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It’s no secret that student enrolment has been dropping at colleges around the world. In the US, the situation has reached crisis level. There the total number of undergraduate enrollments has dropped by more than a million students since 2020. Similar trends are being seen in Australia and the Global North. However, a new survey has given some insights into the problems students face when deciding whether to enroll in college.

The report, from consultancy firm EAB, reveals a growing number of students feel unprepared for college. More than one in five say this is due to a lack of emotional and academic preparedness. This is more commonly felt among low-income or first-generation students. In the current climate of rising costs and student debt, other students (20%) don’t feel that college is worthwhile.  

These findings back up the recent survey from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation. Their report found that some of the key problems students face in this decision are unpreparedness (54%) and not seeing the value of Higher Education (51%). In addition, the Gallup report also found that nearly two thirds of individuals who never enrolled in Higher Education indicated emotional stress was a major obstacle. Both reports highlight the ongoing mental health crisis among young people as a significant factor in the student enrolment decline. 

Bucking the Student Enrolment Trend

  • Offer students more flexibility:

By offering students more choice when it comes to how and when they can learn, access resources and materials, and engage with student services, you make your institution more accessible for students of all backgrounds. A hybrid or Hy-flex approach to education is proving really successful for many institutions. In fact some colleges who have seen big growth in student enrolments in 2021/2022 say this is down to their flexible, online approach to education. In addition, Wiley’s new survey shows that students who have previously stopped out of Higher Ed, have returned for online learning instead.

  • Make students aware of the support services that will be available to them:

The problems students face when enrolling in college surround financial difficulties, emotional stress, and academic preparedness. Ensure prospective students know that if they enroll at your institution, they will have access to free or low-cost financial aid advice, counsellors and academic advisors. Students are concerned about their ability to be successful in college. Reassure them that helping them to success is your biggest priority. 

  • Place more emphasis on the real-world benefits of a Higher Education degree:

Students want to understand the value Higher Education can add to their goals. Do your courses offer high employability rates? Can students expect higher salary outcomes post-HE, than other educational and non-educational routes? Do you provide students with real-world experience or work-integrated learning opportunities? Have you put measures in place to support them during this?

  • Have a proactive student support and intervention system:

 The best way to retain students throughout their education journey is to use a student success system to better understand and support them. For example, using data analytics for data-driven academic advising is one effective and increasingly popular strategy. In addition, many institutions use an attendance system to encourage student engagement with their courses. For student interventions, a case management system that follows student wellbeing and progression can drive retention rates up. 

  • Strengthen support for at-risk students:

Students from low-income backgrounds, first-generation students, BAME students are often the students with the biggest obstacles to enrolment and success in Higher Education. One way to strengthen your support for these students and empower your DEI teams is with actionable data insights that can identify and alert when students are struggling. These automatic, ‘safety-net’ systems are the most effective way to engage early interventions and support at-risk students before they drop off or stop out.