by Carey Monroe
Things have been changing fast here at Cleary University. Over the past two years, we’ve seen unparalleled growth, and now we’re positioned for what looks to be a record-breaking fall in terms of number of applicants and number of new students.
There are many reasons for this upward trajectory. At small universities, the key to growth is building a culture of connection. How we win students is how we keep them through to graduation – and beyond, as connected alumni.
Thanks to the visionary efforts of my Enrollment Team, our growth plan depends upon deep, consistent relationships, with student success at the heart of every interaction.
Every small college struggles with enrollment. We needed to decide whether we were going to grow or not.
Once the decision pointed toward growth, we needed to find an anchor for that growth and plot out the process, step by step.
We decided on a transformational approach to relationships and a focus on the student life cycle. That starts with Cleary leadership reaching out to students in high school, to begin the conversation about higher education options – a new practice for Cleary.
We created a communication plan for parents to ease the pressure of the college search and financial aid process. We began to create partnerships with local K-12 administrators and counselors in order to become the go-to university for post-secondary education information in our community.
We opened our Howell campus, inviting in families and students to utilize our resources, find information, and build relationships to guide their college search process.
None of this had been done before in Cleary’s history, but we knew it was time for a change if we wanted to be the business university of the future. We cannot expect big growth if we aren’t willing to take big leaps.
More than anything, our growth came as a result of the sincere interest Cleary leaders exhibited in the student lifecycle, beginning with the first inklings of interest in college education to well past graduation.
We asked ourselves, “How do we create a transformational experience for students who wish to enroll and assist them in overcoming barriers?”
This deep dive into understanding the path of future college students led us to create a summer bridge program allowing students who did not meet our admissions requirements to take classes over the summer in order to be fully admitted in the fall.
This entire effort came about thanks to a collaboration between our Career Development and Enrollment Management teams, who created conversations about outcomes at the very beginning of the process rather than panicked at the end. To further support our efforts, we even developed a Career Fulfillment course that each student is required to take for graduation, which prepares them for the networking and hiring process.
We want prospective students or new enrollees to know where their Cleary education will take them. We want tangible and reasonable outcomes identified at the start of a college journey, so parents and students don’t wonder where they will end up or if their degree will lead them to a meaningful career and satisfying life.
It’s never just enrollment. At Cleary, we focus on an intertwined effort of education, growth, retention, and success rather than enrollment alone.
In the fall of 2019, we enrolled the largest traditional class in Cleary’s history. This fall, we are set to exceed that number. It’s what we hoped for – and better yet, what we planned and worked hard for. Our sincere approach and personal attention has been well received by the families and students we serve.
Ultimately, we recognized the importance of all growth strategies focusing on and connecting to student success – at every step of their educational journey. We leave no question unanswered, no degree misunderstood. Other tactics may pull students in, but they’re unlikely to keep them.
This is what we consider to be growth with purpose. People over tactics.
On our campus and in our classes, students are known. They are seen. They are heard.
Our faculty and our leaders truly care about our students, and the students know it. It’s not uncommon to see a Vice President or Professor waving to a student and calling them by name.
We don’t just show the friendly face to win a student’s enrollment. We want students who come to Cleary to know what they are going to experience and that the atmosphere here is one of true connection, perhaps even of family.
You could say Cleary’s approach to growth is developing relationships that are transformational, rather than transactional. It works for us and frankly, that is where any sustained growth comes from – be it at a university, a small business, or in the corporate sphere.
Sustained growth is built by relationships that are transformational, not transactional. And that’s what you’ll get at Cleary.
Carey Monroe, PMP PhD, is Vice President of Enrollment Management at Cleary University.