HBCU Retention Starts With Strategic Recruiting

Most colleges and universities compete within many of the same geo-markets for a diverse pool of prospects. Within those markets, the institutions that have garnered much viability employed a variety of efforts like effective branding tied to a potent communication strategy; a high touch approach to engaging prospects and external influencers alike, and the ultimate competitive edge: the enhanced perception of quality of their degrees.

All these mitigating factors intersect to capitalize on achieving enrollment success through understanding the inherent values of prospects and determining the fit.

As a result, institutions need to become more transactional. The transactional element has become a major factor due to the cost of attendance—known as the “sticker price.” For that reason, prospects are consumers who deliberate the “why,” which is the cost of attendance and the perceived quality of the degree to weigh the investment needed to attain the sought after return on investment: an excellent career.

For example, Hispanics, who will need/demand more institutional support and intervention to complete, is the group of prospects projected to increase the most in years to come. Therefore, ensuring progression and completion of a degree for the impending rise of minority prospects with a high demand of support and need becomes even more costly to institutions to achieve student success.

To properly grow and maintain enrollment in the future, enrollment managers must employ what I call the P2=Fit Factor concept: (Predictive)(Potential attrition root)=Fit Factor. This concept requires enrollment officers to become keenly predictive, acutely cognizant of potential attrition roots, and be accurately able to align prospects’ values, sensibilities, and goals with the institution’s academic offerings, social environment, and personal desires with the proper support: fit factor.

Efficiently shaping a class and managing retention efforts require the consideration of an institution to increase its ability to leverage institutional aid competitively, negotiate with prospects and their parents, appraise prospects’ potential attrition roots, assess the cost to recruit, retain and graduate each student; navigate the global enrollment landscape nimbly, and develop a strategic enrollment plan that reflects the aspirations of the institution’s future to become a global institution.

P2=Fit Factor concept:


To increase the likelihood of prospects enrolling, the institution’s admissions team, communication and marketing offices must truly understand their prospects needs academically, personally, and socially. Specifically, understanding their personal values, aspirations and perspectives allows for a very strategic and intentional effort to align needs with offerings and support. Instead of only differentiating the institutional competitive edge, the competitive edge is procuring as much information on the prospect through specific engagement points that contextualize personal values and financial capability. Thereby, disarming apprehension and aligning needs with definitive offerings and support to ensure a successful life after graduation—this is answering the “why.”

Data is critical to this puzzle. Through reviewing former students’(graduates or stop outs) academic performance, geo-markets, leveraging package tied to yields, financial aid awarding and recruiting costs as well as placement rates, institutions would be able to develop a solid recruitment plan that considers where to identify, develop and manage new and maintained markets with the highest potential yields through a profile assessment. The profile allows for the institution to be intentional because it has codified behavioral patterns, economic variance, academic altitudes and migration/mobility trends to establish a fit. The profile allows for maximal implementation of a nimble strategy to appeal to prospects and yield them highly versus recruiting in all or some markets with the anticipation of meeting enrollment goals.

Potential Attrition Roots:

With becoming more predictive and understanding the alignment of values and aspirations, it is equally important to assess/review prospective students’ ability to perform academically satisfactorily and develop into sound thinkers. Therefore, by evaluating prospective students’ prior academic history, financial capacity and possible indebtedness, familial historical information alongside personal goals, institutions can begin to develop a personalized student success model that truly fits its student body firmly. Through this perspective, leveraging aid is crucial to address potential financial stress—if any, a diverse academic support model with varying modalities (face-to-face, online, direct calls) that services each student individually, and the development of a very strong wellness program that wraparounds the students’ emotional, social and personal needs.

These critical pieces to the student success model centers on the students’ individualism with minimal to no interruption in academic progress towards a degree.

Being able to predict the likelihood of prospects enrolling creates a space to strategically develop recruitment and engagement efforts to affect yield— instead of attempting to recruit everyone, recruiting becomes the customization of strategies by prospects, geo-markets and deliverables. These strategies have to be consistent, timely, and continuous. With the fit factor achieved, retention is also impacted on the front end because the institution will understand what it will take to recruit, retain, and graduate each prospect.

This is what will ensure institutions survive in an uneven, unstable, shifting enrollment landscape.

Dwight Sanchez is the associate vice president for enrollment services at the University of the District of Columbia.

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