Diving into data to increase ROI

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Howard Community College (HCC) in Maryland dove into its data to understand just where they were investing money and time and what the return on those investments was.

HCC President Kathleen Hetherington was joined by Rick Staisloff of RPK Group on May 13 for an AACC Digital session on streamlining academic portfolios to improve the return on investment (ROI).

In 2019, before the pandemic hit, HCC was already seeing declining enrollment, shrinking state and federal funding, and the public’s changing perception on the value of higher education, Hetherington said. The college took a business perspective to evaluate what was working and what wasn’t, and where it could streamline.

At one point, HCC offered 200 academic programs. That was cut down to about 70, but data showed there was more work to do. Nearly two-thirds of students were in 12 or fewer academic programs. Looking at student demand also meant seeing where there was potential for revenue growth – and the potential to better serve students.

In addition, there was increasing release time for faculty, Hetherington said.

It was time to “think differently about how resources were used,” she said.

HCC got granular with the data, looking at course fill rates and student credit hours rather than just faculty course load. By analyzing the “right” data, the college made changes to save time and money, and still ensure students were served, Hetherington said.

HCC also saved money on adjunct faculty, meaning it could invest more in full-time faculty. It also saved by making changes to the curriculum billing structure, evaluating existing open positions, and gauging contract services and subscriptions. In addition, a data-informed decision was made to delete the medical laboratory technician program, effective in 2023. At this point, ongoing savings for reinvestment are about $1.3 million.

Hetherington made sure everyone at the college knew the process of evaluating and that any cuts would be transparent.

“It wasn’t done in secret,” she said. Faculty and staff were involved from day one in the process.

Reaching students by phone

Another AACC Digital session explored strategies to re-enroll students, mainly calling students.

In July 2020, Houston Community College faced a significant enrollment decrease, much like many community colleges. The college connected with Swim Digital Group to explore enrollment strategies.

What emerged was a systemwide approach to contact students. The project brought together more than 200 faculty and staff from all different departments to volunteer in contacting students who had the highest probability of enrolling.

“We had every stakeholder excited to help,” said Indra Paola Peláez, associate vice chancellor for enrollment services. She presented with Trimeka Benjamin and Paige Skinner from Swim Digital.

Related articles: Coverage of the AACC Digital conference

Fourteen “conversion” teams were created to participate in a two-month campaign that involved calling prospective students. They had weekly conversion rate goals, which led to some healthy competition between teams. At weekly meetings, not only were results presented, but teams also shared stories about good interactions they had on that calls.

Faculty and staff weren’t necessarily student services professionals, but the campaign gave them a window into the recruiting/admissions side of the college. And talking with students and prospective students made them more empathetic to what students experienced.

The student services department and college recruiters also were happy that the entire college was supporting their efforts.

“They were overwhelmed by the amount of students they needed to serve online,” Peláez said.

Students were happy to get a personal call and see that someone from the college cared, she added.

In two months, the teams made 15,000 total calls to 8,000 unduplicated students, with an 18% conversion rate as result of phone calls. 

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.