Finding – and keeping – the ideal College of Technology student
This article is the second in a series that will highlight the progress and challenges of one of our seven Strategic Plan Leadership Teams, each charged with developing action plans for key areas of the strategic plan.
Institutions of higher education saw an increase in enrollment of first-time freshman by nearly 600,000 students from 2000 to 2008. The College of Technology shared in the harvest and saw healthy enrollment numbers through the first decade of the 21st century.
However, despite estimates that see overall undergraduate enrollment increasing by nine percent over the next eight years, the population of 18-year-olds in the U.S. is projected to decline by almost 300,000 during the same time frame.
Universities across the United States are all stepping up to attract the best and brightest to their campuses. The College of Technology is no different. We are facing a major challenge just to maintain our recent levels of enrollment. Our University has mandated to increase the enrollment of higher achieving students, including female and underrepresented minorities. The pool of prospective students needs to be recruited even more delicately. We all need to be proactive, and targeted student recruitment strategies are needed to keep pace with the competition.
Keeping students at the college through graduation has also been a challenge and will continue to be so as undergraduates become more demanding of their college experience and more focused on their ability to get a high-paying, meaningful job after graduation. Students who are facing difficult personal, academic or financial issues may find themselves withdrawing from school.
Identifying the challenges of bringing in the “ideal” College of Technology student and retaining them in our college once they arrive is the key task of the Strategic Plan Recruitment and Retention Leadership Team.
Duane Dunlap, associate dean of statewide technology and engagement, is serving as team co-leader. He shared a bit of the team’s work and offered some insight into the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Who is on the team?
Christy Bozic, Alka Harriger, and I are co-leaders. We have Gay Barnett, Nancy Denton, Gene Harding, Greg Lasker, Steven Lincoln, Jason Mucher, Toni Munguia, Mike Nolan, Mary Sadowski, and Michele Summers. We have also received great help from Melissa Dark, Brent Drake, Fred Greene, and Jamie Mohler in gathering key data and developing our instruments.
How does the makeup of the team help in the process?
The team is a collective body of individuals from every academic department and support unit in the college. Having this representation is important so everyone is aware, informed and leaning in the right direction. They can help share college and department information with the committee, so we can work to make the optimal choices with the data and resources we have available.
What is the primary task of the team?
We want to identify where we’ve been. We’ve not had to pay nearly as much attention to this in the past. We’ve always had strong enrollment in our technology programs. For our college to be competitive, we have to determine where we are, and where we want to go, and how we are going to get there.
What type of data have you been collecting over the past year?
We have been gathering information like retention data each semester, and demographics, test scores, GPA and high school rank of our incoming students. We are gathering department baseline data and aligning it with the future Purdue charge from the provost.
[Fall 2010 Recruitment and Retention Team Report]
[Recruitment and Retention Data]
The reports we’ve put together have given us some baseline measures of quality of our student body since 2006 and has also given us a window into the type of students who can excel here. We are starting to pay more attention to our yield data so we can benefit from the quality of students we all want in our classrooms.
How are we aligning our efforts with the university?
The provost has identified where Purdue wants to be in 2014, in terms of student headcount, demographic background and academic preparation, for example. As a college, we have created our own targets that are in alignment with University expectations. The key now is to set feasible targets for each department and outline an action plan to reach those goals.
What is going to be our biggest challenge going forward?
We have our work cut out for us. We have to pay attention to how we can have an impact at the college level, which in turn affects the university yielding the best possible students. We need to gather data from each department and set milestones. We have to help the college find and reallocate resources.
We have never embarked on a journey like this before. We’ve always had plenty of students and sufficient resources. However, the economic climate has changed. We haven’t had to pay close attention to yield and to the quality attributes of our students.
We have questions that we need help in answering. Yield is definitely a concern. Why are we losing out on the high quality students who have been accepted? They had enough of an interest to apply to the college, but what is causing them to enroll elsewhere?
Why is there such a focus on improving the quality of our incoming students?
I’ve heard from employers who have said that they are pleased with the technical abilities of our graduates but are concerned about the work ethic and passion of the current generation. How do we find and educate students who are passionate about excellence, in their studies and in their careers. For the most part, it appears sometimes to be the high-achieving students who best understand that. If we can get students like that in our programs, they are the ones who can best compete in the global economy. Indiana and the world will be a better place for it.
What are the next steps for the team?
The majority of our discussions in our next meeting will be charting our course, setting action plans in place. We need to establish our milestones between now and 2014, share them with the college and identify resources and actions needed from each department.
What will we do with the data after it is gathered?
In terms of recruiting, it will help us identify the “ideal” College of Technology student. This will reflect the goals of “Future Purdue”. Once we know our quality metrics of the students we want, then it’s about identifying these students early in their high school careers. We need to identify where the students come from, then, working with the schools and communities, share the college story.
We need to start working on that, begin meeting with and marketing to those who influence these students, their parents and teachers. We have a great relationship with the Project Lead the Way program, and many of our graduates are serving as teachers throughout the state. We have a great opportunity to connect with these teachers, use them as advocates, and encourage them to bring more of a College of Technology presence into their classrooms.
We need to continue to implement the recruitment efforts we have in place in terms of our camps and marketing materials. What other kind of external things can we do to get them on campus? If we can get them on campus, we have better than an 80 percent chance of them coming back.
How do we get some of the qualitative data of the “ideal” CoT students?
Once you identify these students we want to recruit, sit them down together in focus groups, get a pulse of their needs and expectations when it comes to higher education and career goals. Then it becomes about how do we attract these students? Can we get our young alumni involved in the recruiting process. Have them say “these are the types of things I do in my career.” That’s really powerful.
When students are enrolled we plan to implement a survey to learn more about how they heard about the college, why they chose the college, their academic and career goals, and their expectations regarding the college experience. Gathering this data yearly will allow us to be more efficient and effective in both our recruiting efforts and the student services we offer.
What are we doing to ensure students stick it out through graduation?
In terms of retention, the departments need to look at their own data and find out why students are leaving at certain points. It may require looking at the way curricula is delivered. Can any modifications be made there? What student services can be added, study groups, mentoring or tutoring?
We are also implementing a CODO survey to try to find out the “whys” of movement into, out of, and within the college. Of particular concern is the CODO in and out. What are the attractions of the college for those that CODO in? This could be very important in terms of core curriculum and course selection.
It is necessary to know where these students come from, but more importantly, pay attention to why they are leaving. We’ve heard things anecdotally, but haven’t had anything in place to measure and chart the data. This survey instrument will help us do that.
What has contributed to our low retention and graduation rates?
There are a variety of reasons. For one thing, their time is committed to things other than focusing on school. We also have more and more students working part-time or full-time jobs due to financial need. This may not only put them behind in the classroom, but it may be evidence of financial need. If we can correlate this data it might help us address what we offer in terms of scholarships and student services.
How can we work together as a college to make this successful?
We need to be proactively discussing this at every department or staff meeting. People must be willing to suggest ideas and help in finding ways to accomplish our goals. Having representatives from every area of the college on our team is a good start. They bring the ideas and take action steps from our team back to their departments and units.
The question is, can we get a college plan together that is prescriptive on what we can do to improve retention and yield and put college resources to it so every department can take ownership?
This challenge and the solutions are everyone’s. We all need to work on this together.