The Fight Against Declining Enrollment

declining enrollment

Each year, new groups of prospective students make their way onto your campus, and each department is a piece to the puzzle of a student enrolling, engaging and graduating prepared for the future.

At Texas Tech University (TTU), Recreational Sports plays a key role in helping recruit students during pre-enrollment and recruitment programs by partnering with other campus departments. Some pre-enrollment programs and activities include:

  • Attending transfer events, and all state and regional Red Raider Roadshows where staff travel to represent programs on campus to promote engagement with prospective students and their family members.
  • Making the Student Recreation Center a highlighted stop on all admission teams tours.
  • Working closely with athletics to coordinate information sessions for prospective student-athletes and their family members to learn about the breadth of programs and services.
  • Offering the Red Raider Orientation program to provide dedicated fitness and recreation programs and activities to enrolled students and their parents while on campus for the two-day event.

“We are illustrating our value to prospective students and parents that today’s employer is prioritizing the out-of-classroom experiences and skills of leadership, developing healthy lifestyle behaviors, work/life balance, and the ability to develop positive relationships, as importantly as the technical skills of education learned in the classroom,” said Eric Maki, the managing director of Recreational Sports at TTU.

To further illustrate his department’s value, Maki also listed the post-enrollment programs and services offered to students:

  • Partnering with first-generation student programs and services to introduce them to what is available through Recreational Sports.
  • Partnering with fraternity and sorority life in helping to build healthy programs and services aimed at educating their members on elements of healthy competition.
  • Providing a diverse lineup of outdoor travel classes, high on education and fun, and low on cost and commitment.
  • Through sport club organizations, building a sense of community and support for students as peers.
  • Employing over 400 undergraduate students to help them gain income to assist with monthly expenses, learn how to work as members of a team, gain valuable experience in leadership roles, etc.

Another recruitment and retention strategy to consider is researching and offering programs students want to participate in. For example, a trending program in recreation is esports.

“We know prospective students are beginning to choose college campuses based on their esports facilities and programs,” said Nick Froelich, the director of CENTERS at Cleveland State University (CSU). “Currently, we have five esports clubs — including Super Smash Brothers, Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League and, most recently, Apex Legends — with over 150 student participants. I believe facilitation of these programs through our department is making a significant contribution to recruitment and retention at CSU.”   

Texas Tech

The Women’s Night program at Texas Tech.

Looking toward the future, Froelich intends to keep with the esports theme, having already participated in a number of conversations with university administrators to try to create a dedicated esports facility.

“Ideally, this space would be located within the recreation center to support an ever-growing CSU student population through open recreation play, intramural participation and sport club competition,” said Froelich. “The diverse programs and services our department offers allows students to assimilate into the campus community, which brings a feeling of pride and a sense of belonging. This is an important contributing factor in students choosing to remain enrolled, and with it, Campus Recreation has its place in fighting declining enrollment.”

While offering specific programs and activities is essential for recruitment and retention, one simple way to begin the fight against declining enrollment is to start at the source of the problem: summer melt.

Summer melt is described as the scenario of high school graduates who apply to college, get accepted, plan to enroll and then don’t. This leads to the question, “What happens to these students during the summer?”

To reduce summer melt, Texas A&M University-Commerce is planning to start school in July this year for first-time, full-time students via the Rising Lion program. The program  will provide the full college experience with intramurals, fitness and outdoor activities. Recreation’s role will include opening their facility with fall hours during the summer, instead of having reduced summer hours.

“We’re looking at offering all of our intramural sports, group fitness classes and outdoor trips — anything we would normally offer in the fall semester — we’re looking at making sure we have enough to offer these students,” said Autumn Johnson, the director of Campus Recreation at Texas A&M.

Texas A&M Commerce

Texas A&M Commerce offers paddle board clinics for students.

In collaboration with this program, many departments on campus are contributing to reduce summer melt, especially in areas where students have expressed the most concern. “One of the main concerns students have about starting school early is having a summer job because they need to make money,” said Johnson. “So we are changing the time frame of some of our hiring cycles to accommodate employing these first-time, full-time freshmen into job opportunities where they can work on campus.”

Also for these employees, Texas A&M plans to increase retention by using the same platform as academic advisors to track student success with EAB software. This software helps track and predict student success on the campus, and also helps predict if a student is at risk for failing or leaving the university.

Johnson said they use this program for two reasons. “One is to track discipline of our student employees and the other is helping to set up our evaluations,” she explained. “It’s also really great to be able to see exactly what classes our students are enrolled in, what their GPA is, and what their struggles are with professors or academic advisors so we can support our students and reach out to them as a network.”

Overall, when it comes to fighting declining enrollment through campus rec, the goal is to illustrate value in all areas. “Departments must continue to help show all the value of a holistic educational experience, and showcase how through the classroom, and out of classroom experience, our universities better prepare students to become personally and professionally successful,” said Maki. 

Brittany Howard
Brittany is an assistant editor at Peake Media. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com

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