Monday, January 12, 2015

Amid challenging times, Chillicothe Campus taking strategic approach to enrollment management

Amid these current challenging times for higher education in Ohio, the Chillicothe Campus of Ohio University (OU-C) continues to experience solid enrollment while also looking at smart, innovative ways to sustain and increase its numbers.

While many similar regional and community college campuses around the state have experienced sharp declines in enrollment over the past few years, OU-C’s enrollment has been relatively stable. According to the Ohio Board of Regents’ 15-day headcount report for fall 2014, 18 of 24 regional campuses in the state had declining enrollment from the previous year for this past fall semester term. The Chillicothe Campus’ enrollment dropped 2.6 percent, compared to a 3.96 percent statewide average for regional campuses.

There are some external factors behind the statewide decline. For example, there is somewhat of an inverse relationship between the health of the economy and regional campus enrollment. Consequently, as the statewide and regional employment landscape improves, it tends to have an adverse impact on enrollment as fewer individuals are laid off and looking to retrain for other careers. Further, the number of high school graduates in Ohio has leveled off and in some regions decreased in the last few years, resulting in a smaller pool of potential “college bound” students.

There are also many internal factors. When Ohio University changed its academic calendar from quarters to semesters beginning in fall 2012, it impacted enrollment figures as many students made a stronger “push” to complete their degree requirements before the transition. Many students at OU-C are also balancing academics with job and family responsibilities. Consequently, they only have time to take four courses per term. Under quarters, most courses were worth 4 academic credit hours but, since the semester switch, they are now worth three credit hours, thereby negatively impacting Full Time Equivalent (FTE) student enrollment numbers.

To counteract these dynamics, OU-C is continually looking at being more strategic in its enrollment-management efforts. The emphasis is pursuing innovative approaches that build upon the campus’ core values. Some related initiatives include:

•    Academic programs. Pursue new academic offerings that align with student interest, emerging career fields in the region and the campus’ mission. Among examples are the social work bachelor’s degree program, which was introduced in fall 2013, and the BASE program, which allows individuals with bachelor’s degrees in another field/discipline to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing in an accelerated fashion. Both of these initiatives meet all the criteria for academic programs offered at OU-C. 

•    Articulating our mission. The campus continues to focus on having a strong, consistent and authentic message in terms of communicating with its various stakeholder groups. Rather than utter
jargon and catchphrases, the emphasis is on articulating the aspects that best define and distinguish the Chillicothe Campus. Main message points are the ability to earn a nationally-recognized Ohio University degree at roughly $5,000 a year in a convenient, small-campus setting that serves both traditional and non-traditional students.

•    Expanding the recruiting base. In 2014 Student Services completed and presented to the campus community a Strategic Enrollment Management Plan that focuses more effort on extending its student-recruiting efforts beyond Ross and into adjacent counties. There has been an increased focus on areas such as Highland and Adams County and other regions that are home to students who are likely to feel comfortable on the Chillicothe Campus, which offers a friendly atmosphere and the resources to help first-generation students succeed in college.

•    More aggressive and targeted recruiting efforts. There has been a strong focus on reaching out to area high schools to meet with prospective students as well as engaging with guidance counselors and others who influence students’ college decision-making process. These efforts also help to secure and expand the campus’ recruitment base, which is pivotal in maintaining and growing enrollment. For example, during the 2013-14 academic year, OU-C representatives made 2,231 contacts with prospective students and increased the total applicant pool by 307 individuals. A total of 427 students were contacted through high-school visits, while 407 were a result of the campus Friday Open House events and 270 through participation in college and job fairs. Interestingly, 1,011, or 45 percent, of the contacts were made through web requests and Cappex, an online recruitment database that targets prospective students with an interest in OU-C. Additionally, OU-C is working with area high schools to develop the new College Credit + Program which will offer college courses to qualified high school students in place of the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Program. 

•    Bolstering student retention. One ongoing initiative involves increasing and strengthening our student-success efforts to bolster retention and help students complete their academic programs in a timely manner. This type of effort is especially meaningful in that it relates directly to the success of our students. Further, strong retention numbers result in more consistent, steady overall enrollment, allowing for better planning and less emphasis on continual recruitment of new students. The Chillicothe Campus’ Student Success Center has been at the forefront of these efforts, earning its name by offering resources aimed to help students make the most of their college experience. The center, which is located in the Quinn Library, includes tutoring services in math, writing and other academic disciplines. A key to the success of the center is the focus on peer interaction between the tutors, who have a grasp of the students’ perspective and base of knowledge, and their fellow students. 

Further, at OU-C, retention efforts begin before students enroll in classes.  In the spring of 2014 Student Services implemented a new advising plan in cooperation with the Student Success Center to provide individualized academic assistance to students needing developmental coursework.  If they desire, those students can do an intensive review and then go directly into college level classes saving them tuition dollars and time to degree completion.  Students also attend mandatory orientations to help them get off on the right foot and if they do experience academic difficulty academic alerts, eProgress reports and specialized advising provided by Student Services is available to help them succeed.

At the end of the day, results are not measured simply in numbers. What truly matters is the more significant outcome in terms of the impact the Ohio University Chillicothe Campus is making on the quality of life for the region and its residents by opening pathways to a college education and all that it represents in terms of individuals pursuing fulfilling lives and rewarding careers.

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