The Secret to Improving College Enrollment: Managing Transfer Students

In the days of my youth, May marked the recurrence of a spring rite familiar to those who grew up in the “Rock Era.” Someone would crank up the volume, and out would come the blaring vocals of that maestro of the macabre, Alice Cooper: “School’s out for summer! School’s out forever!”

Forever?! For students at your institution, hopefully not. You want your newly admitted students to actually enroll. You need your current undergraduates to return. And, you need all of them to keep on returning – steadily returning, toward an on-time graduation. If significant numbers of new or existing students choose not to do that, your ability to meet enrollment, retention and graduation goals can quickly erode. When that happens, fiscal stability and institutional viability may soon be in jeopardy.

Of course you can’t possibly identify or control all of the myriad factors that may impact a student’s decision about whether or not to enroll or return. But, there is one aspect of internal operations that may be a highly influential factor in the minds of many in an important segment of your student population: transfers.

If I’m a student considering transferring from another institution to yours, I may very well be evaluating other schools in the area. And, I am likely to have my college transcript – possibly multiple transcripts – sent to several institutions. If your institution makes me wait weeks or months before letting me know which credits it will accept, while your competitor lets me know in less than a week, maybe within a day, guess where I’m likely to enroll?

Or, let’s say I’m a current student, signing up for and taking classes while my transfer transcript sits near the bottom of the to-be-evaluated pile. Months after I complete the required Chemistry 135 course at my new school, the Registrar’s Office informs me that I have just been awarded credit for an equivalent course from my previous institution. Great! Thanks for the degree-delaying redundancy – not to mention the squandering of financial aid dollars I used on this inadvertently repeated course.

Why do these enrollment-threatening, retention-undermining delays continue to occur at many institutions? Typically, it’s because of manual, paper-intensive processes. Staffers are forced to manually enter semester, course and grade data from paper transcripts into the student information system and/or degree audit system. And, even when transcript data and documents are coming in electronically, there can be slowdowns downstream, as a lack of automation prevents course exceptions (i.e., those not already identified for articulation) from being efficiently routed for faculty review and approval.

So, look to bring on ECM (enterprise content management)-driven capabilities for greatly reducing, if not eliminating, the manual grind. If you don’t, your institution will remain vulnerable to the very real fiscal consequences of missed goals for enrollment, retention and graduation. To further encourage you to take that hard, honest appraisal of your current approaches to handling transfer transcripts and credits, I offer a final cautionary scenario – an all too common one:

This time I’m that adult learner who has moved around a lot, experienced career changes and, along the way, attended many different institutions. Even though I’m still juggling a couple of part-time jobs, I’m intending to buckle down and finally complete my degree. Now a term or two into my program at your school, I’m struggling to figure out just how far I am from completing the degree requirements. I keep waiting for you to tell me which courses will be counted from the five transcripts I’ve submitted.

I keep waiting. And waiting. Eventually, no one notices as I drift off and look for a new full-time job. In an ironic yet apt echoing of Alice Cooper’s impulse to abandon the life of the mind, my decision in this case is a “no brainer.”

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