The Three Ps to Secure Enrollment

Ramapo College of New Jersey and the County College of Morris designed an innovative program to secure enrollment using the three Ps: partnerships, pipelines and pathways.

By: Christopher Romano

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. 

Research in 2021 by the Community College Research Center revealed that 86% of students nationally enrolled at community colleges do not go on to pursue bachelor’s degrees. That statistic is staggering, especially considering that the same CCRC report showed that the returns to certificate and associate’s degrees have stagnated, while the returns on the bachelor’s degree and graduate degree have increased. 

This disconnect is often attributed to students’ lack of necessary information and guidance on what to do next when it comes to applying for, receiving credit and finishing a bachelor’s degree. Yet, many four-year colleges are puzzled by this finding because there are so many articulation agreements that exist for which curricular maps were created and outlined between community colleges and four-year partners. 

It is from this framework that Ramapo College of New Jersey and the County College of Morris embarked on an innovative strategy to design a 2+2+1 program pipeline for students to earn an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in data science in just five years. As the first-of-its-kind in the state, the program allows students to excel in an area of high demand and offers great return for students at each credential interval.

Principle 1: Articulate the Value of Pipelines

This was the easiest of all the priorities to achieve. Data scientists are needed in almost every business sector as they enable companies to leverage data to predict trends, inform decisions and make breakthroughs. Data scientists are employed by hospitals, pharmaceutical manufacturers, financial and trading firms, sports teams, marketing agencies and, of course, tech companies. 

In fact, Glassdoor ranked Data Scientist as the #2 job in America in 2021, with a median base salary of $117K/year. Moreover, at the start of 2023, TechCrunch shared, “Data science is perhaps the most exciting area in all of enterprise technology right now, and it’s evolving at a lightning pace.” 

Principle 2: Importance of Pathway Affordability

This is the first principle for which a new consideration regarding student recruitment was needed. Many academically qualified students start their degrees at community colleges for financial reasons. Often, four-year colleges try to consider how the pricing and scholarship structures might work to entice those students to start at a four-year and skip the two-year college. 

However, the reality is that discounting to reach the county college pricing is not a viable strategy. Instead, we chose to focus on building on the importance of affordability rather than trying to compete on it. 

At Ramapo, we have focused heavily on the growth of 4+1 graduate programs so that students can graduate with two credentials in five years. In that model, undergraduate students complete graduate courses/credits at the undergraduate rate, which ultimately allows them to save money on their degrees. 

It is necessary to articulate this to a community college transfer student, who often feels “sticker shock” when looking at tuition prices for four-year colleges. In this model, the cost increase is there, but we can demonstrate the value of graduate courses at the undergraduate level.

Principles 3 & 4: Partnerships Are “Win-Win” and Deserve Champions

I’ve combined the last two principles because, in reality, they are integrated. Too often—and I’ve experienced this first-hand—an articulation agreement is developed between administrative offices, documented on paper and left as a handout or posted on a website for community college transfer students to follow. That’s, unfortunately, where the partnership and collaboration ends. 

Yet, at the four-year level, we are surprised that we do not see an increase in transfer students or that students claim they do not have the correct information to transfer. The reason is that the agreement is not built into the culture of the programs at either institution; they are just work products. Instead, to make these partnerships successful, faculty champions are needed that identify courses and work on curriculum together, thus seeing the “win-win” for both institutions in formalizing the pathways. 

In this case, Ramapo and CCM had highly engaged faculty members—Amanda Beecher of Ramapo and Kelly Fitzpatrick of CCM—championing the work and the partnership. In fact, at the formal signing of this agreement, both institutional presidents shared similar sentiments about their lead faculty: “These are the kind of faculty members that you give them the resources they need and step out of the way of their creativity and passion.” 

Christopher Romano

Christopher Romano


Dr. Christopher Romano is the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He earned his Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University, his Ed.M. in Higher Education Administration from Harvard University and his B.A. in International Relations from Saint Joseph’s University.

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