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Retention, Recruitment Efforts Key to Enrollment Growth

Although there is still much work to do before our strategic enrollment plan is complete, we have set some significant goals for growth in our undergraduate population.

Over the next five years, we’d like to see our overall undergraduate enrollment grow by 15 percent. We’ve been growing 1 to 2 percent year over year; to meet our goal we’ll have to grow by 3 percent each year.

While we’re planning for nominal increases in the size of our freshman class, gains in retention will be critical in helping us achieve our growth goals.

Our first-year retention rate in fall 2017 was 85.5 percent. Our goal for fall 2018 is 88 percent. And we want to see our retention rate hit 92 percent by 2022.

Faculty Play a Key Role

To reach our enrollment and retention goals, we must have the help of faculty, whose daily contact with students makes them the front line for identifying those who are struggling.

First-Year Studies, which manages Early Alert, has encouraged faculty to be more diligent about responding to the system’s prompts to identify struggling students. We have been pleased with the response: 89 percent of faculty who received requests responded this past fall. That’s up from the previous high response rate of 50 percent.

“In addition to higher responses for Early Alert courses, we’ve also had an increase in instructors reporting from non-alert courses,” said Stella Bridgeman-Prince, assistant director of First-Year Studies. “This shows us that faculty see the value of the Early Alert program in keeping us more closely attuned to student need.”

Through these Early Alert reports, we reached out to 663 students and offered them various forms of assistance. We’ve also collaborated with Residence Life staff to reach out to students living in residence halls who are flagged by the Early Alert system.

When spring semester began, college deans sent emails to all students, customized to reflect their fall performance. The messages explained that the Student Success Center’s academic coaches can help students at all levels develop time management strategies, engage effectively with course material, and maximize support opportunities at UT.

Since financial issues force some students to drop out, we’ve set aside funding to help. Last fall, staff in student life, academic advising, student success, and enrollment management were encouraged to submit referrals to One Stop if they encountered students experiencing financial difficulty.

In addition, emails were sent to students who had financial holds on their accounts. The emails allowed students to respond and explain their needs.

Responses were reviewed by a cross-divisional committee to determine each student’s eligibility for additional funds. Students who receive funding will work with both an academic advisor and a financial aid counselor to plan for future semesters.

Student Success Summit

In December, about 90 faculty, staff, and students participated in the Student Success Summit, hosted by the Divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Life.

We agreed that every campus process—from new student orientation to financial aid to registration to health services, and everything in between—should be examined from the student perspective to ensure that students who need assistance can quickly find and receive top-level care from our university faculty and staff.

To make sure this happens, we’ll be taking some steps in the next few months:

  • Assembling working groups of faculty, staff, and students to evaluate how to improve current student services and identify new services we should provide
  • Improving how we communicate with students and employees about resources available to students who need support or are considering leaving UT
  • Evaluating a case management system to ensure consistent follow-through for every student who needs assistance

Building Next Year’s Freshman Class

Even as we are striving to retain our current students, we are hard at work recruiting our future Vols. Applications for next year’s freshman class have already exceeded the number received last year.

Assistant Vice Provost for Enrollment and Director of Undergraduate Admissions Fabrizio D’Aloisio said the number of Tennessee high school graduates is relatively flat, so in-state growth will continue to be a challenge. We’re seeing good growth in out-of-state numbers, which he attributes to several years of hard work by our regional recruiters stationed around the country.

In addition, Undergraduate Admissions is leveraging new technology and new data sources to identify and recruit students.

There’s also an impressive uptick in the number of students coming for campus visits. Last year, almost 35,000 students took a formal campus tour, an increase of 12 percent from 2016. This increase demonstrates that more students are considering attending UT and adding us to their college short list.

We’ve also been more aggressive in offering scholarships. In addition to our competitive scholarships, the Volunteer Scholarship guarantees monies for students with ACT scores of 28 or above.

Finally, we continue to grow our Volunteer Bridge program. This year, we brought in a record 206 students. Our goal is to have 250 students next year, and we’ve already sent out about 100 early invitations. Our five-year plan calls for the Volunteer Bridge program to grow well beyond 250 students a year.

 Our efforts reflect the realization that the landscape for recruiting students has changed dramatically over the past few years.

“Even though we’re doing great, the competition is fierce,” D’Aloisio said. “The demographics are changing. There are fewer college-bound students out there, and colleges are becoming more sophisticated in how they recruit.”