to reach these prospects further down the recruiting funnel, when more is known about them. Then, provide customized offers of enrollment matched to confidential details, including approved transfer credits and true pricing. Smart Degree (SmartDegree.com) is a new approach to student enrollment that addresses each of the problems detailed above while preparing non-traditional students for success. Here s how it works: Mentors: Students are paired with Smart Degree mentors who guide them through the process, giving the advice and support the students need for future educational success. Assessments: Academic foundational skills (math and English) plus career goals are assessed to alleviate the need for costly remediation. This helps students find and confirm the degree programs best suited to their capabilities and interests. Low-Cost, Online General Education Courses: Unlike other transfer credit programs, Smart Degree students are given the opportunity to take low-cost general education courses from a regionally accredited, non-profit university with extensive experience in adult student education. Student Marketplace: Smart Degree students build detailed, anonymous profiles outlining their career and education history and future objectives. Smart Degree partner schools have viewable access to the detailed profile for each Smart Degree student currently engaged in the Student Marketplace and can make customized offers of enrollment to students who best fit their curriculum and culture. In addition to helping schools attract the best student prospects, the Smart Degree Student Marketplace increases transfer credit and pricing transparency for students. 2

5 Sponsor s Perspective: Smart Degree Smart Degree is an innovative model of success that avoids the complex and growing list of issues currently debated in the media and Washington, D.C. It actually addresses many of the issues preventing 90% of adult students from returning to school by removing barriers including inadequate academic, financial, and personal preparedness and reducing uncertainty through transparency of transfer credits and pricing. Smart Degree shows adult learners the path to academic and career success. Higher education institutions benefit from the new set of resources Smart Degree provides, all designed to increase the likelihood of student retention, graduation, and career success. Prospective students are reached further down the funnel, at a point where the uncertainty for both the student and the institution is significantly reduced. As a result, Smart Degree increases true retention and graduation rates while lowering overall higher education costs. The talent crisis gets progressively worse with the retirement of 10,000 baby boomers every day. Smart Degree is a new and innovative educational solution. To learn how to become a Smart Degree partner school, 3

6 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY While bachelor s completion students can pose significant retention challenges, they also present large opportunities for growth, provided institutions develop successful operational strategies to recruit, retain, and promote student success. Institutions that stay abreast of market trends, understand degree completers preferences, and implement effective internal strategies will find an opportune market of prospective students. Here are five key facts institutions should know to successfully serve the degree completion market: Enrollments across higher education are in decline, but adult learners are accounting for an increasingly large segment of the student body. Degree completers pattern of stopping out can also reflect poorly on institutional outcomes. It is up to the institution, therefore, to understand what drives degree completers and what barriers prompt them to stop out. When all the costs are included, from student prospecting to enrollment, targeting adult learners has historically been a costly process. This underscores the importance of retention, as every stop-out not only represents lost tuition revenue, but also comes with a significant price tag to enroll a new student. Institutions should minimize the major barriers adult learners encounter by prioritizing convenience and accessibility, reducing cost, and streamlining credit transfer. Demonstrating respect for students time and resources will drive inquiries and bolster retention down the line. Institutions must construct their academic framework around adult learners preferences to maintain their interest and ensure their success. While developing and implementing this framework can be expensive, the investment pays off over time as schools are able to retain students rather than having to recruit new ones. INTRODUCTION The existing literature on degree completion tends to approach the topic from one of two angles: policy changes impacting the market and the ways in which adult learners personal needs differ from traditional undergraduates. This paper extends that analysis into the operational strategies institutions can implement to serve adult learners, focusing on the internal functions over which they have the most control to inform actionable strategies and improve completion rates. This introduction outlines the key content of this report. Market factors highlight opportunity for providers who respond to students needs. Several factors will impact demand in the degree completion market between now and 2020: adult learners will comprise a growing percentage of the student body, as 60 million adults age 25 and older have completed some college coursework but do not hold a bachelor s degree; policymakers will continue their push to increase degree attainment, especially among adults aged 25-34; and the online market will grow to account for more of the total headcount while becoming more concentrated among top providers. Amid these factors, the majority of adults 4

7 age 25 and older with some college education and no bachelor s degree remain unenrolled in degree completion programs. While the exact percentage of eligible, unenrolled adults who are interested in enrolling is hard to pinpoint, it is clear that interested prospects are sensitive to enrollment barriers. The institutions that can reduce these barriers therefore stand the best chance to attract these students. Institutions must know degree completers to serve degree completers. Like other types of adult learners, degree completion candidates value convenience and affordability, as most juggle professional and personal commitments outside of coursework. Many are professionally motivated and want to see the applicability of their degree to their careers as they earn it. Because degree completers follow a pattern of transferring between institutions, transfer credit policies have a particularly strong influence on their enrollment choices. Additionally, a growing population of veterans and military personnel in need of degree completion presents a particular opportunity for institutions, as G.I. funding offsets some of the pressure to provide affordable options. A solid degree completion strategy provides support from recruitment to graduation. Given the cost of recruitment, which Eduventures benchmarks at about $2,030 per enrolled student, institutions must devise and implement a strategy that also prioritizes retention by reducing common barriers and supporting students at every step in the process. A sound strategy is informed by an understanding of degree completers preferences and motives, with a particular eye for increasing convenience and accessibility, reducing cost, and streamlining credit transfer. Below are several strategies any institution in the degree completion market should consider implementing as a means to serve students more effectively. Each is detailed in greater depth in the body of the report. Figure 1. Strategies for Serving Degree Completers Strategies for serving degree completers Reduce barriers Increase convenience Consider student preferences Provide support Improve accessibility Staff offices during non-business hours Optimize website for mobile access Engage students from inquiry to graduation Reduce cost Offer multiple start dates Ground instruction in andragogy Monitor participation in real time Streamline transfer credit Align start dates with students' schedules Offer transition and advising support Source: Eduventures, Inc. 5

8 The State of the Market Several trends will take hold of the adult learner and degree completion markets between now and First, enrollments across higher education are in decline following a period of significant growth, as the market recalibrates and returns to its pre-boom enrollment levels. The difference this time is that adult learners currently account for 40% of the total higher education headcount, a figure that Eduventures projects will grow to 42% by 2022 (see Figure 3). 1 Second, policymakers are looking to increase postsecondary degree completion as a means to boost overall achievement and international standing. Third, trends in the online market will impact on-ground and online programs alike, as the online market will grow to account for 21% of total higher education headcount while market share will become more concentrated among top providers. At the same time, an estimated 54 million degree completion candidates remain unenrolled, either due to lack of interest or other barriers to enrollment. Given these factors, the market appears most opportune for institutions that can minimize these barriers, align their strategies with policies focused on national enrollment and retention goals, and navigate the competition presented by growing online headcount. Adult learners will account for more of the total student headcount as enrollments return to pre-population-boom levels. After a period of significant expansion tied to overall population growth, higher education as a whole is returning to previous enrollment levels. In the fall of 2013, this recalibration resulted in a continued decline in enrollments across the sector (1.5%), with an even steeper decline among adults age 24 and older (3.4%). For-profit providers have been particularly hard hit, as their adult learner enrollments declined by 8.5% in the fall of 2013, compared to a 2.1% decline at four-year public institutions and a 2.3% increase at private institutions. 2 Figure 2. Change in Undergraduate and Graduate Enrollments, Age 24+ Total Four-Year Public Private 2.3% For-Profit Two-Year Public -0.1% -2.2% -2.1% -3.4% -3.4% Fall 2012 Fall % -5.2% -6.0% -8.5% SOURCE: Current Term Enrollment Report, National Student Clearinghouse, Eduventures analysis. Source: Eduventures, Inc. 6

9 At the same time, the higher education market is aging for the first time in over a decade. While undergraduate and graduate students under the age of 25 still account for the majority of the market, in 2009 the proportion of students age 25 and older approached 40% for the first time since the late 1990s. 3 This rebound is expected to continue through 2022, when Eduventures projects that students age 25 and older will account for 42% of enrollments overall. 4 These trends signal that adult learners will become mainstream, if they are not already. The institutions that are able to incorporate adult learners into their enrollment strategies will be able to mitigate the impact of these overall market trends. Figure 3. Age of the Overall Student Body, ,000 12,000 Undergraduate & Graduate Students Aged 25 (in thousands) Undergraduate & Graduate Students Aged 25 (in thousands) % 25 45% 44% 43% 10,000 42% 8,000 6,000 41% 40% 39% 4,000 38% 2,000 37% 36% P 35% SOURCE: Projections of Education Statistics to 2022, National Center for Education Statistics, Eduventures analysis. Source: Eduventures, Inc. Regulatory scrutiny shifts responsibility for completion from student to provider. As regulatory scrutiny increases, institutions face greater accountability for student outcomes and attainment rates. In 2009, President Obama set a goal of 60% postsecondary degree attainment among year olds by As of 2010, 39% of year olds nationally held a postsecondary degree. 5 According to the Department of Education, the collective increase in individual graduates earning potential will translate to increased business revenue for their employers, as well as increased tax revenue for the government and improved international standing. The Department of Education estimates that even if the pool of graduates continues to grow at the current rate, the completion rate will lag behind President Obama s 2020 goal by over 4 million completed degrees unless institutions take action. 6 In April, the Lumina Foundation released its most recent degree attainment figures, confirming the need for action if President Obama s goal is to be met. Although the 0.7% increase in attainment from 2011 to 2012 represents the largest year-over-year increase since 2008, that rate still falls short of the growth targets required to reach 60% by

10 Figure 4. Adults as a Completion Target Additional growth needed for 2020 goal Natural growth if 50% of adults w. some college in 2008 complete degree by 2020 Natural growth for postsecondary credentials SOURCE: College Completion Tool Kit, U.S. Department of Education, Source: Eduventures, Inc. Beyond federal objectives, increasing enrollments and improving retention makes basic financial sense for institutions. While the strategies the Department of Education outlines may not fit every institution, the basic premise of serving adult learners to increase attainment makes sense, especially given the trend toward an aging student body. Trends in the broader online market will shape the degree completion climate. Eduventures scans of the market have consistently shown that most online undergraduate programs have a degree completion focus. The current offerings present an attractive option for adult learners who especially value convenience and accessibility, buzzwords that echo throughout the online marketplace. Given the wide availability of online learning for degree completers, trends in the online market impact both online and on-ground degree completion programs. In the Online Higher Education Market Update, Eduventures projects that increased regulation, fragmentation, and competition across the online market will yield slower headcount growth in the next several years as less serious providers withdraw from the market. Between 2016 and 2020, however, a new category of online providers will drive a rebound, with as much as 16% year-over-year headcount growth. The providers that endure to drive this growth will be those with a long-term strategy that prioritizes serving diverse audiences and implementing best practices in adult learner instruction. These strategies will include andragogy-focused instruction, increased affordability, innovative use of technology to drive teaching and learning, alignment with desired career outcomes, and alignment with broader accountability trends in higher education. On-ground providers must also anticipate this shift, as the growth in the online market will come, in part, from cannibalizing on-ground enrollments. By 2020, the online headcount will account for 20% of the total higher education headcount, compared to 15% in Especially if this growth is to be driven by institutions targeting adult learners, all degree completion providers need to devise long-term strategies focused on retention and delivering value to adult learners in order to compete effectively. 8

11 Figure 5. Growth in Online Headcount % 1 27% 22% 20% 16% Online Headcount (in millions) % Headcount Growth Y/Y % % % 9% 7% 7% 4% 2% 2% 2% 5 13% 2005E 2006E 2007E 2008E 2009E 2010E 2011E 2012E 2013E 2014P 2015P 2016P 2017P 2018P 2019P 2020P 35% 30% 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% SOURCE: Seizing Opportunity, Navigating Risk, Eduventures, Figures are based on distance education enrollments for Fall 2012, and analysis of projected demographic shifts in the traditional age and adult population. These figures are estimates (E) and projections (P) based on Eduventures analysis and are not actual. Source: Eduventures, Inc. Degree completion presents an opportune market for institutions with a sound strategy. As of 2013, 60 million American adults age 25 and older had completed college coursework or an associate degree, but did not hold a bachelor s degree. Accounting for over 28% of the adult population, these students present a sizable target audience for bachelor s degree completion programs. 9 On the other hand, as of 2011, only 6 million adult learners age 25 and older were enrolled in undergraduate programs. 10 With just 10% of eligible students enrolled, the vast majority of the market remains unenrolled. These are eligible students who, for one reason or another, are either not interested or not able to return to school. Many simply do not need a degree; whether it is an associate degree or some college, the level of education they have attained will sustain their chosen careers. President Obama s goal of degree completion among 60% of adults aged by 2020, while ambitious, may therefore present a benchmark of the enrollable market. By accounting for common barriers to enrollment, institutions may be able to increase interest among degree completion candidates and, in turn, grow the overall headcount. Established providers and new entrants alike stand to benefit if they can implement strong, adult learner-focused strategies that emphasize retention and student success. Who are Degree Completion Candidates? As adult learners, degree completion candidates fall into the increasingly mainstream nontraditional category of learners. Unlike other adult learners, degree completers come with a high risk of stopping out, an additional hurdle for institutions concerned about retention rates. In order to serve these students effectively, institutions must understand who they are, what they need, and what motivates them to reenroll. Within the degree completion market, veterans and active military personnel present a subset of particular interest, as federal funding helps lower the financial barrier to reenrollment. At the same time, veterans require their own range of support services that institutions must be prepared to provide if they wish to guide and support these students toward completion. 9

12 Degree completers are non-traditional learners with non-traditional needs. Degree completers tend to follow a pattern of transferring between institutions. Many hold multiple transcripts for previous postsecondary study, which represent a stop-and-start pattern that puts these students at particularly high risk of stopping out again. 11 This risk transfers to the institution, as poor retention and completion rates also reflect poorly on its outcomes. It is up to the institution, therefore, to understand what drives degree completers and what barriers prompt them to stop out in order to minimize this risk. Degree completers are driven by career advancement. Like most adult learners, degree completers enroll in further study in order to meet professional goals. In Eduventures annual survey of 10,000 adult learners, 1,642 respondents between the ages of 25 and 55 had completed some college but not a degree and were likely to enroll in further study. Among these respondents, 60% were motivated to enroll to earn more money, while about a third were motivated to enroll to advance in their profession or change careers. 12 Unlike traditional undergraduates, who may have looser expectations of how their degree will translate to a career, degree completers have already been in the workplace developing experience. The value of their degree is defined by the impact it has professionally. To maintain the interest of degree completers, institutions should seek opportunities to demonstrate the degree s professional relevance. Figure 6. Degree Completers Motivations for Enrollment To earn more money 60% To advance in my profession To change careers To engage with my subject of study 29% 33% 32% To become a more independent thinker 24% Greater independence from my family To give back to my community I want a college social life 8% 17% 15% % of Respondents (Age: 25-55; Ed. level: Some college/no degree) 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% SOURCE: The Adult Higher Education Consumer, Eduventures, NOTE: Response text has been abridged. Source: Eduventures, Inc. Thanks to G.I. funding, veterans present a particular opportunity for institutions that can serve them effectively. Another segment of the adult population that presents significant demand for degree completion is veterans and active military personnel. As the military downsizes, veterans are seeking degrees to gain eligibility for promotions or to prepare for a transition to the civilian sector. In a 2010 survey of 8,710 veterans, 39% had completed some college or an associate degree. Among 474 surveyed active military personnel, the figure increased to 50%. 13 In addition to their clear need for degree completion, veterans and military personnel can leverage federal funding initiatives such as the Montgomery G.I. Bill and the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to reduce the financial burden of returning to school. 14 With one key barrier to entry accounted for, 10

13 this segment becomes an increasingly attractive market opportunity for institutions to target. To do so effectively, institutions must devise an even more focused strategy, establishing support services staffed by certified Veterans Affairs officials and ensuring that their offerings align with G.I. funding requirements. With further investigation into veteran outcomes forthcoming, institutions should also look to devise and implement an outcomes measurement system to have figures with which to compare the national benchmarks and ensure that they are meeting national standards. 15 DEVISING AN ACTIONABLE DEGREE COMPLETION STRATEGY As in the traditional student recruitment process, the pool of degree completers narrows with each step in the sequence from prospective student to graduate. Not every eligible candidate submits an inquiry; not every inquiry leads to an application; not every application meets admission requirements; and so on. This narrowing is perhaps more acute among degree completers, for whom external factors present barriers throughout the process. These barriers, combined with the fact that not every eligible student is interested in returning to school, likely shape the reality that only an estimated 10% of eligible degree completers were enrolled as of In order to increase the percentage of enrolled adults and improve degree completion nationally, institutions must minimize these barriers and invest in recruiting and retaining students. Plan to spend to recruit and retain degree completion candidates, though having a robust strategy will help minimize cost. From student prospecting to enrollment, targeting adult learners has historically been a costly process, especially when all of the costs (including lost revenue from stop-outs) are included. An Eduventures benchmarking study of admissions operations at a range of institutions estimated that the median cost of recruiting a single student is $2,030, with responses near the top of the range up to double this amount. This study also revealed a particularly low return on investment for purchased names, such as s of standardized test takers, with just 1% of prospects ultimately enrolling as students. 16 In another Eduventures benchmarking study, which focused on a smaller sample of continuing education units, initial figures estimated that the median cost per inquiry is $102. That figure more than triples by the time prospective students submit applications, at $343 per applicant. By the time a student enrolls, an institution has spent a median of $1,476 on recruitment, and the cost per graduate is even higher. 17 While these are necessary costs from the institution s perspective, they underscore the importance of retention, as every stop-out not only represents lost tuition revenue, but also comes with a significant price tag to enroll a new student. 11

14 Figure 7. Cost to Recruit and Enroll a Student $3,000 $2,500 Mean Median $2,464 $2,000 $1,500 $1,476 $1,000 $500 $374 $343 $142 $102 $0 Cost per Inquiry Cost per Applicant Cost per Enrollee Source: Retention and Adult Learners, Eduventures, Source: Eduventures, Inc. Where do Prospective Students Come From? Knowing that the majority of prospective students will not ultimately enroll, institutions must both consider new approaches and cast a broader net to meet enrollment goals. With a large number of potential channels to reach prospects, student prospecting can become a resourceconsuming process both in terms of time and money, especially when the quality of prospective students is varied. Institutions should therefore prioritize the information channels adult learners use most frequently: the institution s website and word of mouth. Figure 8. The Traditional Prospective Student Funnel PURCHASED LEADS INQUIRIES APPLICANTS ACCEPTED ENROLLED RETAIN Source: Eduventures, Inc. 12

15 Focus on building community awareness to develop local brand recognition. Word of mouth plays a particularly important role in how adult learners inform themselves about potential programs. Among degree completion respondents in the adult learner survey, 42% learn about schools and universities from family and friends. Whether through word of mouth or students own research, awareness tends to occur at the local level, as 50% of respondents look to learn more about local colleges and universities. Besides their websites, community engagement is the most often used source of information over which institutions have the most influence. 18 The sections about later stages of the recruitment funnel will detail strategies institutions can implement to engage the broader community to develop positive brand recognition that may, in turn, generate prospective students through word of mouth communication. Figure 9. Sources Used to Learn More About an Institution School websites 60% Online guides to colleges/universities Colleges/universities in my local area Search engines Word of mouth from family/friends 51% 50% 46% 42% Contact with faculty in program of interest National rankings (e.g., U.S. News & World Report) Print guides to colleges/universities Teacher/faculty/community leader recommendation Social media Current student/alumni of the school Phone call with an enrollment advisor from schools List of preferred institutions (employer/prof. assoc.) Schools with mobile-friendly sites Television advertising Postcards/brochures from schools 25% 24% 23% 23% 23% 21% 19% 18% 16% 15% 14% 13% % of Respondents (Age: 25-55; Ed. level: Some college/no degree) Radio advertising Billboard advertising Public transportation advertising 6% 5% 4% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% SOURCE: The Adult Higher Education Consumer, Eduventures, NOTE: Response text has been abridged. Source: Eduventures, Inc. Optimize website for convenient access. With other commitments for their time and attention, adult learners particularly value convenience and accessibility. Websites and pages that they use at any stage should be optimized for use on mobile devices. As the most commonly used source 13

16 of information for prospective students, websites (used by 60% of survey respondents) need to be available to students when they have the time or interest to find out more, wherever they might be and on whatever device they might be using. 19 Create dedicated pages to highlight information that matters. Once on a website, adult learners want to see evidence that an institution has the services and programs to serve their needs. In addition to transfer policies and student services, highlighting program outcomes reinforces the program s value for adult learners. Testimonials from program alumni and student success stories can also extend the personal connection online, which is often an impersonal space. Reading a story that sounds like their own and seeing evidence of career advancement can be very powerful in encouraging prospective students to submit an inquiry and pursue enrollment. Along these lines, institutions should avoid the use of royalty-free stock photos, as they create an impersonal, generic impression for prospective students who visit several institutions websites and see the same photos on multiple sites. Converting Prospective Students to Applicants Once students are aware of an institution s offerings, the challenge becomes convincing them that a degree is within their reach so that they submit an inquiry. In order to do so, institutions should minimize the major barriers adult learners encounter by prioritizing convenience, accessibility, and affordability, as well as by providing greater visibility in the actual cost of attendance. While launching a satellite campus can greatly improve convenience and accessibility, employer partnerships with tuition discounts can offer greater affordability. Revising articulation agreements with community colleges also generates a pipeline of prospective students by ensuring that credits earned at partner institutions can be applied toward completion. Prospective students who hold an associate degree or are further along the completion track are also more likely to complete a four-year degree; therefore, the community college pipeline can also provide institutions with a pool of quality applicants. Prioritize convenience, accessibility, and affordability. Demonstrating respect for students time and resources will drive inquiries and bolster retention down the line. In the annual survey of adult learners, respondents who were unlikely to enroll in further study most frequently cited an inability to afford tuition and a reluctance to take on debt as barriers. Among respondents who were likely to enroll, 70% would be more interested in returning if colleges lowered tuition and fees. 20 While most institutions can only lower tuition to a point, minimizing extraneous fees and revising inaccessible policies with financial implications could improve recruitment and retention among adult learners. Additionally, providing more visibility into the actual costs of credits might help students overcome perceived barriers to degree completion. A similar goal of price transparency was targeted by President Obama s recent regulations to standardize reporting on the true costs of college attendance

17 Figure 10. Actions Institutions Could Take to Increase Respondents Interest in Returning to School Lower tuition and fees 70% Allow for self-paced completion 51% Award credit for life/work experience through an exam 47% Offer accelerated completion options 44% Offer a free trial course 44% Option to test out of courses for faster completion 43% Offer hybrid delivery option 30% Offer evidence of programs career value 28% Faculty with current work experience in their field 25% Greater use of high-tech course materials 22% Offer programs in a wider range of disciplines 20% Offer more interdisciplinary programs 18% More interaction with faculty during the program 16% Allow completion of class activities on mobile device 16% Strong research-oriented faculty 13% % of Respondents (Age: 25-55; Ed. level: Some college/no degree) More full-time faculty 12% More study interaction with other students 12% More social interaction with other students 11% Nothing 4% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% SOURCE: The Adult Higher Education Consumer, Eduventures, NOTE: Response text has been abridged. Source: Eduventures, Inc. Consider launching a satellite campus with dedicated services. One adult learner focus group participant emphasized the additional burden presented by driving across town to get to campus. Given degree completion students financial sensitivity, transportation costs that add up over time can increase students likelihood of stopping out. Opening a satellite campus closer to prospective students workplaces and homes with dedicated services would improve accessibility and reduce the cost of transportation. Such a campus would not only provide prospective students with a convenient, affordable option, but also demonstrate an institution s readiness and commitment to serving adult learners. Establish employer partnerships to create a pipeline of prospective students. With many employers offering tuition reimbursement programs to encourage employees to seek additional training, it is only natural to include employers in the recruitment process, either directly or through the use of a third-party vendor that facilitates institution-employer partnerships. Some institutions report obtaining as many as 60% of their enrollments through employer partnerships. In these partnerships, schools offer employers a tuition discount rate between 5% and 25% in exchange for promotional access to employees. Again, the emphasis should be on engaging prospective students to build personal connections and brand awareness. Institutions 15

18 should seek opportunities to host information sessions (such as lunch and learn programs) or hang posters in offices and give a higher discount rate to employers that provide greater access. In identifying potential partners, focus on employers with a connection to particular programs, such as health care facilities for nursing programs or school districts for education programs. These partnerships can both develop a pipeline of prospective students and encourage prospects to submit inquiries and applications in order to take advantage of tuition discounts. Revisit articulation agreements to ensure maximum transfer acceptance. With the right strategies in place, articulation agreements with local community colleges can be an asset that produces a pipeline of qualified degree completion candidates. Establishing and regularly updating an articulation agreement with each feeder school provides prospective students with a pre-determined baseline of confirmed accepted credits. For high-interest programs among adult learners (e.g., business, psychology, and healthcare), develop articulation agreements at the program level. Some institutions report that students would not enroll in their programs even after they reduced tuition rates. It was only after they revisited their articulation agreements at the program level that they discovered they were only granting 40 out of 60 transfer credits. In building out new agreements, this institution established relationships with faculty and staff at their partner institutions, who would then recommend their program to prospective degree completers, emphasizing the fact that they offered a full 60 transfer credits. Target students who have taken recognized steps toward completion. Students who have sought formalized recognition for previous learning, whether through an associate degree or non-academic assessment programs, have a greater likelihood of persistence. National Student Clearinghouse data indicates that students who transfer from a two-year institution to a four-year institution with an associate degree are more likely to complete a bachelor s degree than those without. 22 According to The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, 43% of adult learners with Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credit go on to complete a bachelor s degree, compared to 15% of adult learners who have not earned PLA credit. 23 Whether through community college partnerships or through other assessment avenues, institutions should develop a pipeline of prospective students who have earned recognition for previous learning and are therefore more likely to complete a degree. Develop personal connections to engage prospective students. Active engagement becomes essential as soon as a student makes an initial inquiry. Engaging with students keeps the opportunity to complete a degree at a given institution relevant, despite the other personal and professional priorities competing for prospects attention. From inquiry through graduation, institutions should seek opportunities to demonstrate value through workshops, webinars, and other means. These initiatives do not need to focus squarely on recruitment. For example, one Eduventures institutional partner successfully increased engagement through a webinar dedicated to effectively managing a 401(k) account or how best to manage family and work commitments with coursework. Covering other topics of interest to adult learners can demonstrate value and show that an institution is attuned to their needs. 16

19 Prompting Accepted Students to Enroll Following acceptance, the most significant barrier to enrolling a degree completion candidate is an institution s transfer credit policy. In order to complete their degree with as little time and money spent as possible, accepted students look to maximize their transfer credits. Because forprofit providers tend to have much more generous policies, this is an area in which non-profit institutions tend to be at a disadvantage. Additionally, students want to know exactly which credits will transfer soon after acceptance and, ideally, prior to enrollment, so that they can make an informed enrollment decision. Maximize credit awarded for previous study. For many degree completers, transfer credits heavily influence the decision to enroll at a particular school. When asked what universities could do to increase their interest, 47% of respondents selected allow me to take an exam to get college credit for my life and work experience and 43% selected allow me to test out of courses so I can show what I know and complete faster (see Figure 10). 24 With prospective students looking to earn credit for skills and experiences developed outside the classroom, their expectations about credit granted for previous coursework will only be higher. Institutions should construct a clear operational process that assesses previous study in order to recognize as much previously completed work as possible. While transfer courses often will not fit requirements exactly, institutions should adopt a degree of flexibility and willingness to compromise, within reason, to provide prospective students with a clear understanding of which credits will transfer. Non-profit providers risk losing students through stricter transfer policies. Transfer credits present an especially key sticking point for degree completion prospects at non-profit institutions. Whereas for-profit providers tend to be more generous and accept a full 60 credits in transfer credit, non-profits tend to be stricter. Degree completers do not tend to differentiate between the two, with 62% of survey respondents indicating that they have no preference between enrolling at a for-profit or a non-profit institution. 25 Instead, they will go where they can receive the most credit for work they have already done in order to reduce the time and cost required for completion. Inform students of transfer credit acceptance as early as possible. Students expect to know how many and which of their credits will be accepted soon after acceptance, preferably before a deposit is due. They will want to know exactly which credits will be accepted, as this information can influence students perceptions of value and inform their decision to enroll at one institution over another. Institutions should develop a solid infrastructure to review previous coursework and determine how many transfer credits will be awarded in a timely manner. Asking students to wait too long or provide a deposit without this information can be a major deterrent and can even prompt them to drop out and enroll at an institution that confirms credit transferability more quickly or accepts a greater number of credits. 17

20 Understanding Key Retention Drivers Once students enroll at an institution, the focus shifts to retention in order to ensure their completion (recognizing that student recruitment practices will influence retention challenges). As in the phases of recruitment, students non-traditional needs present a host of requirements, from additional support services to flexible scheduling options. At its core, institutions must construct their academic framework around adult learners preferences to maintain their interest and ensure their success. Retention presents a major challenge for non-profit and for-profit institutions alike. In a study of six-year outcomes, the National Student Clearinghouse found that about one third of students above the age of 20 who enrolled in four-year public and private non-profit institutions stopped out within six years. Attrition was considerably higher at for-profit institutions, where 50% of students who enrolled between the ages of 20 and 24 and 44% of students who enrolled over the age of 24 were no longer enrolled six years after starting. 26 Given the investment institutions make throughout the recruitment process, any level of attrition presents a major challenge, as it represents lost tuition revenue and begins the process again to recruit a new student. Figure 11. Six-Year Attrition Rates by Age at First Entry and Institutional Control Ages Over Age 24 60% 50% 40% 30% 29% 36% 50% 44% 40% 32% 52% 49% 20% 10% 0% Four-Year Private Non-Profit Four-Year Public Four-Year Private For-Profit Two-Year Public SOURCE: Completing College, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Source: Eduventures, Inc. Retaining degree completion students requires a range of support programs. In an Eduventures survey of 70 institutions, the majority of respondents with degree completion programs offered at least one support program geared toward retention. These programs are focused on transitioning students back into academic life with an eye toward convenience and accessibility. The three most commonly offered programs underscore these trends: campus evening/weekend transition programs (80%), academic tutoring or coaching (76%), and campus daytime transition programs (75%). Depending on students delivery mode preferences, institutions should also consider offering online/distance transition programs (71%) to orient students within the online classroom. 27 With the majority of degree completion programs offering these services, these should be baseline support services for any institution looking to serve degree completers. 18

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