After years of stagnant or declining enrollment, Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) is in its second year of enrollment growth due to an ongoing partnership with the student enrollment and success coaching company InsideTrack.
Building on a 72 percent increase in student enrollment last year, this year’s enrollment increase of 20 percent stems from the historically Black university and InsideTrack’s efforts to engage with students from the point that they establish an interest in the university to the time that they make it to campus and beyond. In addition to helping coach students, the company also works with ECSU leaders and staff to help them understand students’ decision-making behavior and communication preferences, officials said.
“When a school is coming to us, they’re looking at a way of differentiating themselves from the competition of the schools in the area, as well as getting insights and making sure that students aren’t getting lost in the process of enrollment,” said Jess Hector, associate vice president of client partnerships at InsideTrack. “There are lots of steps that have to be [covered] whether it’s related to enrollment or verification for FAFSA, making sure that that FAFSA is completed — sometimes there’s back and forth between parents and students and the school.”
InsideTrack and ECSU have been partnering for enrollment and student success coaching since February 2017. After a four to six week implementation period, outreach and coaching focused on prospective students with incomplete applications, those with deferred applications and students who were admitted to the university, Hector said.
Coaches work with students to identify degree programs that match their academic and career interests. They also help students identify support or academic resources on campus, navigate steps in the enrollment process on securing financial aid or housing in a timely manner and get students excited about available student experiences so that they have a “strong start” once they get to campus.
Student success organizations have advocated for more comprehensive student onboarding experiences to ensure they understand the connections between their academics and career pursuits and interests.
Student-coach interactions revolve around InsideTrack’s themes of knowledge, skills, attitude and belief.
“Belief is the underlying one,” Hector said. “Do they believe they belong at ECSU? That sense of belonging is huge. That’s what’s going to differentiate that student from being an ECSU student” or student somewhere else.
She added that InsideTrack helped strengthen ESCU’s “student escalation process” by promoting opportunities for frequent contact between students and faculty, advising services, housing, financial aid and others within the student’s onboarding process.
ECSU administrators learned from InsideTrack that deciding factors for students in terms of attending were the areas of study the university offers and the ease of navigating financial aid systems.
Enrollment in 2017 reached 1,411 students with 349 being first time, first-year students, surpassing ECSU’s target goal of 322 new first-year students. And this year as a result of enrollment efforts, the university saw a 28 percent yield rate compared to 22.3 percent the previous year.
“Through our partnership with InsideTrack, we have enhanced our personalized approach, mentoring and guidance to each student interested in an ECSU education,” said ECSU interim chancellor Dr. Karrie G. Dixon, in a news release. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of enrollment management, academic affairs and student affairs, and our InsideTrack partners, we are once again growing, improving our financial sustainability and unlocking the full potential and value of a quality education for hundreds of additional students.”
Hector said that coaching is the same for students regardless of if they are at a four-year or two-year institution. InsideTrack has partnered with other schools such as Old Dominion University, Fayetteville State University (FSU) and Ivy Tech Community College (ITCC).
The partnership with ITCC around retention supported the success and persistence of first-generation students, low-income students and 21st Century Scholars. The school just reached a 50.2 percent retention rate this year compared to a historic baseline of 36.9 percent, Hector said.
At Fayetteville State University, another North Carolina-based HBCU, InsideTrack is helping the institution around retention coaching and capacity building. FSU staff will receive training on how to integrate success coaching into students’ advising experience, according to Hector.
Studies show that comprehensive advising can be beneficial for student success and completion, especially for underserved students.
“We really do work in partnerships with the institutions that we partner with. We are not working in a silo,” Hector said. “Our coaches can only be successful if they are connected to the campus.”
Using “watch lists,” InsideTrack coaches speak with officials from ECSU, ITCC or other partnering schools every week about specific students’ needs.
“‘This student was talking to the coach and mentioned that they were having this struggle. Who should we put them in touch with?’” Hector said, giving an example of how a coach works with students and administrators.
The work is about “really closing the loop,” she said, adding that for students, “it’s just making sure that they have the knowledge, the skill, the attitude, and the belief driving that non-cognitive skill development for them, and making sure that they feel like someone is there to listen to them … that someone cares that they’re successful and believes in them.”
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.