They’re Not ‘Your’ Students: A New View of the College Education Lifecycle

Sarah Clough

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After a dozen years in advancement and partnering with more than two dozen higher education institutions, I’m taking another view of the full lifecycle of a postsecondary student.

I have personally lived and breathed all of it—sometimes in excruciating detail. Every step of the college student journey comes with unique and similar challenges from the student’s perspective and the institution’s point of view.

  • The unnerving unknown of waiting for that yes or no after applying or the final grade in the class you thought would never ever end.
    • Wondering if your enrollment numbers will remain steady or take a dip this year.
  • The exhilarating excitement of opening the acceptance letter or being handed the diploma you worked so very hard for.
    • Seeing a student flourish on campus and take new opportunities head-on.
  • The seemingly never-ending emails, letters, and phone calls you receive in the run up to applying to the schools of your choice or to making your first, or second, or fifteenth gift.
    • Studies and spreadsheets and dashboards aplenty that highlight all the highs and lows of your current enrollment data.

What we continue to work toward discerning is how to make it all click along smoother than it often feels—for students, for institutions, for administrators, for faculty and staff.

On the days it feels like that answer is too far out of reach, I remind myself of the why of all of it. And sometimes I find myself reminding others of that, too.

Taking the 10,000-foot view brings new meaning to every step of the experience, starting with the fact that postsecondary education is a shared experience.

They’re Not ‘Yours’

They’re not “your” students.

You can help students you encounter make the best decision for themselves. In return, you get the chance to give students the tools and resources to be successful, not just at your institution but in life.

They’re not “your” academic programs.

You play an influential role in recruiting students for the programs, creating program content, or educating the masses through course instruction.

Programs are how the institution delivers its mission, and you play a vital role in making it all happen. But, ultimately, the programs are what drive activity across the institution.

They’re not “your” donor.

You’re helping connect interested prospects with a passion or interest that lies within a program or service at your institution.

When that potential donor sees they can make an impact with their gift, only then do you get the opportunity to put those contributions to work through your mission.

Fulfilling Promises Made

Institutions make promises every day. Prospective and matriculating students are promised an extraordinary experience, skills that will lead to a successful career, quality learning, and a support system that guides them through all of it.

Alumni are promised a forever network and pride in an excellent, well-rounded education. Donors are promised that their gift, no matter the size, will truly make an impact on the institution’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Fulfilling promises made ensures that the investments all stakeholders make in you is worth it.

We need to collectively and unequivocally ensure that we’re delivering on our promises. This takes an all-hands-on-deck approach and sometimes requires us to take a step back to objectively assess our approach.

4 Endless Questions to Answer

There is a myriad of ways to view and study the lifecycle of the postsecondary student and therefore countless ways to discern how to make it all better.

1. Is enrollment down and you just can’t pinpoint why? Conduct a nonmatriculation study to narrow in on the driving factors.

2. Have you initiated a discussion to fine-tune your financial aid package? Identify how changes may impact your market share.

3. Are you on a mission to define what really makes your institution distinct? Gain a clear understanding of the strengths that separate your institution from others.

4. Do you struggle to effectively engage alumni? Take a step back and evaluate how to get from unanswered calls to action to engaged and passionate supporters of sustaining and advancing your mission.

Answering questions rooted in delivering on your promises will ensure your institution is fulfilling its mission throughout the postsecondary student lifecycle.

If you are interested in learning more about how Stamats market research and analysis can support strategic decision-making to fulfill the promises you’ve made, email me today.

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