As the economy continues on an upward march toward stabilization, college enrollment nationwide hits record lows. Just under 66 percent of the class of 2013 was enrolled in college last fall, the lowest share of new graduates since 2006 and the third decline in the past four years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The effects of declining enrollment take the greatest toll on career colleges, where prospective and enrolled students already struggle with competing personal and societal obligations. From faculty cuts to program terminations, lack of resources prove detrimental to postsecondary institutions. With the right programs and dedication, your institution can stand out from the rest and gain awareness to help drive enrollments, increase revenue and ultimately enrich lives.

Increased enrollment rates begin by taking a student-centric approach to marketing a postsecondary life. Seeking potential students at the beginning of their high school career increases the chances of diploma acquisition and opens the doors for continued education. For many high school students, graduation is either a pipe dream or the end of the education journey.

Collectively, students between 16 and 24 years old experienced the largest decline in school enrollment in at least two decades, according to the BLS.  Low-income scholars and first-generation college seekers are at greatest risk as they lack support and academic know-how. With the right approach, this age group can become your best and brightest alumni.

Start with these three keys to attracting potential students:

1. Start Recruiting Early and Heavily

Get involved in college fairs, network with high school teachers and counselors and get to know students early on, ideally, from at least junior year onward. Incorporate programs that empower students to proactively think about career growth rather than being daunted by lengthy applications during senior year.

As an initiative to help colleges reduce the rejection rate of non-diploma holding prospects, consider implementing a blended learning program. Working hand-in-hand with accredited partner institutions, blended learning initiatives give students the opportunity to earn their diploma while encouraging natural matriculation to your college post-diploma. This gives prospects at any age and from any background an opportunity to realize untapped potential. 

2. Embrace a Culture of Support and Confidence Building

Hands-on counseling makes the difference between submitting a college application or job searching, particularly for potential students who currently do not have a high school diploma. This group is seldom aware of their options once they've dropped out of high school. Assumptions are made about costs and admissions processes, and postsecondary education seems unattainable.

Confidence is key to student empowerment. By providing an environment that instills knowledge-based trust, institutions become a safe haven rather than an overwhelming deterrent of progression. Counselors must build relationships and get involved with students to learn about their futures, and how education plays a part in it while providing helpful resources for enrollment guidance, labor market indicators and post-graduation support.

For students not enrolled in secondary education, seek out partnerships with top workplaces. By showing employers the benefits of higher education to their staff, they'll be a likely advocate for your school's programs. Students will also feel more incentivized to enhance their marketability to grow within an industry.

One-on-one counseling shouldn't end upon enrollment. For those who do enroll, many fail to complete their program. According to Complete College America, less than 30 percent of students who enroll full time in community college complete an associate's degree in three years. Completion rates are especially low for minority, low-income and older students. Implement open door policies to encourage open communication.

3. Provide Options for Competing Obligations  

For most college students and prospects, life is a balancing act incorporating work and family with the added stress of financial responsibilities and the lack of a healthy support system. Instead of seeing higher education as a window to future success, it can be seen as an interference when a steady paycheck is a necessity. By combining increased course flexibility with substantial educational resources, students will turn to your institution as a realistic option for financial gain.

To start, support the fight against the traditional classroom setting. If you offer flexible courses, online degree programs or career-focused education, shout it from the rooftops. Let prospective students know they can fulfill their obligations while attending school. Support your offerings with programs dedicated to ongoing career counseling that fits in with students' ever-changing needs.

Last and perhaps most important, the best way to show instant gratification-seeking students the value of school enrollment is to start with the end in mind. Outline how your school will help them find jobs after graduation. Provide clear insight on how career or degree options match specific employer needs and how education will gear them for success.


Photo Credit: Shaylor via flickr cc