Today’s issue of the Dayton Business Journal featured a profile of Edison State Community College. ESCC is one of only three two-year institutions in Ohio to see a rising enrollment this fall. The increase in community college enrollment didn’t happen by accident, nor did it happen overnight. Instead, you can credit ESCC’s four years of explicit, focused effort to attract new students.
The Piqua, OH institution’s enrollment didn’t just rise; it increased 7.5% over last fall. Credit hour enrollment surged by 12%. ESCC’s developed its plan to boost enrollment in 2016. The college surveyed individuals who applied for admission but never enrolled. The administration wanted to find out what prevented these students – who were clearly interested in taking classes – from actually registering.
The respondents indicated that the school didn’t offer enough fully online degree programs. So, ESCC made changes to address what the would-be students perceived as shortcomings. The school improved its online learning platform and encouraged its faculty to become certified in distance education. It also increased the cap size on online courses so that no students landed on a waiting list.
ESCC replaced the automated switchboard with a call center with live operators to provide better more personalized service. They also provided step-by-step phone support to help students register for classes. Additionally, ESCC invested heavily in the programs that attracted the most students. For ESCC, those were its healthcare classes. They recently opened a satellite campus dedicated exclusively to healthcare education. A marketing campaign directed toward transfer students focused on ESCC’s affordability. ESCC also made attendance more affordable by making “last-dollar” financial aid available to all high school seniors. By 2020, ESCC was nearly 50% larger than it had been in 2016.
Increasing community college enrollment through attitude
Quite possibly, the ESCC President’s attitude is quite possibly the one thing that helped ESCC more than anything else in its efforts to increase enrollment. ESCC President Doreen Larson always believed that ESCC fully controlled its enrollment. Larson and the rest of the ESCC staff understood they determined whether students enrolled or not.
They framed everything they did – program development, student services reforms, recruitment and marketing – in those terms. They did not see community college enrollment as a passive event, and increasing student headcount was a deliberate act. When the numbers increased, Larson didn’t forget to reward the staff. As the pandemic worsened, she promised its staff that there would be no layoffs or furloughs. Further, ESCC gave its employees a 2.5% raise in recognition of their efforts. ESCC plans to provide raises this year, too – funded by the increase in ESCC’s enrollment.
This is what can happen when a community college has an administration that is fully engaged in the institution’s mission.
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