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Student Growth Has a 20.4% Increase

Richard Bland College’s Approach to Student Success Leads to Increased Enrollment

During a time when year-over-year enrollment in higher education has declined, Richard Bland College of William & Mary (BRC) has bucked the trend by experiencing a 20.4% increase.

Justin May, chief officer of enrollment management, credited RBC’s focus on relationships.

“We’ve redesigned the application process to be more customer-centric and less transactional,” May explained. “Calling a prospective student the same day. Making an acceptance decision within 48 hours.”

May said just as a company like Amazon offers customers updates on the status of a product’s delivery, RBC involves candidates during each step, from confirmation of the application’s receipt and review to conversations about individual needs.

“It’s about showing them they can do it and believe in themselves,” May said. “We are giving applications more care. We reach out to prospective students to ensure they understand the process and how we can accommodate them with financial aid and help with other challenges they may face, certainly including but not limited to COVID.”

According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), postsecondary institutions have lost nearly 1.3 million students since the spring of 2020 when the novel coronavirus began; colleges and universities have experienced a 4.7% decline in undergraduates this spring from the spring 2021 semester. The NSCRC expects to release numbers for fall 2022 later this week.

President Debbie L. Sydow, Ph.D., attributed RBC’s growth to the culture on campus.

“With the pandemic now behind us, the RBC team has rolled out the red carpet to welcome students back to campus,” she said. “At RBC, students are always our first priority, and everything we do reflects that core value. Our students thrive in RBC’s ‘one size fits one’ environment.”

She went on to say, “RBC is always mindful that students have many options when it comes to choosing a college, so our team goes the extra mile to ensure that prospective students know exactly what RBC has to offer. We want students to find the perfect college fit, and for many students there is no better fit than RBC. Every student at RBC is unique, and we work hard to ensure that their educational experience is personalized.”

One way RBC has been able to identify students most interested in its programs and boost enrollment is by working closely with counselors at school systems.

“Our strategies are the same, but we’ve worked to tighten relationships with those counselors,” said May. “They are trusted advisors. We strengthened our relationships with them with more frequent visits and by hosting more events, like lunches, on campus.”

Expanded email marketing about new initiatives, an effort May called ‘information campaigns,’ also helped counselors refer qualified students to RBC.

Further, there has been a focus on hiring additional staff members for programs like Promise Scholars, which offers College of William & Mary (W&M) courses and guaranteed transfer to Virginia residents who are high-performing and eligible for a Pell Grant; it has allowed RBC to recruit individuals who are most committed to their education. The most recent incoming Promise Scholar class is the largest since the program’s inception.

“These are the students who aren’t applying because everyone else is doing it,” May described. “They’re doing it for the right reason. They know what they are getting into, and they will persist. That naturally leads to increased enrollment, happiness and higher graduation rates.”

Financial fallout from the pandemic caused many institutions of higher learning to raise their tuition, but Sydow said RBC has taken great strides to mitigate student loan debt.

“Cost matters, so to keep college affordable RBC has not increased tuition since 2017. Today’s students also want to know that what they learn in college is going to translate to real job skills. RBC has entered into partnerships with business and industry partners to ensure that students have the option to ‘earn and learn’ on the job, then move directly into living wage jobs.”

One of those opportunities is the Central Virginia Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), which RBC launched during the spring 2021 semester. FAME students earn their associates degree over two years while immersing themselves in paid on-the-job training.

Programs like FAME advanced RBC’s efforts to become an option for students during a time of economic recovery.

“Providing them the option to gain job skills at the same time that they earn college credentials makes good sense,” said Sydow. “Students will graduate without big debt, and they will be well prepared to succeed in the workforce. It’s a win-win!”

Added May, “Since COVID, we know that people are struggling. We also know they’re looking to retool and advance their skill sets, whether that is to move up the ranks in their current profession or move out of it all together and pursue new opportunities. RBC has always been at the crossroads of a quality education at an affordable price. RBC can get them there.”




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