Attracting and graduating a talented and high-achieving student body
Enroll, Retain, and Graduate at High Rates an Even More Talented and Accomplished Student Body
During the next decade, the demographics of the college-going population will change dramatically. Students will come in increased numbers from around the world to complete undergraduate study in the United States, the high school population in Lycoming’s traditional areas of strength will shrink, and first generation students of color from urban areas will emerge as the fastest growing segment of the college-bound population. Lycoming College is developing strategies and tactics that respond to the demographic changes taking place in the college-going population.
The very best national liberal arts colleges enroll students who are drawn from across the globe and reflect the full mosaic of the American population. This commitment occurs because the higher education community has learned that students with diverse backgrounds enhance the learning environment. There is also considerable evidence that high-talent students of all backgrounds desire to attend a college with a diverse student body. To become more like the very best colleges, Lycoming needs to enroll a more global and ethnically diverse student body.
Through implementation of some of the initiatives outlined below Lycoming College enrolled in the fall of 2014 the most ethnically- and globally-diverse cohort in the College’s history. It is important that we build upon this progress.
The very best liberal arts colleges also graduate in four years more than 80 percent of the students who enroll as freshmen. Lycoming’s four-year graduation rate now falls below 60 percent, and we will aim to raise it above 70 percent by 2019. The first step in this regard is improving first-to-second year retention rates, which we will raise to a three-moving average of 85 percent or higher by 2020.
We anticipate that the strategies and tactics designed to enhance academic excellence, build a distinctive residential environment and launch graduates into careers of significance will impact positively upon both recruitment and retention.
One particularly strong step toward increasing first-to-second year retention rates is already underway as the Faculty has adopted a universal first-year seminar program. Higher education research suggests strongly that this seminar program is likely to spur an increase in retention and graduation rates. In addition, we anticipate that the residential first-year seminar program will be an asset in recruiting a strong and diverse student body.
Lycoming College will undergo exciting demographic transformations within the student body as our international recruitment, urban access initiatives, and academic excellence strategies are implemented. These efforts will create a more globally- and ethnic/racially- diverse student population and a more academically talented student body. As the College enters this period of transition in relation to student recruitment, several challenges will arise pertaining to retention and graduation. First, Lycoming has been a predominantly white institution, and it will be important that we build a more inclusive culture. Second, the College must make investments to ensure that all students can reach their potential.
Finally, analysis of retention data suggests that financial stresses currently have a negative impact upon retention and graduation rates at Lycoming. In addition, in 2014, the predictive enrollment model also showed that the College needed to increase our average financial aid package in order to enroll the desired number of freshmen. To achieve our enrollment and retention goals, we must take steps to reduce the average debt load of students enrolling in and graduating from Lycoming. These steps begin with the aid packages offered by the College and extend through programs for debt reduction and relief in the senior year and beyond.
Strategy 1: Establish a centralized coordinated marketing function
During the 2013 fall semester, the Trustee Marketing Committee recommended that the College develop a stronger marketing capacity. Developing this capacity is essential for the College to leverage its points of distinction, areas of national leadership, cost advantages, and features that place us among the best. We must take steps both to communicate that Lycoming is among the very best liberal arts institutions and highlight our points of distinction for prospective students, their parents, our alumni, and donors.
Hire an Executive Director of Marketing and Communication.(This step was accomplished in July 2014.)
Reorganize the marketing functions currently located across campus offices, including Admissions, Development, Public Relations, and Sports Information.
Partner with an external firm to develop a brand story and messaging for marketing Lycoming to prospective students.
Develop and implement an integrated institutional marketing plan.
Strategy 2: Adopt a global enrollment initiative designed to attract talented students from multiple countries
Hire an international recruiter. (This step was accomplished during fall 2013.)
Increase enrollment from China while maintaining enrollment from Vietnam.
Identify two additional countries as targets for enrolling five or more students annually.
Explore exchange agreements and partnerships with international universities.
Strategy 3: Enroll a student body that reflects the full diversity of the College-going population in the United States
The student body at Lycoming College remains more homogeneous than those found at many of our comparison and aspirant institutions. Nearly four-fifths of the students come from Pennsylvania (60 percent), New Jersey, New York and Maryland. In addition, as of September 2013, our student body included comparatively small percentages of both students of color and higher income students. During the course of this Strategic Plan, we will take intentional steps to increase the percentage of students from outside the immediate region, students of color, and students from higher income families.
Tactic: Establish partnerships with high achieving charter schools and proven access organizations so as to recruit high performing students from urban areas and disadvantaged populations.
By January 2015, the College will have established partnerships with KIPP, YES PREP, SAY YES TO EDUCATION, THE NOBEL CHARTER SCHOOLS and COLLEG TRACK
During the next two decades, many of the high performing students in the college-going populations will come from urban populations that have been historically underrepresented at Lycoming College. Recruiting this population is both consistent with the institution’s mission and makes strategic sense. Part of the College’s historic mission has been to serve as a place of opportunity that opens doors for students who come from modest backgrounds. In addition, as indicated by the federal government’s proposal for “ranking” colleges, in the future excellence among colleges will in part be defined by the institution’s success in recruiting and graduating students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education.
Tactic: The Vice President for Enrollment Management will lead a work team to explore and recommend steps to enroll more students from higher income families with the capacity to pay for a substantial percentage of the cost of a Lycoming education.
Strategy 4: Improve the profile of the student body by enrolling more high-achieving students
The introduction to this section noted that the strategies and tactics designed to enhance academic excellence, build a distinctive residential environment, and launch graduates into careers of significance will impact positively upon both recruitment and retention. They should be especially effective in strengthening our ability to recruit high-achieving students because we know that this type of student looks for high impact learning experiences, an engaging residential environment and evidence of an institutional commitment to success in life after college. For example, the announcement of the Lynn Science Center has already produced an uptick in enrollment of prospective students interested in the physical sciences.
In addition to these investments, we will undertake the following tactics in support of the strategy of enrolling more high-achieving students:
Tactic: Develop an early decision option.
Tactic: Develop scholarships that target specific majors.
Tactic: Develop scholarships that include guaranteed stipends for travel, research or other projects.
Tactic: Study the implications of deploying financial aid so as to maximize the probability of enrolling students with secondary GPA’s between 3.1 and 3.6.
High achieving students are also attracted by opportunities to pursue the most prestigious post-graduate opportunities such as the Rhodes, Fulbright, Goldwater and a number of others.
Tactic: Task the Committee on Post Graduate Scholarships and Fellowships with establishing a more aggressive early mentoring program for those students who are well positioned to be competitive applicants to prestigious, post-graduate scholarships and fellowships such as the Fulbright, Rhodes and Goldwater.
Strategy 5: Construct a new admissions house or welcome center.
The first impression of the campus developed by prospective students and their families significantly impacts the recruitment process. Lycoming College currently lags behind many of its competitor schools in this regard. The Drum Admissions House, while certainly a beautiful historic building, has several drawbacks as the arrival point for prospective students, including its location along Washington Boulevard, the absence of dedicated parking and the lack of meeting rooms for admission presentations. A new admissions house or welcome center located in a strategic area of campus would be a valuable addition to the campus.
Tactic: After completion of a campus master plan, convene a group of trustees and administrators led by the President to study options and recommend a course of action.
Strategy 6: Consider diversifying the population of student athletes by expanding the total number of athletic teams
Lycoming has a proud tradition of Division III athletic accomplishments, and we can also boast that more than one-third of the student body participates in varsity athletics. At the same time, however, we have been heavily reliant upon athletic recruitment to meet enrollment goals. In particular, coaches of teams with large rosters (such as football, soccer, and swimming) have been encouraged or expected to enroll large entering classes. In some cases, the size of the entering classes has led to rosters that are larger than desirable with a corresponding negative impact upon retention.
One approach could be the establishment of additional varsity sports teams. There may be club sports that could be expanded to the inter-collegiate competitive level or currently under-invested varsity-level sports that would allow for stronger recruitment for an expanded and more competitive roster.
Tactic: Establish a task force to make recommendations about additional sports.
Strategy 7: Develop a center to promote the academic achievement of all students
The Academic Resource Center and Writing Center are currently located on the third floor of the Snowden Library. This location both limits traffic flow and makes it difficult to include the centers in the admission tours. The College and its students would benefit from an enhanced center to promote academic achievement in a more visible location.
Tactic: As part of the master plan, determine the best location for a center to promote academic excellence.
Tactic: Add a Math Center to complement the Writing Center. This step will be implemented in fall 2015.
Tactic: Establish mentoring programs that focus specifically on at-risk and first- generation students.
Tactic: Assign the coordination of services for students with learning, physical, and psychological disabilities within the center for academic achievement
Strategy 8: Study the need for a summer bridge program to help at-risk students make a more successful transition to college
Numerous scholarly studies of factors affecting the transition to college have identified factors that make it more likely that a student will withdraw prior to the beginning of the second year. Summer bridge programs have been shown to be effective in mitigating this likelihood for some at-risk students.
Tactic: Initiate a study of at-risk students and make a recommendation as to whether a summer bridge program is likely to have a positive impact upon retention.
Strategy 9: Develop programs and offices that respond to the interests and needs of all students
The College’s philosophy statement states: “the college is committed to promoting racial inclusiveness, gender equality and an appreciation of cultural diversity.” Accordingly, it is important that this Strategic Plan set forth our vision for realizing this statement of values. The College currently has several student organizations designed to promote a sense of inclusion among their members and understanding of different cultures across the broader campus community. The College recently created a new position, Associate Dean of Students, with job duties to include service to the international students and diverse domestic populations
At the same time, some of the offices that serve the residential needs of all students are scattered around campus. The scattered arrangement of these offices makes less visible the support that the College provides, and there is some evidence in the scholarly literature that this approach can negatively impact both recruitment and retention.
Tactic: Provide more visible signs of that the College is an inclusive institution welcoming to all students, faculty, and staff and more administrative support to students from diverse backgrounds.
Tactic: Consider consolidating student support services in a single location. This idea will also be studied as part of the process for creating a campus master and facilities use plan.
Tactic: Take steps to make the campus friendlier to students with mobility limitations.
Strategy 10: Institute programs designed to reduce the debt load of Lycoming students
Retention data indicates that sixteen percent of students who depart Lycoming do so primarily for financial reasons. For that reason, we should develop initiatives designed to ensure that our financial aid policies and practices do not, within what is reasonable, negatively impact retention and graduation rates.
Tactic: Fully implement the Trustee Retention and Debt Reduction Fund.
Tactic: Develop means of communicating to students and their families both external scholarship possibilities and loan forgiveness programs such as Teach for America and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.