The new semester just began Monday at Central Wyoming College, but administrators are already thinking about next fall's enrollment process.
College planners have been trying to improve the rate of student "persistence" at CWC, so institutional effectiveness director Louisa Hunker says they're focused on giving this fall's new enrollees enough support and encouragement to come back next semester, and next year.
"Our strategy is to work with students from the moment they arrive to get them engaged in school," she said this week.
Internal analysis shows CWC students are most likely to drop out of school during their first year, Hunker said, and part-time students - who make up about two-thirds of enrollment at CWC - are most likely to leave after their first semester.
"So we really need to work with those students when they're new and get them whatever kind of support or connection they need so they're more likely to stay," she said.
Several efforts have been implemented and honed in the past few years to help students feel welcome on campus, Hunker continued. For example, an orientation session for new students was modified earlier this year to offer more of a social outlet than simply an "information overload."
"In the past (we) combined our new student orientation with some student success curriculum that was focused on study skills and some career analysis and interest inventory sort of things," Hunker said. "Now we've separated those two components, so new students will take a success course, (but) the orientation is really like, 'Quick, here's what you need to know, now let's have fun and make connections with each other.' ... It's more social and fun-oriented than the orientation we had in the past."
Another resource was put in place last fall to help new students: Hunker said each first-year enrollee now is assigned a success coach in addition to a faculty advisor.
Success coaches offer more "holistic" guidance, she explained, helping students with "barriers they might have to success."
"(Maybe they're) struggling with transportation, or day care, or a specific instructor conflict, or they're not sure what to major in," she said. "It's just more people there to help, who get to know the students and can advise them on whatever they need. We think that's one of the things that is helping our persistence as well."
Her data shows that, of the 954 degree-seeking student enrolled at CWC in spring 2017, almost 700 - or 73 percent - either graduated or registered for subsequent semester.
"Obviously 250 students leaving over the summer isn't ideal," Hunker said in an email to staff. "(But) it's always good when things are going up."
Last year, 71 percent of degree-seeking students from spring 2016 either graduated or re-enrolled.
Hunker pointed out that it's difficult to track the relationships between persistence strategies and results, which can only be realized a semester or a year later.
"We have to wait a year to see if the students come back," she said. "So we don't always know right away."
One immediate indicator of student engagement and the desire to persist is visible at Rustler Central in the Main Hall on the Riverton campus. Hunker said new students use dry erase markers to write their goals on a white-glass wall there. She said some of the phrases included, "I will persevere," "I want to succeed," and, "I want to graduate."
"It's so awesome - the most inspirational thing," she said. "I love looking at it every day.'
The emphasis on persistence should help CWC in its effort to increase enrollment totals, which had been steadily declining in recent years. This year, like last year, however, Hunker said enrollment has stayed relatively stable.
Student headcount had reached 1,455 Monday - only 72 percent of the goal of 2,024, but an increase of about 1 percent over the same time last year.
The full-time enrollment equivalent was about 1,116 Monday - 79 percent of the goal of about 1,407 but about 3 percent higher than the same time last year.
Hunker said those numbers are likely to change, as students typically add and drop courses throughout the first two weeks of the semester. Plus, she noted, totals aren't finalized until November, when concurrent enrollment students are processed.
Concurrent enrollments represent "the big question" for this year, Hunker said.
"We saw a huge loss of enrollment in that area last fall," she said. "But we're expecting that will have stabilized, or maybe even increased, from last year to this year. (So) I do think we'll meet our head count goal."
Last year's decrease in concurrent enrollments was due in large part to a change in credentialing requirements for instructors that prompted several teachers to back out of the program.
CWC now has until 2022 to meet the new requirements.