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Why Clear, Actionable Next Steps Are So Necessary for Student Enrollment

For many students, not knowing what to do next is the biggest barrier toward furthering their educational pathway. Here’s how community colleges can clear the way.

This year, we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the various hindrances preventing students from enrolling in community college—and persisting once they’ve made a start. While many of these barriers are well known (cost of education and childcare, conflicting work schedules, and mental health struggles), one of the biggest hurdles is perhaps the most overlooked: knowing what to do next.

Nearly two-thirds of students attending public two-year colleges are first-generation college students. Many are also first-generation Americans, or are from families where one or both parents are immigrants. These factors make them less likely than continuing-generation college students to have an experienced friend, family member, or mentor to help them through their time in college.

As a result, they miss out on the resources that may help them overcome other barriers: They don’t know how to apply for financial aid, or they skip campus orientation, or they overlook a prerequisite during registration. Fortunately, removing this barrier is a hurdle well within the reach of most universities. Here’s how.

1. Create an enrollment guide for students to walk them through the process.

Early enrollment tasks can be difficult for students to complete, especially if information for each process is in separate locations. By identifying the most common steps, community colleges can create a complete resource that will help ensure students don’t miss an important detail during their first weeks at the college. Some of the common pitfalls include:

  • Completing the college application. Students can become stuck on the application form itself, particularly on areas related to financial aid. Admissions staff can be on hand to help answer questions.
  • Making payments. It’s not just applying for financial aid that can be a stumbling block. Making payments on whatever balance remains after aid and scholarships are applied can also be an issue, especially during the beginning of a semester when deadlines approach faster than expected.
  • Campus orientation. The first time on campus can be an overwhelming experience for new students. Orientation is meant to help them find their way, but first-generation students may not realize the importance of attending without an explanation.
  • Class registration. Perhaps the most important deadlines for students are the ones around enrolling and dropping classes, which can be easy to miss. Students may also need help understanding waitlists and prerequisites.
  • Academic guidance. Even with enrollment complete, students often struggle to complete a program if the path forward is unclear. Academic counselors can help students navigate course requirements so that students can successfully complete their degrees.

Packaging this information in a complete resource with each step laid out in plain, straightforward language can prevent students from dropping out of the enrollment funnel. But it’s not the last step.

2. Include information about other aid programs and barriers to entry.

Enrollment is the first and best opportunity community colleges have to introduce their students to their support services. These may include daycare options, public transport discounts, food pantries, or other amenities at the college such as a gym or a laundry. 

Orientation in particular is a chance to show new students exactly where support facilities are, because it lowers the barriers around accessing those resources. A student who knows exactly where to find a guidance counselor and who has already been greeted by an administrator and welcomed to return is more likely to do so. Similarly, a student who has been walked through the food pantry, who knows how it works, and who has been invited to use it will feel more comfortable returning later. By taking time to include these aid programs in orientation, your community college can help ensure they are used.

3. Market your enrollment guide and other next-step resources.

Finally, it isn’t enough to create resources—you have to market them, too. If students don’t know they exist, or if they’re hard to find, then simply having created them won’t solve your enrollment issues. Talk about your enrollment support frequently on your social media, and use prominent areas of your website to direct students to resources.

Printed guides can be especially useful, as they can be passed out to students during campus visits, while they are completing the application process, or during orientation. They can also be left with academic advisors as a take-home resource, or mailed directly to prospective students who are on the fence about enrollment. 

Aperture Content Marketing can help your college close your enrollment gap.

While making a comprehensive resource may sound daunting, you don’t have to be on your own. At Aperture, we offer a range of marketing resources to our clients, including pre-written articles that can be edited to suit the specifics of your community college. We will help you assemble a publication, and then distribute it through our multichannel platform, which includes social media posting, print mail, and online microsites.

The multichannel approach can tackle the low-hanging barrier to entry (not knowing what to do next) while also promoting programs to address some of the larger, more complex barriers, such as student aid or child support. You can link to your microsite from your home page to keep all the information in one place, mail issues of your catalog to postal routes that match potential student demographics, and post social content that is easy for your audiences to like and share.

If you would like to learn more about how Aperture’s services can help raise your enrollment rate, contact us today.

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