KC Spotlight: Enrollment Management

Emily Griffin Overocker, Enrollment Management KC

July 29, 2018

As one year comes to a close and another is gearing up, many of us go through goal setting exercises both personally and professionally.  For me, this happens twice a year – once in December for myself and again in the summer with my work teams.  With personal goals, as the months pass, some of the excitement and motivation starts to wane.  The goals we set in our work teams tend to have a little more staying power.  Why?  Maybe it is because the stakes are higher, maybe the desired outcomes are more clearly defined, and/or maybe it is because we have built in accountability.  This built in accountability comes in the form of performance reviews, supervisor check-ins, and nudges from our colleagues.  For me, getting a nudge is sometimes all I need to take the next step. 

So what does this have to do with Enrollment Management?  Enrollment Management professionals across the country are continually trying new methods of connecting with students in ways that increase yield into and increase persistence through their institutions.  Most of us have tried everything to effectively communicate with our students in ways that will resonate with them.  We do calling campaigns so we can create a personalized connection.  We cover the campus with posters and digital signs touting our accessible services and the friendly staff who are available to help.  We host programs to help students understand our processes.  We send emails reminding students about upcoming deadlines and resources available to them.  And yet, despite all of our efforts, too often our students miss deadlines, do not understand processes, and do not know where to go for help.  There has to be a better way.  Our messages are getting lost.  Our students are plugged-in 24/7 and frankly, there is just too much noise.  There is a better way.  Our students just need a nudge. 

Ok, so what is a nudge?  It is just what it sounds like.  A nudge is a little push to prod someone into action.  The concept of nudging was first made popular by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sustein in their 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.  Since that time higher education has looked at nudging as a strategy to use data science to help increase student persistence.  On the surface, this strategy is a no-brainer and should be adopted by other areas of the academy.

Nudges are short (3-5 sentences), conversational, and contain a call to action.  For example, it could look something like:

              “Hi First Name.  This is Jane from Student Success.  I hope your mid-terms exams are going well.  Your enrollment window will be opening soon.  If you haven’t already, make sure to schedule an appointment with your Academic Advisor <university.edu/seemyadvisor>.  They are taking walk-ins for the rest of the month.  Let me know if you have any question.  –Jane”

But, before you start nudging students, you have to do your homework.  Running lists and doing mail merges can be problematic.  The more sophisticated the data science you have available the more likely your nudges will produce your desired outcomes.  Colleen M. Carmean & Jill Frankfort discuss some pitfalls to nudging in their recent Chronicle of Higher Education article The Right Way to Nudge Students (July 1, 2018).  Students have stopped reading our mass emails, and it will not be long before this technique faces the same fate if we are not careful.  The allusion of personalized attention is delicate.  You can over nudge your students. 

Just this week I was having a conversation with colleagues about keeping up with Generation Z.  In my experience so far, nudging is a strategy that is working.  At my former institution, students were responding to nudges from the Success Coaches at higher rates than with other strategies we had tried.  But, just like everything else, we cannot get too comfortable.  We have to keep innovating and part of how we do that is through sharing strategies through our Knowledge Communities.  If you want to join in the conversation about Enrollment Management issues, join the Enrollment Management Knowledge Community on NASPA.org.  Join our Facebook page: NASPA Enrollment Management Knowledge Community or follow us on Twitter: @naspaemkc.

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