What’s next when it comes to recruitment and retention

May 15, 2023

Enrollment Management leaders share a few key initiatives and takeaways from the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan — and an update about the trends they are seeing regarding fall enrollment.

Photo of students on campus

College professors, support staff and campus administration know that students are more than a number — they are leaders, learners, researchers and mentors. But to make sure UM-Dearborn stays competitive and offers a quality education, meeting enrollment each semester is a necessary reality to manage a balanced budget.

“In higher education circles, there is understandable concern around the enrollment cliff,” said Vice Provost of Strategic Enrollment Management Melissa Stone. “I want to let people know that while there are challenges to address, the campus is well positioned to manage through these.” Stone said a draft SEM Plan, released in February 2023, was an important first step in developing a holistic understanding of UM-Dearborn’s enrollment environment and developing strategies that are goal-oriented, actionable, measurable and aligned with UM-Dearborn’s Go BluePrint for Success Strategic Plan

 “We appreciate the campus feedback to date and we’re excited to move into the next phase and continue to work collaboratively across campus to execute the plan,” said Stone. “This living document brings faculty, staff and administrators onto the same page and unites our current and future efforts around recruitment, retention and student success.”

The plan has been updated in response to feedback from the campus community over recent months. A new SEM Plan Executive Summary has also been finalized and provides a broad overview of the plan. The plan will be executed, with guidance by the SEM Executive Committee, in conjunction with existing committees and governance. Stone said the campus is encouraged to stay engaged, as achieving enrollment goals requires everyone’s commitment to executing impactful change. 

Stone recently discussed some of the key initiatives in the plan, the different student population needs and some initiatives moving forward. Urana Pridemore, director of undergraduate enrollment, and Trista Wdziekonski, executive director, graduate enrollment management, also provided comments for this story.

First-year students need to know what makes UM-Dearborn different. 

Looking at UM-Dearborn’s numbers over a 10-year span, first-year student enrollment has remained relatively stable. But the number of students who are college ready and seeing the value of a college degree will continue to challenge the university’s first-year recruitment. 

Stone said prospective first-year students want to see for themselves what sets UM-Dearborn apart. The best way to do that is to showcase that they are earning a Michigan degree and having impactful experiences — like practice-based learning courses (classes with active engagement and industry-based learning outcomes) and undergraduate research opportunities.  Sharing success stories from current students or recent graduates that highlight why they should choose UM-Dearborn over competitors is an important message and a key component of the plan. 

A critical strategy in the SEM Plan is developing, in conjunction with colleges and faculty, enhanced and customized campus experiences — like tours and events — that highlight PBL, research and the more personalized and supportive experience students receive on our campus.

The plan also emphasizes the importance of developing a 21st century non-residential experience, as defined in the strategic plan, while still highlighting other campus experiences students can leverage at UM-Ann Arbor, such as offering free season football tickets to the incoming first-year class. These are key components to showing students they can have a more engaging classroom experience while still accessing other exciting extracurricular activities, Stone said.

The plan also calls for engaging with high school students earlier and specifically identifies programs that have a unique dual enrollment initiative, like one with Detroit Public Schools that’s in the works. Under that initiative, students will be able to earn an undergraduate certificate while in high school. 

The plan also highlights a new college-ready program with Dearborn Heights School District No. 7 that begins to work with students as they enter high school. “These are just the beginning of what we envision as new exciting partnerships we will be developing with even more high schools across our region,” Stone said.

Transfer students want seamless admission pathways.

At one time, 50% of UM-Dearborn’s new undergraduates each year were transfer students. Over the last decade, that number has dropped significantly, with only 35% this past year.

Urana Pridemore, director of undergraduate enrollment, pointed to a couple reasons for this change — and then shared some ways the SEM Plan addresses each.

Pridemore said community colleges where UM-Dearborn students typically transfer from have seen declining enrollment — for example, Wayne County Community College went from 55,705 students during the 2017-18 academic year to 25,582 students in 2021-22. 

UM-Dearborn's top partner, Henry Ford College, experienced a less significant drop (from 19,004 to 16,524) during the same time period. This still impacts the transfer pipeline and requires the university to focus more intentionally on transfer recruitment to rebuild transfer enrollment knowing there are fewer students, Pridemore said.

To reach the students who do want to transfer, the SEM Plan calls for simplifying the process and building on community college transfer partnerships that have been recently created or are in the works. One example is Henry Ford College and UM-Dearborn’s Learn4ward to a Michigan Degree, a program that takes the guesswork out of transferring and helps alleviate concerns over college acceptance, transfer credits and tuition costs. Learn4ward is a part of Destination Dearborn, UM-Dearborn’s overarching initiative for transfer students from two-year colleges that provides enhanced academic advising, increased financial aid, career-ready resources and more.

The plan also calls for better aligning staff. Recognizing that transfers have unique needs, the SEM Plan includes a strategy to institute staff focused specifically on transfer recruitment to help the university regain the transfer pipeline. 

Domestic graduate student recruitment will expand — and recommendations from two key working groups addressing international student needs are forthcoming. 

Trista Wdziekonski, executive director of graduate enrollment management, said that while international graduate student numbers reached record highs in 2022-23, much of this was due to pent up demand caused by pandemic-related influence. She noted, “As the world adjusts to our new post-pandemic normal and international students consider all their options, we are seeing how markets and the global economy are shifting and if this rebound can be sustained on our campus. We must continue to be welcoming and meet the needs of this important segment of our graduate enrollment.” To help with this, an International Student Services work group led by Office of International Affairs Director Francisco Lopez has been charged with identifying gaps in international student support services and exploring solutions for how we can address them in the future.

Directly related, a Housing and Transportation Workgroup, co-led by Business Affairs Lead Business Officer Marc Brigolin and Wdziekonski, is currently considering how to better systematically support roommate and affordable housing connections. They are also addressing transportation issues that arise when students do not have vehicles in a limited public transportation setting.  Providing housing and accessible transportation options helps with recruitment, builds a better community for all students and creates a stronger connection to UM-Dearborn overall. 

Stone said volatility will always play a part in international student recruitment, so the plan calls for more intentional efforts around domestic graduate student recruitment and enrollment. This includes considering strategies for rebuilding the graduate pipeline in southeast Michigan and meeting the needs of local industries. The plan also identifies an opportunity to leverage UM-Dearborn’s online graduate programs and certificates outside of the state. Assessing graduate pricing and discount strategies is another strategy.

To keep students on a graduation path, they may need to be connected with support services.

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress scores demonstrated a national decline in performance in mathematics and reading. Due to factors that include a pandemic-related learning gap, more students are coming out of high school without the education needed to be college ready. The SEM Plan identifies this as an area to continue to monitor and assess.  Looking at overall state data last year, only 28% of students were considered college-ready based on SAT scores.

Stone said many of the initiatives launched from the strategic plan’s student experience and success efforts were designed to keep our students on a path to graduation and help students gain better access to academic, financial and personal support. “The campus is dedicated to student success — but we will likely continue to see an ever greater need. It will be necessary to continually assess to ensure we are advocates for our students and their needs to help them reach their goals while also working toward the university’s goals.”  

A new initiative in the works is ensuring space on campus reflects student needs and gives them easy access to critical support and experiences. A working group led by Dean of Students Amy Finley and Executive Director of Facilities Operations Carol Glick is helping to re-imagine the space in the Renick University Center and Mardigian Library to develop best-in-class service around academic, administrative and high-impact practices to support recruitment and retention.

Other ways the campus community can help with recruitment and retention? Share good things that are happening at UM-Dearborn with friends and family, ask students if they need help when they appear to have difficulty finding an office or classroom, connect students to the right office if your office doesn’t house the services they are seeking, and submit an Early Warning Program form if a student is struggling in class. The Early Warning System, which is included in the SEM Plan, is designed for faculty to communicate with Academic Advising and the Office of Academic Success so struggling students get help before it impacts their college experience.

 In closing, let’s share some good news.

Looking to Fall 2023, Stone said UM-Dearborn is seeing positive trends regarding applications and deposits — particularly, we’re up in undergraduate admits and deposits over this time last year. Stone said this is good news, and if these trends continue will result in a strong undergraduate enrollment number.

In addition, Stone said it will take multiple years and sustained campus commitment to new and innovative strategies to meet our Strategic Enrollment KPIs — but she said her team, and the campus community as a whole, are up to the challenge. “The SEM plan is meant to help us align time and resources by developing a shared vision of the most  impactful initiatives to support the success of current and future students, and I look forward to collaborating across campus to help execute the plan to meet our enrollment goals,” she said. 

Want to know more? Visit the SEM Plan website. Have feedback or questions? Reach out to [email protected].  Look for future updates in the Enrollment Management Newsletter that will be issued a couple of times each semester and will provide updates and progress on the SEM plan.