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The Keys to Halting an Enrollment Decline

Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, IA saw its current semester enrollment decline by 3.8% compared to the same semester last year. HCC’s story is very similar to those of community colleges around the nation. Nina Grant, the school’s Vice President of Student Affairs explained the enrollment decline at a recent Board of Trustees meeting.

HCC is competing for students with the University of Northern Iowa and with the hot job market. Grant explained that UNI has aggressively recruited area students, so those who might ordinarily enroll at HCC have chosen UNI instead. Additionally, the hot labor market has made it easier for recent high school graduates to find jobs without attending college.

Grant further explained that HCC’s response will rely heavily on the director of admissions to generate ideas to reverse the enrollment decline there. Additionally, a career counselor is expected to help steer high school students and people in career transitions to HCC.

What I find most interesting about this strategy is the idea that improving enrollment is simply a matter of adding more administrators. I have yet to meet a post-secondary student at any level attending any institution who enrolled there because they liked the administration. I also have yet to meet the administrator who can really draw students in.

I’ve seen students enroll in post-secondary programs because of a program or instructors in a program. As it turns out, teachers can be very persuasive. I’ve also seen students enroll at an institution because of the facilities. (But only when the facilities are very well maintained and well appointed.)

Teachers, programs and facilities will counteract an enrollment decline

Exemplary programs. Excellent teachers. Exceptional facilities. These all have the power to attract students. When an institution lacks these, students go elsewhere. Instead of recruiting students, try recruiting full-time teachers. When you recruit full-time teachers, they can create new programs, which will attract more students and reverse an enrollment decline. When you have a growing enrollment, then you can talk about upgrading the facilities.

The best administrators in the world will not attract a single student if the institution does not also have the programs, teachers, or facilities to prepare a student for a career.

Exemplary programs don’t create themselves. Excellent teachers create them, so if you plan to attract students, your plan better consist of recruiting and retaining a lot of excellent full-time teachers.

Just as programs don’t create themselves, exceptional facilities don’t take care of themselves. What does it say when the Chief Executive’s annual base salary is larger than the institution’s maintenance budget? Exactly what kind of message does that send? Better yet, what does the institution hope to accomplish by doing that?

Administrators are not rock stars; they’re rocks. They weigh down the institution and limit its ability to perform. And the more administrators an institution has, the harder it is for the institution to move forward. Especially when those administrators think that more administration will stop an enrollment decline.

I can’t wait to see the fall enrollment for HCC.

Photo Credit: Nemodus Photos, via Flickr.