Faced with higher education’s impending demographic cliff, leaders from the College of Extended & International Education at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) needed to begin thinking creatively about how to maintain steady enrollment.
With recent data suggesting that over 39 million Americans have attended college without earning a degree or other credentials, they knew it made sense to pursue this market. They decided to begin at the micro level: reengaging their own non-degreed students via a compassionate re–enrollment initiative.
Hearing Stories from Non-Degreed Students
“We discovered there was a whole segment of people who had started at our university with the best intentions and stopped out or dropped out for various reasons,” recalled J. Kim McNutt, Dean of CSUDH, during a recent MindMax Mixer.
The university hosted a listening tour in December 2021, inviting non-degreed former students to the school’s Southern California auditorium to share their experiences. “There were about 10-15 brave people who accepted the invitation and came to tell their story,” said Kim.
The stories were heartbreaking. One woman had a baby, lost her job, and was practically living out of her car while raising a child, all at a very young age. Others shared stories about divorce or having to drop everything to take care of aging parents in addition to their young children. In short, life had gotten in the way.
They were burdened with the shame of not achieving their goal, and some almost didn’t show up because they were so embarrassed. Most of the students wanted to return to CSUDH and complete their degrees, but there were obstacles standing in their way: they didn’t have the means to do so, or they felt they didn’t fit into the traditional categories of first-time freshmen or transfer students.
CSUDH knew they had an imperative to meet these former students where they were.
Once a Toro, Always a Toro
“We realized we needed to reengage these students,” said Kim. So in partnership with MindMax, CSUDH launched the Once a Toro, Always a Toro re-engagement program with the goal of “fast-tracking returning students’ reentry, providing seamless re-enrollment, and waiving application fees.”
The first step was to create a simple one-page reengagement form and begin targeting former students. The form was easy enough to fill out; however, for the initiative to be successful, CSUDH had to go a step further and make it easy for students to return. Many were boxed out of reenrollment due to minor infractions such as unpaid library fees or on-campus parking tickets.
“We wanted to be the university of no hassles,” explained Kim. “We came up with the initial reengagement form and basically said to former students, ‘Hey, come back, and we’ll help you navigate everything: financial aid, admission, signing up for classes, getting set up with an advisor. We’ll help you get back on track.’”
Leveraging MindMax’s marketing and enrollment management services, CSUDH launched the initiative smoothly. MindMax’s enrollment services specialists found that when they reached out to former students throughout the campaign, the students were incredibly appreciative of being offered a second chance.
Still, this was the first time CSUDH had launched such a campaign, and they had to be agile enough to pivot their approach as needed. For instance, they had planned to lead former students to enroll in standard degree completion programs, such as the Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership Studies (OLS) program. However, they found that most students wanted to finish the degrees they had started—in social work, art, philosophy, and other areas that interested them.
“We had to take a step back, pause, and think about how this isn’t a monolithic group. We couldn’t just force them all into one program,” said Kim. “This discovery created more challenges for us. But ultimately, we want to help these students finish the degree they started.”
If your college or university is interested in launching your own compassionate re-enrollment campaign, MindMax is here to support you with higher education marketing and enrollment management services. Contact us today to start the conversation.