“This is urgent. We must do something to regain our enrollment advantages that we had several years ago, particularly over the proprietary schools.” Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs Sharon Morrissey told presidents of Virginia’s Community Colleges that colleges must take the initiative and do much more to help students navigate the often-challenging demands of our admissions and enrollment processes.
Research shows that about two-thirds of prospective VCCS students drop out of the admission and enrollment process before ever attending our classes. Moreover, as community college enrollments have declined in recent years, attendance has risen at for-profit proprietary colleges that devote more attention and staff to student onboarding.
Blue Ridge Community College President John Downey, who co-chaired a system-wide work group that has spent more than a year studying student onboarding at our colleges, was blunt: “We’re getting killed by our competitors,” he said.
A comprehensive plan to address the onboarding problems was put before the VCCS Advisory Council of Presidents (ACOP) on February 16, and the council adopted the plan unanimously.
In broad terms, the new VCCS onboarding process will move toward a “single door” approach for both workforce and credit students. And colleges, not students, will bear primary responsibility for providing an intentional, guided, and quick enrollment process for applicants.
Redesigning onboarding and enrollment processes that will be more uniform at our colleges across the state has posed a highly complex challenge, with multiple interrelated problems that still must be resolved in funding, budgeting, training and staffing, information technology services, college website designs, presentation of career pathways, and changes to system policy.
“All of this is student focused. We understand that it may not be the way some of us do business right now. But it will help students and it really reinforces our Opportunity 2027 strategic plan,” work group co-chair and Germanna Community College President Janet Gullickson told the presidents.
The reform plan includes the following recommendations:
- Each College will include on its website easily accessible and understandable details for the students, to include at a minimum: Career pathways for all degrees, certificates, and credential programs; the cost of programs and courses; options for financial resources and payment; and labor market information. The VCCS System Office will create a College Web Designers Workgroup to guide implementation of this recommendation.
- When technology, such as customer relationship management software, is available, Colleges will employ a standardized simple contact form to capture student inquiries and information.
- Each college will establish and implement onboarding Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to provide a quality one-door response to prospective student inquiries within 24 business hours and register students within 48 business hours.
- Each college will create, fill, and train for an Enrollment Navigator role, either by hiring new Enrollment Navigators or reorganizing existing staff to fill the Enrollment Navigator role. Colleges will implement a consistent job description for the role of Enrollment Navigator.
During the ACOP discussion, it was clear that smaller colleges who have limited staffing resources are concerned about being able to provide additional student navigation and advising services.
“These are more than just recommendations,” said VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois. “I view these as binding recommendations. There may be some flexibility about when they’re implemented, but they must not be ignored.”
The recommendations passed by the Presidents now will be referred to the committee working to implement the VCCS Strategic Plan. Most colleges have already started implementing many of the recommendations in the report, but some will require system-wide planning and support. Representatives of the Chancellor’s onboarding committee will now join the strategic planning implementation team to prioritize the recommendations that are most pressing to tackle first, and then to implement strategies about how to get them done on a state-wide basis. Since most Colleges have already started, the onboarding committee co-chairs (Drs. Gullickson and Downey) hope the bulk of the recommendations will be implemented at each college within the next two years.
The sixty-member student onboarding work group was supported by staff from the VCCS system office and included college presidents, registrars, admissions officers, advisors, financial aid directors, business finance officers, IT staff, institutional research officers, workforce administrators, and academic administrators.
Click here to read the work group’s full set of recommendations.