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What Makes A College Successful In 2022?

by Ardis Kadiu · Jun 13, 2022

Recently, U.S. News & World Report published an article about colleges on the rise meant to highlight trends among colleges that seem to be thriving during an otherwise bleak season.

It's no secret that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges are suffering. Many are feeling the repercussions of declining enrollment, the Great Resignation, and a general distrust of the value of a college degree.

So what is it that is setting apart some colleges and helping them thrive in the ever-changing landscape? (Hint: It's not the ones trying to keep afloat by doing business as usual.)

College student smiling and holding a tablet.

Removing Barriers to Student Success

There are 1 million fewer students in college today than before the pandemic began and the most successful schools are doing something about it by removing barriers to enrollment and retention.

Implementing mobile-friendly applications or removing essay requirements are helping to speed up the application process for students who may otherwise get confused or overwhelmed. And standardized-testing scores, which do not paint a thorough picture of a student, have been required less and less by schools nationwide.

We've seen this benefit partner schools like Southeast Missouri State University which went test-optional and experienced a 13% increase in applications from 2020-to 2021.

A group of students sitting on the grass, looking at a computer screen and smiling.

This means students have fewer application barriers and, therefore, more incentive to seek higher education. But colleges can't stop at the application stage. Today's students are different. They have new expectations and views around higher education and the workforce.

The institutions that succeed are the ones that will consider the needs of today's students by offering non-traditional degrees, certificates, credit for work experience, and similar options.

The unifying thread behind the removal of these barriers is the goal of creating what The Chronicle of Higher Ed calls a “seamless online student experience” that meets students where they are, increases collaboration among campuses, cuts through the clutter, and personalizes the support.

Focusing on Equity and Social Mobility

Mamie Voight, president, and CEO of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, noted that colleges focused on breaking the traditional barriers that have long kept underrepresented students under-served have had more success in retaining students and even re-engaging dropouts.

The most successful institutions are foregoing long-held higher ed policies and making every effort to ensure students who have earned degrees receive them. More robust fulfillment practices mean that some colleges are going back and auditing student degrees so students who meet requirements receive their degrees even if they are missing paperwork or have account holds.

These schools are using data for the sake of equity. This is just one of the ways we're seeing the use of AI as a means to unbias higher ed.

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While many might cite enrollment trends, the American Association of Colleges and Universities focuses on increases in graduation rates, social mobility, and the closing of equity gaps. In addition, we pay attention to curricular innovation; access for all students to High Impact Practices, such as internships, first-year seminars, undergraduate research, and study abroad; and the implementation of holistic advising. —U.S. News & World Report
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Others like partner institution Rivet School are helping adults complete their degrees with one-on-one support in accelerated time frames to get into the workforce quickly and earn a paycheck sooner.

As the landscape of higher ed changes, so is the demographic of the average student. Experts predict that the next generation of college students will be low-income and from traditionally underrepresented cultural groups. This means that it will be crucial for more schools to adopt similar equitable practices to increase the social mobility of their students.

A Well Rounded Institution

Today's students aren't satisfied with a school just because it offers their intended major. A truly successful school must provide a robust set of achievements to meet the standards of its students.

For example, Gen-Z students want to know their schools make a difference. They expect that professors are publishing necessary research, that the college is engaging the community through volunteer work or philanthropy, and that the school is reinvesting in the physical campus. Adult learners may want more proof of a direct pipeline from degree to career with a robust career services department or student testimonials.

Students drive today's enrollment and retention process and today's students have come to expect much more. Telling your institution's story in a student-centered way is the only way to stand out among schools that will continue to rely on tactics that worked a decade ago.

The old way of doing business is gone and the new way is here. Are you ready to innovate?

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