During times of high unemployment, workers and job seekers commonly return to school to acquire new skills and become more employable. As the job market grows, college enrollment rates traditionally start to decline.

This trend has held true in recent years. The U.S. is recovering from the Great Recession and the labor market has been improving, with the unemployment rate falling from a 10-year high of 10.0 percent in October 2009 to 5.0 percent by December 2015, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.1 This in turn has kept people in the workforce rather than enrolling in higher education. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, post-secondary enrollment rates from this past spring were down 1.9 percent from one year ago.2 Jason Dewitt, manager of research services at the center, told CBS Moneywatch that college enrollment has steadily gone down after four consecutive years of increasing enrollments, peaking in 2011. Since then, colleges have lost more than 1 million enrollments.3 As these lower college enrollment rates persist, competition among career colleges to draw in and enroll students increases.

In such a rivalrous atmosphere, it's imperative you know why students would choose your competition over you. Here are five reasons students enroll elsewhere and how you can fix each problem:

You don't have an established online presence

Your future students exist online in virtual, mobile environments, which is where your next enrollment initiative should target. In a 2013 national poll, Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that encouraging prospective students to apply on the admissions website was among the top five most effective strategies and tactics for student recruitment at two-year public institutions. E-communications and digital marketing efforts are relevant and effective methods to increase enrollments.4

Your digital marketing plan should encompass a comprehensive omnichannel strategy. Make sure your website is optimized for mobile marketing with a responsive web design. Promote your site through high-leveraged Internet marketing tactics such as email marketing, content marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising. Reach out to prospective students through real-time online messaging and social media networks. Create an active presence and establish connected communities on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even Snapchat. Social media provides unparallelled opportunities for high engagement and interaction.

They don't feel comfortable on campus

Give students the opportunity, at no cost to them, to experience what it would be like to attend your college. Schedule campus visits over the course of a single day and include:

  • Campus tours
  • Attendance at a real or mock class
  • Presentations about academic programs
  • Meet-and-greets with faculty and current students

Additionally, offering a Risk-Free Trial Program is a great way to ease students' concerns. Giving students the opportunity to take a class without any obligations provides them with an ideal opportunity determine whether they enjoy learning in a career college environment and is perhaps the best way to make sure they feel comfortable on campus.

They don't think faculty is engaged with students

A culture grounded in student engagement is key to enrollment success. Prospective students are attracted to schools and teachers who are engaged and invested in their success. Drive student engagement with these tips:

  • Recruit excellent faculty and implement a mentorship initiative to enhance teaching and create high-engagement experiences for students.
  • Incentivize instructors by elevating and rewarding them based on their effectiveness to engage students.
  • Promote relationship building between your faculty and students both inside and outside of the classroom. Faculty should offer office hours for individualized guidance and help.
  • Encourage your educators to position themselves as role models and mentors who are easily accessible and available for one-on-one support.

They're afraid they won't belong

Create a welcoming, supportive and connected environment for potential students by implementing the following ideas:

  • Create a group for like-minded students who are incoming or new to meet new friends over shared interests; plan regular meetings and trips to help students form bonds and build a support system.
  • Assign potential students a dedicated point of contact to provide guidance and offer solutions to any problems or questions.
  • Encourage students who are at least halfway through their program to welcome and connect with potential students; these students can take an active role in the recruitment process and serve as student mentors.

They're worried they won't succeed

For students trying to balance coursework with non-academic challenges such as keeping a part-time job, paying bills and raising a family, the potential risk of trying to go back to school and failing can be a real concern. Design programs to support new and incoming students and students struggling with their coursework, and let potential students know that these programs exist.

Offer flexible learning programs for students with demanding responsibilities outside of the classroom. For example, set up online, weekend or evening courses, as well as opportunities for one-on-one advising and career counseling. Develop programs in partnership with employers to help students integrate school and work, such as career training, internships, and certification programs.

Then, create awareness around these student programs. This reassures prospective students and helps them feel good about enrolling at your career college, knowing that resources are available to help them adjust to student life and excel academically. Of course, promote these resources to current students as well - it will help them stay motivated and on track for success.

Recommended For You: What Career Schools Can Learn from the 2015 Survey of Admissions Directors

Resources: Photo credit. (1) Labor Force Statistics (2) Current Term Enrollment Report - Spring 2015 (3) Why Is College Enrollment Declining? (4) Top 5 Practices for Marketing and Student Recruitment