The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.
Topic and problem:
As many colleges and universities across the country continue to experience enrollment challenges as a result of declining high school student numbers and also face increasing pressure from government leadership and the public at large to demonstrate relevance, accountability and ROI, Utah has jumped on the bandwagon.
During fall 2021, the Utah State Legislature and Utah Board of Higher Education mandated that the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) identify performance-funding metrics in relation to access, timely completion, and high-yield graduates. As the Associate Provost for Enrollment Management at Utah Tech University, I was tasked to lead the charge in regards to meeting the access metric which USHE defined as increasing Utah Tech’s percentage of Utah college-going high school students, including under-represented populations, by 2027.
The specific performance metrics we have been tasked to achieve are:
- Increase Utah Tech’s market share of all Utah high school graduates from 4.14%, as measured in 2019, to 4.50% by 2027. In looking at our ability to achieve this metric, it’s important to first understand the landscape. The number of high school graduates here in Utah has been increasing the past ten years and will peak in 2026 at nearly 52,000 graduates. We’re actually a year behind much of the rest of the country in regards to Nathan Grawe’s projected “enrollment cliff”, which is encouraging.
- Increase Utah Tech’s market share of all underrepresented Utah high school graduates from 3.69%, as measured in 2019, to 4.11% by 2027. Again, in looking at the landscape, the share of non-white public graduates in Utah is projected to increase from 24% to 32% between 2019 and 2036. Every race/ethnicity category except white will see either an increase or remain relatively flat, which is encouraging in relation to achieving this metric.
While the number of all high school graduates will increase over the next four years, this is a question of market share—and every other university in the state has been tasked to increase their market share as well. So, therein lies the challenge and thus the topic of my capstone project.
Although we have enrolled the two largest classes in the history of the institution the past two years despite a global pandemic, the competition is increasing. We know we have to be strategic and implement some new and more creative strategies to continue to attract more Utah students to Utah Tech University. While there are many strategies that we are working on, I’ve chosen to focus on three for this project that we believe can move the needle:
- First, leverage eSports as a recruitment tool to draw interest in our polytechnic/career prep focus at Utah Tech.
- Next, cultivate relationships with students and leaders in community-based organizations (CBOs).
- And third, partner more closely with The Center for Inclusion & Belonging here at Utah Tech for recruitment, onboarding, and enrollment.
So, why eSports you might ask? We know that gaming is one of the fastest growing industries world-wide and eSports specifically can lead to career opportunities in coding, programming, design, tech, broadcasting, film, entrepreneurialism, and many more. According to the Ken Garff Success in Education Foundation, 85% of all Utah students “game” and over 125 Utah High Schools have eSports teams/clubs. With our increased focus on providing polytechnic experiences and opportunities for our students and our growing eSports team and community here at Utah Tech, the timing is right.
Our second strategy is cultivating relationships and opportunities with CBOs. CBOs are a wonderful resource, providing support for students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds in the college exploration, financial aid, and college decision-making process. With a network of over 1,500 organizations nationwide, and many here In Utah, a more intentional focus reaching out to these organizations and connecting with their students and advisors can help us both continue to enhance and diversify our campus community and meet the performance metric related to increasing our number of underrepresented students from Utah high schools.
And, lastly, our third strategy is working more closely with our Center for Inclusion and Belonging to help in recruitment and enrollment. They are a wonderful team of experts within the DEI space on our campus who provide focused support and engagement with our historically underrepresented populations. They help create a sense of belonging for our current students by providing equitable and inclusive access and learning opportunities, and can help us extend this to our prospective students and families by partnering with our admissions team in co-hosting recruitment and community events and co-creating marketing messaging and collateral that resonates with students and families from underrepresented populations.
Research and reflections:
I am honored to have participated in the EAB Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship. I’ve learned a lot about different aspects of higher education and how they interact to ultimately support our students. I’ve also made connections with a wonderful group of colleagues that will continue in the future. There were several resources that were referenced in preparing my capstone project, which are listed below. I’d also like to thank my capstone project partner, Rachel Halaney from Western University, for her great feedback throughout the process.
EAB Research Reports:
- “4 ways to strengthen your hybrid recruitment strategy”
- David Kerman; October 19, 2021
- “3 strategies to successfully recruit and enroll underrepresented students”
- Jonathan April; December 15, 2021
- “2 changes to your admissions policies that can increase access and enrollment”
- Madeleine Rhyneer; February 2, 2022
- “Tips for yielding first-gen and lower-income students”
- Julie Scalf; March 1, 2022
- “Making the institution a “first choice” for underrepresented students”
- Mario Silva-Rosa; March 1, 2022
- “3 lessons to inform your test-optional enrollment strategy in 2022"
- Lorinanna Mapps; March 3, 2022
WICHE Knocking at the College Door About - Knocking (wiche.edu)
Ken Garff Success in Education: Home - Success in Education (sieutah.org)
Utah System of Higher Education Home - Utah System of Higher Education (ushe.edu)
See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects
Darlene Dilley and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in spring 2022