Every year, summer melt is a major concern for enrollment offices everywhere. This fear isn’t surprising, because schools typically see between 10-40% of confirmed students fail to enroll in the fall. But now, more than ever before, summer melt feels much scarier as institutions start to plan for what campus might look like come fall, when students who may have been a sure thing are facing obstacles that hadn’t previously existed.
So, what can you do now to help keep your students engaged, especially when they can’t physically be on campus? Here are some things to consider as you start building your plans.
1. Be intimately aware of the roadblocks on the path to college.
We know that there are many obstacles that can get in the way of a student showing up in the fall: personal, financial, psychological, and academic. And with the current state of things, I’d venture to guess that a majority of admitted students are going to be facing one, if not all of these roadblocks. This means that institutions need to be as closely aware of these roadblocks as possible. Financial aid, enrolling in courses, finding housing, setting up payment plans, etc. can all be overwhelming, particularly for students who don’t have family members who are familiar with the process, and with so many unknowns about this fall.
A good first step is student journey mapping. Go through every step and piece of paperwork that a student would. And as you work to move a lot of these interactions online, make sure your processes are as streamlined and simple as possible. Role-play how you would get financial aid, housing, or class enrollment questions answered. Is it easy? Are there enough supports in place? Make sure multiple departments are not sending out duplicate information. And consider first-generation, low-income, and non-traditional students; they already have additional challenges, don’t add more to the list.
2. Build relationships and communicate straight through the finish line.
The enrollment process isn’t over until, as my old boss used to say, “you’ve got those butts in seats”. Admissions does a great job of communicating and selling the school to early prospects, but your students need to feel connected to your institution from beginning to end. Make sure the excitement for your institution stays fueled with strategic and ongoing communications.
This is especially important this year as summer orientations go virtual. Building those personal connections and sharing stories that truly help students “see themselves” on your campus is crucial. Research has shown that if a student has connections with 9 or more students after being admitted, they are 93% more likely to attend that institution. Don’t leave those relationships to chance. Set up virtual summer programs and events for students to meet one another, get to know staff, and become familiar with the campus. Cultivating a sense of belonging can go a long way, particularly with first-generation or out-of-state students, who may feel particularly nervous about the unknown.
3. Leverage technology to build a seamless student experience.
With most of the traditional road to enrollment milestones happening with students at home, institutions must create a seamless, cross-platform environment that delivers information when and where students want—without bouncing them around to various offices and representatives. Today’s digital natives will accept nothing less! (In fact, 83 percent of mobile users say that a seamless experience across all devices is “very important” to them.)
Low-cost behavioral nudges like texting reminders and easy-to-use chat technology can also be the difference between a matriculated student and one who melts. A Harvard University study found that an automated but personalized text messaging campaign that reminded students of required college tasks substantially increased enrollment for students most vulnerable to summer melt. Two-thirds of students indicate that they would be willing to receive a text message from a prospective college, yet few do. Take the competitive advantage and keep your students from melting by being the institution that does.
Crucial relationships now need to be cultivated online. We suggest leveraging online communities for your accepted students to connect with one another and multiple campus offices in real time, whenever they desire. This is a powerful way to build community and institutional loyalty. Remember the power of those 9 or more connections! (The TargetX Schools App tool, which offers a private, branded, social community built for higher education—could be just the solution you need.)
4. Prioritize parents as critical partners.
For traditional students, parents play a critical role in the college process. Yet, oftentimes, institutions stop including parents as partners once the deposit has been received. With so much uncertainty around what things are going to look like come fall, and a hyper-focus on health and safety, keeping parents up to date is crucial.
Consider hosting virtual parent events to address concerns and loop them into the enrollment process. Include parents in your relationship-building communications. If parents and families feel confident in your institution, they are likely to have considerable influence over their students feeling similarly.