Tallahassee is commonly known as the state capital of Florida, but if you have ever visited our beautiful city, you will also see it as a vibrant college town with over 65,000 college students annually studying at Florida State University (FSU), Florida A & M University (FAMU), and Tallahassee Community College (TCC). Over the years, our institutions have developed exceptional relationships that directly benefit the students who choose to study here. As a result, nearly 60% of TCC’s student body come from outside of our service district in order to take advantage of our seamless transfer programs to FSU and FAMU.
Coming out of the pandemic, the higher education landscape changed. Students were choosing to stay closer to home or were selecting online course options instead of re-engaging on campus in classes and student life. Enrollment was stagnant with first-time-in-college students not attending right after high school, especially our out-of-district students who may have been denied freshmen admission to FSU or FAMU. In the fall of 2022, when our enrollment was at its lowest in years, our president challenged us to re-imagine and re-ignite our partnerships and programs with our university partners to help more families understand the benefits of moving their student to Tallahassee and the experiences and opportunities that they could not get if they chose to enroll at their local community college.
Out of this, TCC launched a brand new Office of Transfer Services in the spring of 2023. We established three new full-time positions, identified wildly important goals, and established key performance metrics that would be used to measure the effectiveness of our plan. Meetings occurred between our university colleagues and TCC in the areas of Transfer Services, Student Affairs, Admissions, and Communications and Marketing. What evolved from those collaborative discussions was a re-invigorated model that has given tremendous ROI on our fall 2023 enrollment with over 700 MORE new first-time students enrolling compared to the prior year.
Here are three key lessons with practical applications that other colleges might consider for implementation.
1. Build strong articulation agreements and collaborative relationships between departments from each institution that include data sharing and referral of university-denied students to the community college.
- Example 1: TCC worked with FSU to build a profile of their freshmen denials. This allowed us to better understand the demographics, geographical locations, academic GPA, and test scores of the students who might not be admitted but were still excellent students. We then targeted marketing toward prospective students that mirrored that profile in order to begin introducing them to our transfer program prior to their potential denial from the university.
- Example 2: University partners encouraged students in their denial letters to attend TCC for one or more semesters for either early admission and/or admission upon earning the associate in arts degree.
2. Share branding and marketing, including logos and messaging, to strengthen the external perception of the quality of the transfer program.
- Example 1: For several years, TCC used a different name and logo than FSU for the transfer program, which was confusing for prospective families. Adopting a single shared identity and messaging demonstrated the alignment and collaboration between our schools. Furthermore, using the shared branding, TCC could offer college swag at recruitment events that was desirable and appealed to today’s students.
- Example 2: With the rebrand, TCC added multiple new academic pathways (e.g., Elite option for students with 15 or more accelerated credits), Honors (participation in Honors program and undergraduate research), and Online (for students who might need to stay at home a bit longer but want the benefits of the transfer program). This allowed us to target more students that historically might not have considered attending a community college.
3. Design shared academic and social experiences between the institutions to enrich the student experience.
- Example 1: Both FSU and FAMU schedule advising days on TCC’s campus twice a year, bringing representatives from all the university departments to answer student questions. In addition, throughout the year, admissions representatives and advisers hold office hours through our Career and Academic Advising Center. An additional university faculty speaker series will be added introducing students to career and major information prior to transfer as well as offering TCC students connection to University Transfer Mentors as they prepare to transfer.
- Example 2: TCC students receive opportunities for social engagement including reduced pricing for football tickets, use of select on-campus recreation and dining services, and attendance at other events on the university campus. Our goal is to offer TCC students a minimum of eight shared experiences a year.
Fall 2023 is off to a tremendous start, and we are excited for our students to truly feel that Tallahassee is a place where all students are welcome and can feel like they belong, no matter where they start their educational journeys. Now to take our lessons learned and get busy recruiting for Fall 2024!
Sheri Rowland serves as the vice president for student affairs at Tallahassee Community College and is a member of the NASPA James E. Scott Academy Board.