enrollment

Do you have a “CAN Plan” to extend your enrollment marketing through college completion?

Timothy Culver

Vice President, Consulting Services

August 25, 2017

For years, admissions and recruitment teams have developed marketing and communication plans to build demand, generate applications, and optimize yields. These plans ensure that key messages are sent out to provide students and their families with the information they need to make timely decisions along the enrollment pathway. But what happens after the student is enrolled and committed? Do you have a plan to extend this type of communication and relationship management through to college completion? Are you sending key messages at the right times to influence re-enrollment?

When I work with colleges and universities on their student success initiatives, I often recommend developing a post-enrollment communication flow to continue communicating with students and families to increase college completion. I like to call this a CAN Plan.

CAN stands for Congratulate, Alert and Nudge (CAN). A CAN Plan equips you to communicate persuasively with enrolled students as they attempt to persist in their classes, make progress, and re-enroll from term to term. Your plan should include many customized messages informed by pre-enrollment data and information you collect after students enroll.

How to build a well-designed CAN Plan to influence students to re-enroll

Just as you customize messages for prospective students, you must also customize messages for enrolled students. Let me share three examples of ways to do this. Here is the first way:

College completion: The Attrition Curve

This attrition curve clusters students into three groups based on a statistical analysis of each student’s likelihood to retain, drawn from pre-enrollment data. You can use the pre-enrollment information to target messaging to nudge incoming students to take advantage of student services and refer them to resources that satisfy their needs. I recommend sending more and different messages for students in the middle of your curve (about two-thirds of your new students) versus students who are already likely to retain (about 20 percent of your population) based on your analysis.

A second way to customize messages, to incorporate within your CAN Plan’s attrition curve, would be to use data you collect post-enrollment about the student’s needs and wants shortly after classes begin and during their first two years, or three terms for our two-year college partners. For example, you can use information collected during the first four weeks to address students’ initial impressions and needs; continue to connect students with campus services they need throughout their first two years; suggest solutions for moderate and low levels of student satisfaction with specific areas; and head off changes in academic motivation.

A third type of data to use is again student-specific. We all know that if a student isn’t successful in their coursework and if they’re not engaging and partnering with the campus community they’re less likely to persist. Incorporating data from your Learning Management System (LMS), housing and residence life databases, and student leadership data can further focus your messages. For example, if the student is having attendance problems identified within the LMS you could use SMS messaging or push notifications from an app to nudge students to engage. Through these and other approaches, you can develop an effective, ongoing re-enrollment marketing plan which supports persistence (successful completion of each term) and progression (successful completion of courses) all the way to college completion.

Are you congratulating and nudging students?

I think most of you already do a pretty good job of alerting students when they’re in trouble, but how are you doing with congratulating students who are successful or nudging students who may need a bit of encouragement? For example, one of the colleges I work with recently completed what I call an affiliation scan to determine which students were not engaging/partnering. They basically developed three lists of students—those highly engaged, those with some level of engagement, and those students that “nobody knew.” This allowed them to develop within their CAN plan some messages which congratulated those highly engaged and nudged others who were less engaged. The messages were based on affinities which came from their applications for admission. If a student expressed an affinity for student leadership but had not yet become involved, they received a very specific message about how to engage in student government and other leadership opportunities.

More examples of messages for a CAN Plan

In addition to the examples above, you should also have messaging in your CAN Plan about these issues which impact re-enrollment:

  • Next term advising and registration (prior to and before the registration period closes)
  • Academic recovery–for students on probation/suspension/SAP
  • Qualified recruit back (students from the starting cohort not currently registered after registration period closes)
  • Messaging for second-year transitions
  • Career development pathways messages
  • High-impact academic strategies such as undergraduate research opportunities
  • Value messaging to students and their families
  • Messaging for parents and families to produce greater levels of partnership
  • Important dates and deadlines

When I am working with one of my campus partners, the first step we take is to identify the data points which inform messaging. We then develop a wishlist of data points which would strengthen our plan. Once you take these first steps, you’ll be able to not only ALERT but also develop messages which congratulate and nudge.

Ready to develop or refine your CAN Plan for college completion?

My colleagues and I are happy to talk with you. For a free consultation, call 800.876.1117 or email to discuss your CAN Plan or other ways to accomplish your goals for college completion and enrollment.  Also, if you think you’re already doing a good job with a CAN Plan, please keep the conversation going by adding a comment to this post and emailing me so we can all learn from you.  I want your feedback!

Learn more about our programs at RuffaloNL.com/StudentSuccess.

Solutions for college completion from Ruffalo Noel Levitz


About the Author

Dr. Tim Culver leads the retention consulting services of Ruffalo Noel Levitz, offering counsel to help institutions develop, implement, and evaluate plans for improving enrollment, student success, persistence, retention, and degree completion rates. He has...

Read more about Timothy's experience and expertise

Reach Timothy by e-mail at Tim.Culver@RuffaloNL.com.


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Enrollment, Student Success