Enrollment Management Goals and Gains at Alexandria College

Apr 1, 2024 | 4:23 PM
Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” At Alexandria Technical & Community College, we have embraced a very results-driven goal setting culture. When establishing enrollment goals we look not only at total headcount, but at full year equivalent (FYE)—the total number of credits sold divided by 30. Looking at both metrics allows us to establish goals toward serving more students and ensuring a balance between full- and part-time students. Since establishing our five-year plan (2020-2024), our primary goals have been to increase headcount to more than 4,000 (+8.7%), and increase FYE to more than 2,000 (+15.7%). These are optimal numbers for the college given our facilities and program capacity, and after years of hard work and monitoring, these goals are now within our reach.

Growing enrollment in an era of declining demographics and skepticism over the value of higher education is no easy task, especially with workforce shortages causing many individuals to move straight into vacant positions. The ‘gap year’ has become two years, then three. Competition is fierce as colleges and universities from around the country are in need of tuition to pay their bills. Bordering states are jostling for Minnesota students through tuition discounts and other programs. And in addition to nationwide online schools, education providers now include Amazon, Google, and a host of industry certification providers. The higher education landscape continues to evolve.

So, how does a small college in rural Minnesota compete? With a plan!

My experiences in moving a college forward have been that no change can occur without a framework for organizational learning. My approach centers thinking around the use of words beginning with the letter “P.” This is adapted from the “P”s for good planning and marketing, with a couple added specific to higher education.

Purpose (mission), people (employees), and place (Alexandria) are already established when a leader comes on board, but are essential to the institution’s success. Our strategic planning work allowed us to establish an inclusive philosophy and priority for our work ahead. This work in 2020 led to agreement amongst stakeholders that in this era of reduced funding, achieving systemic and institutional goals will require us to clearly focus on what sets us apart. We needed to identify and promote the distinctive educational and cultural opportunities that make ATCC the first choice for students who seek both a comprehensive education and unique student life experience. Our priorities focus on the success of our students, our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the programmatic and financial sustainability of our campus.

Our next step was to develop a Strategic Enrollment (SEM) Plan. In keeping in step with the "P"s, this plan incorporates policy and process improvements, product and program refinement and development, promotional activities, productivity measures, strategies for lowering price, and renewed regional partnerships.

The ATCC SEM Taskforce defines Strategic Enrollment Management as “an institution-wide approach to supporting our students, college, and community by integrating every aspect of our college functions and culture to achieve and maintain optimal recruitment, retention, and graduation rates.” A central tenet of the college’s student-centered approach is to align academic and personal support at all stages of the student lifecycle—to attract, empower, and advance. This means that all areas of the college are responsible for the quality of the student experience and maintaining the value of the Alexandria Technical & Community College brand; a legacy of high-quality education, personalized attention, and state and national best-in-class rankings.

With the guiding principles laid out, the Taskforce created actionable goals, each with unique strategies and indicators (metrics) to track progress:

  1. Create collaboration with employees across campus that contributes toward a welcoming environment for all
  2. Create an infrastructure for deans, faculty, and staff to engage in enrollment efforts
  3. Focus on inclusivity through increased access, opportunity, and affordability
  4. Compile and utilize data to guide decisions and forecasting
  5. Develop new and enhanced academic programs, aligned with industry needs, to increase interest and leverage capacity
  6. Develop and execute college Brand Promise to tell the ATCC story
  7. Develop and implement activities and offerings that create a sense of belonging for students
  8. Review and update strategies and content to ensure students are supported throughout the student lifecycle

As a result of these systematic efforts, the college has grown headcount enrollment to over 4100, with major gains in enrollment among students of color (+15%). Our projected FYE for fiscal year 2025 is 1979. Paired with substantial gains in course completion and other student success metrics, Alexandria College is well poised to weather future shifts in higher education.

Perhaps the most important “P” in driving enrollment growth is found in the word positive. Alexandria College was one of few colleges within the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities to achieve positive enrollment growth between 2019 and 2023—This strong enrollment helps drive economic development in our city, region and state. More than 17,000 Alexandria College alumni live and work in Minnesota, continuing to make a positive impact long after they graduate.

We may be a small college in rural Minnesota, but our commitment to our shared vision and goals makes a big impact on the community, the region, and those who proudly call themselves Legends.

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