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Best Practices: Enrollment Success Stories


Debra Saunders-White, Stanley (Stas) C. Preczewski, Nancy A. Roseman, and Mark Burstein

classroom chairs


​After years of growth, enrollment is declining, and experts project that the pool of applicants will shrink further in the years ahead. But as evinced by the recruitment, engagement, and retention successes of these diverse ACE member colleges and universities, enrollment challenges are just that.



Best Practices Profile

  • Public

  • Mid-sized

  • Southern

  • HBCU

Enrollment Success Factors

  • Analysis of “stopouts”

  • Deep social-media integration

  • Renewed focus on transfer students

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is committed to its number-one priority: student success. For more than a century, our institution has educated and equipped scholars, giving them the competitive credentials to succeed in the global marketplace. From our programs in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines; nursing; and pharmaceutical science to innovations in business, education, law, and the liberal arts, NCCU trains some of the top scientists, medical doctors, health-disparities researchers, musicians, marketers, educators, attorneys, and business leaders in the Triangle region of North Carolina, throughout the state, and around the world.

In U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 national rankings, NCCU was again named one of the top Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the country. And while we attract some of North Carolina’s most qualified applicants, the competition for these students has become more aggressive than ever.

Wide-Ranging Analysis: To step up our game, NCCU turned its focus to enrollment management, reanalyzing our approach to marketing, recruiting, and admitting students. For the 2014–15 academic year, NCCU enacted an aggressive plan to attract first-year students, increase the pipeline of transfer students, and analyze the growing rate of “stopouts”—students looking to re-enroll in higher education after taking a break of a year or more. An estimated 1.2 million individuals in North Carolina are in this latter category.

Mobile-Ready: By January 2014, NCCU had received more than 10,000 new student applications. This robust number resulted in part from sending our admissions team to key target markets and launching a new national advertising campaign. With more than 44 percent of applications coming in via mobile devices, we also took our message to digital platforms. We incorporated social media into our marketing and communications efforts, particularly Twitter. I used my Twitter account (@DsaundersWhite) to retweet posts from students who indicated they had just been accepted to NCCU. This engagement, using a highly interactive communications tool, helped us reach students where they are: the virtual environment online.

Widening the Pipeline: Additionally, NCCU commissioned a Transfer Imperative Task Force that developed strategies for increasing the number of transfer students. One of the key recommendations included strengthening the university’s existing relationships and agreements with North Carolina community colleges, including Durham Technical Community College (Durham Tech), Wake Technical Community College, Forsyth Technical Community College, Vance-Granville Community College, Central Carolina Community College, and others. (The University of North Carolina Board of Governors signed a new transfer agreement in February 2014 with the North Carolina Board of Community College.) One initiative—a pilot for a dual-enrollment, transfer-admissions program—kicked off in August 2014 with Durham Tech: Eagle Connect is the first residential program for the Triangle region and includes targeted academic advising, student support services, and a student-life component to help students meet the requirements for transferring to NCCU. So far, 25 students have enrolled in the program and are living on NCCU’s campus.

All of these initiatives will help us bolster enrollment numbers that, bucking the national downward trend, have steadily increased at NCCU over the past two years. Moving forward, NCCU will further enhance the total educational experience by becoming even more responsive to the needs of students. We will seek to attract a diverse class of new and transfer students who have demonstrated outstanding ability to excel and succeed. We understand well our demographic market, and so our plan also includes strategic efforts to attract transfers, military veterans, first-generation students, and older adults, while continuing to focus on traditional first-year students from every county in the state and beyond.

Debra Saunders-White is chancellor of North Carolina Central University.


Best Practices Profile

  • Public

  • Mid-sized

  • Southern

  • Recently established (2006)

Enrollment Success Factors

  • Hollding down internal costs and tuition

  • Intense student engagement

  • Focus on retaining high-risk students

Contrary to national trends, Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) has experienced dramatic growth since opening its doors in 2006, growing from zero to 11,000 students in only eight years. By 2016, we will enroll 13,000 students, majoring in 15 bachelor-degree program offerings.

As an innovative model for twenty-first-century higher education and an access institution, GGC was literally built from the ground up for individual student success—no matter the level of academic preparation, learning style, work schedule, or financial barrier.

To build the campus, we worked closely with the University System of Georgia (USG) and our elected officials to construct facilities synchronous with enrollment growth. Since 2006, we added more than 1 million square feet through a public and private investment of nearly $300 million.

From the beginning, GGC has had a precise mission and an equally precise plan for achieving that mission. We strategically allocated resources to directly support each phase of planned explosive growth.

To meet enrollment goals, two multi-functional enrollment management task forces guide all communications strategies, convene weekly, and react quickly to changing needs tied to weekly analyses of key metrics.

We minimize operational expenditures. By far, we are the most affordable baccalaureate-only public institution in the state, charging less per credit hour now than in 2006. This is achieved through a flattened organizational structure. For example, we have the highest space utilization rate in the USG, no academic departments, and we keep a constant eye out for creative ways to achieve efficiencies. Reducing financial barriers is important for our students, almost half of whom are the first in their families to attend college.

We invest in student success programs, spending several million dollars annually on such services so that all students have the support they need. Weekend and evening classes make college possible for the nearly 40 percent of our students who work at least part-time. Our efforts have resulted in retention rates of about 70 percent, with nearly 20 percent more staying in college after transfer. Because of specialized advising, our most at-risk students are retained at an astounding 92.6 percent.

“Student engagement” defines our culture. Faculty are recruited, evaluated, and rewarded based on their ability to effectively engage students. Focusing on ubiquitous communication to enhance teaching and mentoring, each faculty member is issued a cell phone. They provide their numbers on every syllabus instead of offering ill-timed, traditional office hours. GGC’s faculty are as much mentors as they are instructors. In fact, the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data revealed that our seniors scored their engagement experiences higher than the USG average and higher than the 2013 and 2014 national NSSE averages.

Additional surveys indicate our students appreciate such engagement and thrive academically. GGC was named the #5 top Southern regional public college for 2014 by U.S. News & World Report, and was most recently ranked the most ethnically diverse Southern regional college. Our students hail from 42 states and 91 nations.

Our approach and results position GGC to do well with national trends that tie increased fiscal allocations to institutional performance in retention, progression, and graduation.

All along the way, we stay on message to differentiate GGC from other institutions by diverting significant resources to student success and strictly adhering to institutional priorities. Most importantly, objective evidence demonstrates that GGC delivers on its promises, standing as testimony to the dedication of our faculty and staff. We are transforming first-generation college-bound families, traditional higher education models, and lives.

GGC’s student success model works. I invite you to call my cell at (678) 628-4872 to schedule a visit.

Click to expand.

Stanley (Stas) C. Preczewski is president of Georgia Gwinnett College.



Best Practices Profile

  • Private

  • Northeastern

  • Liberal arts

Enrollment Success Factors

  • Stopping admissions “melt”

  • Boosting retention


Each year, we work hard to sculpt the right first-year class for Dickinson College (PA). We want to be sure our incoming students are a diverse group of intellectual individuals from throughout the country and the world, representing diverse backgrounds and beliefs. That diversity is vital to a residential liberal-arts college such as Dickinson, where learning takes place—inside and out of the classroom—through interaction with others who challenge our assumptions and expand our world views.

I feel strongly that when we enroll a student, we enter into a moral contract to help that young person succeed. We know that the first year can be the most challenging part of a college career, as students leave the comforts of home to perform demanding academic work in a new environment with new people. We also know that to succeed, students first need to feel like they belong. Last year, we took a fresh look at our approach to student life, paying particular attention to building this sense of belonging. That examination resulted in some significant changes to our approach, as well as some enhancement of longtime initiatives.

We began this August by bringing students together in new and meaningful ways even before they officially began the academic year. Through a variety of pre-orientation programs, groups of 10 to 15 incoming students spent several days pursuing a shared interest such as whitewater rafting, hiking, theater, multimedia, diversity, or sustainability. Our goal was to help these new students form friendships on campus before their college careers officially started. We soon learned we were on the right track when the programs proved so popular that we needed to add additional options.

Also during the summer, each of our incoming students selected a First-Year Interest Group, or, as we affectionately call it, a FIG. These groups also are based around shared student interests, such as entrepreneurship, sustainability, outing experiences, or spirituality. They are led by faculty, staff, and upper-level student mentors who engage the students in shared experiences throughout the year. Through regular gatherings and excursions, these groups allow first-year students to develop bonds with peers and adult mentors on campus, providing a system of layered support that can help them navigate the sometimes-challenging college terrain.

Additionally, we continued another effort that highlights the direct contact our students have with our expert faculty. Every incoming student receives a call from a faculty member who personally guides the student though the course-selection process. Each student is able to talk through options and tailor course selection to his or her needs. These personal connections are at the heart of a small, residential liberal-arts college experience.

We also communicate with students regularly throughout the enrollment process in a variety of ways, including a special class Facebook group in which staff and upper-level students answer questions and provide helpful hints.

Perhaps most importantly, campus faculty and staff collaborate, crossing divisional boundaries and working in concert to ensure a unified, seamless experience for our new students. A New Student Planning Committee, made up of representatives from all areas of the college, including student life, academics, athletics, financial aid, health, and wellness, meets regularly from May through August to take an interdisciplinary approach to welcoming the next class.

We already are seeing the benefits of this enhanced approach, and not just through the comments of first-year students and their parents. Upper-level students also are excited to help build a sense of community among our newest campus members, and they feel a renewed sense of engagement with Dickinson.

Nancy A. Roseman is the president and a professor of biology at Dickinson College (PA).


Best Practices Profile

  • Private

  • Midwestern

  • Liberal arts

Enrollment Success Factors

  • Holding down internal costs and tuition

  • Intense student engagement

  • Focus on retaining high-risk students

College and university presidents have many critical indicators to consider: endowment performance, applicant yield rate, alumni participation, and many other important indices. Enrollment, in these challenging times, is particularly important. But I believe that the graduation rate is a crucial indicator on that same continuum: It measures the ability of a college to not only attract a strong freshman enrollment, but also to retain those students by successfully supporting them all the way to commencement.

Many institutions, including Lawrence University (WI), have employed numerous strategies to improve student retention. As students come from more diverse backgrounds and from a wider range of academic preparation levels, providing support through degree completion becomes more complex. Among our entering domestic students, 16 percent are the first in their families to go to college; 23 percent of the incoming students are eligible for Pell Grants.

Borrowing from best practices developed at other institutions, we have launched a number of programs to ensure that our students will thrive at Lawrence. We have tried to adapt several excellent initiatives to our own rigorous and distinctive academic program: At Lawrence, the curricular experience begins with Freshman Studies, taught by our entire faculty, and ends with a required senior project developed within the major. About 20 percent of Lawrence’s students complete a bachelor of music degree at our conservatory and half of them also pursue another degree in the college.

After extensive data analysis, we decided to focus on the following programs to support students throughout their work here.

First: We offer entering students a Freshman Academic Institute, a three-week residential bridge program. The course is modeled after Freshman Studies. The syllabus includes works from various academic disciplines, and emphasis is placed on close reading, classroom discussion, and the writing of thesis-driven essays. Students also participate in a workshop on the role of mindset and effective work strategies that help them to succeed in college-level studies.

Second: The CORE program provides support to incoming students as they adjust to campus life. This peer-mentoring initiative helps students to make Connections, to Orient them comfortably to campus, to introduce them to campus Resources, and to balance their Expectations. Lawrence upperclassmen help first-year students to work effectively with faculty advisors, to improve social decision-making skills, to develop strong study habits, and much more. CORE groups are organized around Freshman Studies sections.

Third: We have strengthened resources available in our Student Academic Services office, and we are supporting faculty advisors in their important work. The Advisor Education Workshop brings experts to campus each year to lead a workshop for a group of advisors on effective strategies and the philosophy of advising.

The response of our faculty and their level of engagement in all of the initiatives underway have far exceeded expectations. Our faculty’s commitment to students, combined with a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, means that teachers at Lawrence have direct connection to their students and can recognize their challenges.

In this increasingly competitive environment, Lawrence, like other institutions, is trying to get students off to a promising start—and to support them through to graduation: perhaps the most important outcome upon which we have real influence.

Mark Burstein is president of Lawrence University (WI).

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