Regular blog readers know that the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) is currently steering a pilot program called the “Diversity Summit.” The program kicked off in February with a workshop for select schools from the Convergence College Network (CCN) community of practice. Each participating school sent three attendees – an instructor, an advisor, and an administrator – to learn best practices for recruiting and retaining under-served populations. At the two-day workshop, group of experts from across the country made presentations and mentored the teams in developing a customized action plan to take back to their programs and implement. The National CTC is providing a small stipend to support those efforts.
But it’s not just about the activities. The team action plans put a great deal of focus on data and evidence. In other words, it’s not enough to simply hold new recruiting events or pursue new retention strategies. The schools must prove that their “Diversity Summit” plan worked by keeping careful track of enrollment numbers. The hope is that by showing these action plans succeeded in raising enrollment numbers for underserved populations, school administrators might consider continuing the strategies by replacing the National CTC’s one-time stipend with institutional hard money.
Seven months later, the teams are all well along in implementing their action plans and recently gathered together for a quarterly web meeting to share successes and challenges. Below is a short summary of the kinds of strategies they’re pursuing.
- Improving internal systems. Tracking student progress and student completion can be a complex, confusing job that involves multiple departments and systems. As a result, students don’t always know how close they are to earning which certificate or degree. One team created a new in-house process to better monitor student progress and keep them informed, thereby improving the likelihood that they will complete.
- Outreach to local high schools. More than one team seeks to develop new relationships and recruiting pathways with local high schools, but they’ve learned it’s not always easy. Those teams with long-established, productive relationships with high schools report that it took time to develop.
- Persistent follow-up with students. This includes both follow-up after recruiting events to get a student enrolled (one school supplemented e-mails with a custom robo-call service) and also “intrusive advising” strategies that regularly checks in with students once they’re enrolled. For example, one team will soon be launching a lunch series that connects students with faculty members for career advising and program counseling. Many studies show that these kinds of personal connections between the school and the student improve classroom success. Students need to feel that they are more than just a statistic or a name on the grade sheet.
- Pursuing existing students. Several teams are recruiting from the pool of students they already have at their school. Some teams are reaching out to students who haven’t yet picked a career path (i.e. the “undecideds”), some are contacting students who took a few classes and then dropped out, and some are pursuing students who didn’t get into the program of their choice. This last category was a big topic of discussion at the February event. Specifically, one of the presenters talked about recruiting female students into IT who may not have gotten into a nursing or health sciences program. The idea is to frame IT as a career of problem-solving and helping people like medical fields.
- Redesigning marketing material to be more inclusive. This was featured in several of the February in-person presentations. Many of the teams are updating print materials, websites, and even course descriptions with an eye to making sure they’re not aimed at just a single population. This can mean more diversity in the student imagery or a change in how careers and classes are presented since what appeals to female students may not be the same as what appeals to male students. Similarly, one school has implemented new classroom exercises in entry-level courses that promote inclusion in the hopes of keeping students enrolled and increasing retention rates.
- Using role models at recruiting events. Whether it’s guest speakers, business representatives, or “student ambassadors,” it’s important that recruiting events feature people that look like the underserved population being targeted. The teams looking to boost Latino enrollment, for example, are trying to incorporate their existing Latino students into their recruiting events.