Based on our Office Hours with EAB podcast, Episode 166, Could Your Students Benefit from “One Front Door” Onboarding?
As a social worker who has worked in the higher ed space for nearly a decade, I have always felt passionate about decreasing barriers to entry so more students could achieve the promise of an advanced education. For many community college aspirants, particularly those pursuing workforce development programs, a common obstacle is the “one size fits all” design of onboarding processes, neglecting the unique needs of non-credit learners, such as work and family obligations or advising options that are often tailored for degree-seeking students.
In a recent podcast conversation, Dr. Tiffany Ray-Patterson, VP of Student Success at Germanna Community College, and EAB’s Dr. Tara Zirkel unpacked some of the strategies Germanna has leveraged to streamline enrollment processes for all learners.
The pain of losing students is worse than the temporary pain of making a change to better serve those students."
DR. TIFFANY RAY-PATTERSON, VP OF STUDENT SERVICESGERMANNA COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Read on to learn about Germanna’s approach to making education more accessible to all types of learners—and how it’s helped them boost enrollment.
What is a “one front door” approach to onboarding?
Dr. Ray-Patterson knew that in the past, Germanna students pursuing vocational training or short-term career credentials were often isolated from the rest of the campus community, making it hard for them to access services such as academic advising and tutoring. To counteract this, she knew Germanna needed to create a standardized onboarding approach that provided a unified point of entry to the college and ensured all students could easily obtain the supports they needed across their journey. By leveraging technology and eliminating process redundancies, Germanna’s “one front door” approach enabled every student, no matter their type, to follow the same clear enrollment steps and gain equitable access to their chosen pathway.
Identifying onboarding challenges and redesigning the process
Germanna identified challenges in its existing onboarding process, including alarmingly low conversion rates and fragmented support services. Applications were pouring in, but by the time classes began, nearly half of the prospective students had vanished. Non-credit students were directed to different locations, leading to confusion and frustration. It was evident that the existing onboarding process failed to provide the necessary guidance, leading to significant setbacks for students. Leadership realized that something fundamental needed to change.
To create a seamless, inclusive experience, Germanna introduced the concept of admissions coaches. These dedicated professionals were trained to guide ALL students through the entire onboarding process, irrespective of their academic pursuits. Admissions coaches served as liaisons between various departments, ensuring that students received consistent, accurate information and support. By providing personalized assistance and a single point of contact, Germanna made the onboarding process less daunting and more manageable for all students.
Germanna’s innovative approach aimed to dissolve the artificial divide between credit and non-credit programs. By committing to flexibility and allowing students the freedom to explore various pathways without constraints, the college fostered a culture of inclusivity and choice. Students were encouraged to pursue their unique educational and career goals, whether they involved credit-bearing programs, non-credit courses, or a combination of both.
Results that speak for themselves
Germanna’s “one front door” approach yielded remarkable results. Enrollment saw a 16% increase. Applicant-to-enrollee conversion rates increased 17% between Spring 2019 and Spring 2021, ensuring more students were successfully integrated into the college community. By unifying the student experience and providing equal access to resources, Germanna achieved positive outcomes for both students and the institution.
Three key takeaways for your institution
1. Leverage data for improvement and more strategic decision-making
Dr. Ray-Patterson shared practical advice for community college leaders aiming to adopt a similar approach. First and foremost, she emphasized the importance of using data to identify existing challenges and areas for improvement. Germanna’s success work is powered by EAB’s Navigate360 student CRM, which provides a comprehensive suite of analytics tools to track data such as population health, intervention effectiveness, and workflow performance. These dashboards allow Germanna to make data-informed decisions, pinpoint specific issues, and tailor their solutions and interventions accordingly.
2. Boldly embrace change
Dr. Ray-Patterson encouraged leaders not to shy away from significant changes. Recognizing that the pain of losing students outweighs the temporary discomfort of change, she stressed the need to be bold and proactive in addressing systemic issues. By embracing change, colleges can create a more supportive and efficient environment for their students.
3. Empower your staff and move out of the way
Finally, Dr. Ray-Patterson highlighted the significance of empowering the college’s frontline staff to play an active role in identifying and intervening in student challenges. Trusting staff members to contribute ideas and solutions fosters a collaborative and innovative environment, driving positive transformation within the institution. It also frees executive leaders to spend more time securing financial and talent-related resources for the team.
Unify Your Student Success Strategy with the Right Tools and Practices
Germanna Community College’s inspiring story showcases the power of unity, innovation, and student-centric initiatives in shaping the future of higher education. Their unique approach is paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable educational experience for all students.
If your institution is ready to remove entry barriers for workforce development students and build early momentum for all learners, make sure you have the right technology and higher ed experts in your corner to support you. EAB’s Navigate360 CRM makes it simple to connect recruitment, retention, and career empowerment for all student types across the entire lifecycle. With connective tools for students, staff, and faculty leveraged by 850+ institutions, you can position your college to better support the long-term education and career outcomes of each student and achieve your enrollment goals.
Allison Peeler, LMSW