Commentary: Tackling enrollment challenges

Shoreline Community College opened 52 years ago on an 83-acre campus 10 miles north of Seattle. In 2015–2016, we served 10,003 students studying more than 100 transfer and professional degree programs and hosted international students from 45 countries.

​Cheryl Roberts

However, when I arrived as the ninth president of the college in 2014, it was clear we needed to “adjust our sails” as dark clouds gathered on the enrollment horizon. Four key indicators raised the storm flags:

  • Washington state significantly changed its enrollment allocation model to emphasize U.S. resident students, a switch from a focus on non-resident enrollment.
  • Increased competition from the four community colleges and four universities within 20 miles of Shoreline, and more students choosing to begin at a four-year college or university.
  • A declining number of high school graduates in our service area.
  • Less than four percent unemployment in the greater Seattle area, coupled with challenging traffic congestion that affected prospective students’ choices to attend college.

Campus and community surveys indicated that Shoreline’s identity needed to be strengthened to attract students and community support. We launched a strategic planning process involving more than 1,000 people on campus, and key community and business leadership.

The board of trustees and administrators read and discussed Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, focusing on what makes our college great. This meant identifying abilities and competencies needed to ensure excellence in every aspect of the college. We brought in the Clarus Corporation to help refresh the college identity and pinpoint opportunities for enrollment growth and process improvements.

Today, Shoreline’s 2016–2021 strategic plan is in place and key process improvements in the strategic enrollment management process are underway from interest to enrollment, through retention and completion.

First solid indicator of success

For the first time in five years, 2016 spring and summer quarters saw increases in U.S. resident enrollment. This solid indicator of success is supported by several key student success initiatives launched in 2015-16. Ongoing evaluations of this centerpiece work will dictate adjustments and improvements.

Get ready to accelerate

We initiated strategic planning, brought in experienced consultants, and took our leadership team, as well as faculty and staff, to other community college campuses to see and learn best practices. These investments accelerated Shoreline’s understanding and identification of the areas to strengthen, giving the staff key tactics to implement immediately.

CRM and focused, steady communications

The communications and marketing department implemented a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to track and build relationships with all potential students. Within the department, a dedicated staff contacts high school advisors and counselors, as well as all potential students. They target communications such as regular emails and email “blasts” to the pool of prospective students and monitor website and online application activity to encourage students to apply. We are employing what is termed a “drip” communication strategy of concise, regular messages to keep the prospective student engaged.

Invest in staff talent

Faculty advisors were doubled and success coaches were hired in addition to program advisors for veterans, English Learning Acquisition (ELA) and online students. A new model of advising is underway to retain students and personalize each step to help students achieve their educational goals.

Keep students on track early

The Shoreline Early Alert (SEA) system encourages any employee to submit an online form if they see a student needing support in order to make academic progress. Ongoing early alerts allow success coaches to work with students throughout the quarter, rather than only at quarter end. SEA informs the success coaches when a student’s GPA is below 2.0, indicating the need for individual assistance.

Research tools and all-campus learning

Many of these processes began less than a year ago, and in 2016–17 new research tools will be put in place to let students and staff know if students are not reaching their stated goals. For the fall quarter, faculty and staff will also read Carol Dweck’s Mindsetto learn how to create a “not yet” culture, first with an attitude toward their own development and then toward helping students’ nurture a growth mindset so important in fostering confidence in their learning.

Shoreline Community College is implementing a strategic plan that focuses on student learning and inclusive excellence in how we do our work. Setting high expectations, measuring progress, using tools to track information and adjusting work as necessary will help the college set its course to increase enrollment, retain students and help them finish what they start.


This is article comes from the current edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.

About the Author

Cheryl Roberts
is president of Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Washington.