The demographic challenges confronting higher education, particularly as they relate to the decline of the traditional high-school-aged student and pending enrollment challenges, are well documented. In fact, for most enrollment managers like me, it’s been on our minds for years as we have drafted strategic enrollment management plans and engaged in senior-level dialogues about the future of our institutions and how to secure enrollment.
Then, of course, the pandemic hit and accelerated those enrollment cliffs faster than anticipated, affecting both first-year and overall college enrollments. Although the steep decline in community college enrollment has received significant coverage, one often overlooked secondary effect (in my opinion) is the impact of community college decline on four-year colleges and universities, which rely heavily on transfer students as an integral piece of their enrollment strategies.
So, as we undertake efforts to stabilize or to grow our enrollments at the four-year colleges, the environmental factors at play require us to shift our mindset and consider transfer from a different lens.
As competition for enrollment intensifies with a declining high-school-aged population, we need to shift our focus from looking at community colleges as either competitors that are taking portions of our incoming classes or strictly feeders that send us students. Instead, we need to look to our community colleges as partners, co-designers of curricular pathways and partners in creating and articulating the student pathway to a degree. This isn’t new, but the timing is accelerated, and the need for those partnerships is now.