Strategies for improving graduate DEIJ enrollment pipelines


Strategies for improving graduate DEIJ enrollment pipelines

March 01, 2022

Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship logo

Lionel Wright

Associate Interim Dean, Athens State University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Low DEIJ graduate enrollment has a negative impact on identifying, attracting, retaining, and graduating a diverse student body. Consequently, in my capstone project, I sought to answer the following question: What are viable strategies for improving graduate DEIJ enrollment pipelines to identify, attract, retain and graduate a diverse student body?

Graduate enrollment growth driven by increases among students from underrepresented minority groups is offsetting undergraduate enrollment declines. DEIJ will impact enrollment behaviors over the next decade, with a large percentage of prospective students citing a diverse student body as critical to their final enrollment decision, yet equity gaps for graduate students continue to lag behind.

Competition for these students is intensifying and it is more important—and more difficult—than ever to expand the pool of right-fit adult students. Institutional success and DEIJ initiatives are intertwined. Therefore, success warrants developing a clear, intentional, and personalized outreach strategy that makes us a first choice for diverse students. We must ensure the participation of underrepresented students of color increases at multiple points across the higher education pipeline including at application, admission, enrollment, persistence, and completion.

Within my institution, data are available to identify DEIJ graduate enrollment rates, but expertise in adult learner audience generation strategy is lacking. The result is unsystematic data sharing and disjointed graduate enrollment rates that pose challenges for equity. The solution requires a holistic approach hinged on data-driven practices that identifies prospects’ psychographic, demographic, and real-time behavioral data to develop responsive and customized marketing throughout the student journey.

To improve graduate enrollment rates and support DEIJ efforts at all stages of the student journey, one must address affordability and fit with a few different strategies:

  1. Incorporate a personalized atmosphere that invests in each student’s success, sense of belonging, and cultural competency
  2. Design and implement pricing and financial aid resources to maximize access and holistic financial predictability for students
  3. Create robust support services that increase applications and retention
  4. Market ROI to graduate student audiences to maximize recruitment efforts

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As an institution, we aim to use this data-driven planning to improve DEIJ graduate enrollment, retention and graduation rates, address equity gaps, catalyze an institutional culture shift toward an equity-cognitive frame and teaching practices, and align faculty success with student success. This will be achieved through a multi-pronged approach based on incentives, awareness and guidance, support and recognition.

An incentive-based strategy is especially important in light of the pandemic’s economic impacts. Potential incentives include additional scholarship opportunities or a faster admissions decision, effective pricing strategies that support DEIJ efforts, advising and outreach about financial aid opportunities to low-income and other underrepresented groups, and university development efforts that prioritize resources for need and merit-based financial aid.

Awareness and guidance will include developing a DEIJ task force that demonstrates senior administrator (president, provost, AVPs) endorsement of holistic DEIJ enrollment and recruitment. Developing a diversity strategic plan will help stakeholders across campus understand market realities and barriers to set realistic goals, and advocate for short- and long-term investments in efforts to increase representation.

Support and recognition initiatives must include faculty and student recognition. Faculty and students should receive honors for advancing the campus culture of research, scholarship, and creative achievement. They should also receive increased levels of support and have their accomplishments highlighted to internal and external audiences. Two critical catalysts include: a graduate center for inclusive mentoring (GCIM), which provides leadership for faculty mentoring efforts; and a graduate student council DEIJ committee that facilitates student-focused activities.

As part of EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship program, I partnered with Richard Collie, Director, Student Inclusion Initiatives, Athens State University, and Mario Silva-Rosa, Director, Undergraduate Admission, Bentley University. We learned a great deal from each other about our respective institutions, met multiple times, and supported each other through this process. We reviewed the EAB resource, the Course Completion Playbook, received guidance from experts and colleagues, including from our senior research advisor and strategic leaders, and reviewed other existing EAB resources on the topic.

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Lionel Wright and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021

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