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Re-engaging "paused" students


From what we see working with colleges, everyone wants higher FTEs - it's the lifeblood of higher education.

Headlines across the country bemoan lagging post-secondary enrollment, which results in lower FTEs. Year over year, many schools retain only 60% of their students, which means a continual 40% loss of potential FTEs. New enrollment and retention have worsened during the Pandemic.

A common response is to invest more in preventing drop outs (i.e., Guided Pathways is a strong strategy for this) and recruitment of new students. What we don't see much is a compelling and effective effort to re-engage those students who've already dropped out, or at best, "those students who've paused their pursuit of a college education."

Working through the enrollment data for various institutional clients, we see two curious common themes regarding sky-high "non-completer" data:

  1. Most faculty and college leaders have only "anecdotal" information about the general and specific causes of non-completing students. 
  2. Most colleges have no active strategy to re-engage non-completing students.

Faculty and college leaders are highly fixated on boosting FTEs, and it should be obvious that one way to boost FTEs is to re-engage non-completing students. Beyond boosting FTE numbers, there are several other reasons to re-engage students who've paused or dropped-out:

  • Deliver your mission: Colleges that promote their mission to help students succeed should see this as an obvious chance to deliver on that mission
  • Fulfill the promise: Non-completing students have already made an investment of time and money in their education but many have nothing to show for it
  • Informed customer: Non-completing students are already informed about the value of a college education
  • Inform the institution: Non-completing students may have important insights about a college's retention efforts - this is a chance for institutions to learn, grow, and improve.

To re-engage a student who has paused their post-secondary pathway, colleges need to:

  • Know who the non-completing student are
  • Have a way to connect with them
  • Find out why each student has either paused or given-up on the program they've begun
  • Address each student's barrier and provide a well supported, non-punitive pathway back to program completion

Re-engaging paused students is different work than recruiting new students, but it is just as important.