Enrollment Beyond Recruitment: Our Commitment to Complete College Georgia

The Complete College Georgia initiative, modeled from the national program, is the framework, standard and metric of enrollment management for us in Georgia.  Here at Middle Georgia State it drives our sense of priority, urgency and strategy for enrollment.  CCG requires the University System of Georgia to produce an additional 250,000 graduates by 2020, and MGSC is committed to its part of achieving this enrollment and graduation strategy.

Since consolidation and the advent of new admission requirements, our enrollment numbers have dropped to a current and precarious level of 7,200 enrolled students, and our clear goal is to reach the level of 10,000 student as a state University within the next five years.  Our success and sustainability as an institution requires enrollment growth.  I cannot emphasize that too strongly. But numbers alone do not tell the story.  We need to recruit, progress and graduate the right students who will succeed at Middle Georgia State and build their lives and the communities in which they live and work.

Quality and quantity cannot be separated.  To achieve that enrollment strategy, several new factors play into our University story and enrollment thinking.  Firstly, we need two admission standards, one for University baccalaureate students, the other for a “University College” student who will receive greater advising, mentoring and support after admission at the state College level, before advancing later into a Baccalaureate program.  Secondly, we need to diversify our recruitment pool, to increase transfer students, adult students and graduate students.  Like financial matters, our portfolio needs diversification for strength.

We can be glad that several initiatives are underway to achieve this.  In terms of recruitment, a targeted model around historically successful geographic areas is currently producing 35% more admits than last year. On our Macon campus we have designed a tour room and have seen a 190% increase in prospect tours over last year at this time, and currently are constructing a similar room on our Cochran campus, due for completion by early April.  To consolidate this new emphasis we have added a new leadership position in the Recruitment staff, to coordinate and oversee recruitment strategy.  Furthermore, I have authorized a new recruitment position with the iTLEAD office in Academic Affairs, to manage recruitment of adult (and soon graduate) students, precisely to ensure that we implement a diversified recruitment strategy.  With emerging markets across the ages and stages of student opportunity, we need to be aggressive and entrepreneurial in recruiting students who will succeed at Middle Georgia State.

As essential as recruitment is to our success as a University, a sustainable enrollment picture though is equally dependent on retaining and graduating students.  This is where we have a distinct advantage in the public sector, when compared to the for-profit institutions.  For-profits have a track record of recruiting large numbers of students, but perform very poorly in retention and graduation goals. Their graduation rates are a dismal 31%, even though for-profits count students who attended their institution but went on to graduate elsewhere.

As we commit to Complete College Georgia outcomes, we are seeing some early encouraging signs in our Baccalaureate programs, where retention rates have risen over the past two years by 4% from 66% to 70%.  We cannot be complacent though, and still have considerable work to do to strengthen retention and graduation.

To that end, the Office of Academic Affairs has created a Banner Eco System to support student success models and practices and the identification of the “intellectual plasticity and ability” of our individual students, thus tailoring advice and support to specific student needs.  This integrated Eco system includes BlackBoard analytics, MyDegree, the Student Advising Alert System, and course evaluation data.  As president I have sought to raise the importance and urgency of enrollment renewal by beginning to meet regularly with Deans and Enrollment Management staff to discuss the critical need for close monitoring of student success, flexibility in the modality of course delivery across all our campuses, and the responsibility we all have for student retention, progression and success.

In addition, Student Affairs is moving forward on creating the types of extra-curricular and on-campus experiences that are the hallmarks of a University.  Residence Life is starting year three of the Freshman Year Residential Experience  (FYRE) Living Learning Community and adding two new living learning communities this Fall, a Business learning community and a Nursing learning community.  Residence Life is also adding a Volunteer themed housing this fall on top of the Health & Wellness themed housing that will start its third year this fall.  New residential software will allow for roommate matching by students upon application instead of right before move-in day.  Moreover, this fall will give students two new student life opportunities.  We anticipate the addition of Theta XI Fraternity and an indoor drumline that will help us recruit and retain students interested in those experiences.

The reality is that while our Enrollment Management staff are tasked in their daily professional lives with student access and recruitment to Middle Georgia State, it is the responsibility of every faculty member and student support staff member to ensure that our students progress here and graduate successfully.  Enrollment success will only be achieved if our recruitment, retention and graduation strategy is aligned and integrated.  As a soon-to-be state University, that is a core responsibility and we have a ways to go yet to be fulfilling it adequately.  When we do so, the quantity and quality of our students will be enhanced, and our sense of meeting our mission more powerfully realized.

I will finish with a quote that gets it right, from Neal Raisman’s book, “The Power of Retention: More Customer Service for Higher Education”.  He writes: “Students are both the raw material and the consumers of our enterprise, our businesses, and our schools. The increased value and ability of our students, our customers, is our real business.  For more commercial enterprises, the customer is a means to an end.  For us, they are the means and the end.”  The extent to which we embrace and commit to this reality will define our quality, our reputation in the public arena, and ultimately our enrollment of students, without which we are nothing.