Minnesota State Community and Technical College is a major player in the state’s education system. But like many higher education institutions, it recently had to confront declining student retention. Its solution has included using Career Coach to educate students about the reality of their career prospects and make sure they have definite goals while in school. The result? The college’s targeted campaign has already led to 60 former students re-enrolling.
Facing a Common Problem: Giving Students Goals
One of the most significant dilemmas facing higher education is what to do about the student retention problem. Every year, practically every college in America sees students drop out of the degree path that they have embarked on. That’s a major loss, for both the school itself and for the students, who have spent money on an education that they aren’t able to put to use as effectively as they could if they had graduated. But with the wide range of causes that are behind this problem, what can community colleges do to slow student losses and bring former students back?
That was the question Minnesota State Community and Technical College faced. With four campuses, 70-plus programs, and over 9,000 students, Minnesota State is a major player in the state’s education economy. But a few years ago, its faculty realized that they, like so many schools, were losing students. Recruitment was good, but an increasing number of students seemed to be dropping out without receiving the degree or certificate they had started out in pursuit of. Why was that? One leading hypothesis was that students who dropped out had lacked a clear vision of what they were doing at school—what their career goal was, or what job they were training for.
There are other reasons for students to drop out, of course. Life circumstances can change dramatically, making education financially or personally ill-advised. But when Minnesota State contacted a number of students who had left the college without a degree, it heard again and again that the students had felt unconnected to their major, and that they had been uncertain of what their goals in getting an education actually were.
In the words of Anthony Schaffhauser, Dean of Student Access, “There were a lot of students who said, ‘I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.’ And it hit us that we could do something about that.”
Telling Every Student Their Own Success Story
Minnesota State’s mission statement is “a success story for every student.” But the percentage of students who were dropping out because they didn’t see the value in continuing was threatening to compromise that vision. To fix that problem, Minnesota State’s leadership took action. Its “Your Turn to Learn” campaign focused on reaching out to students to make sure that students started their time at the school with a clear sense of what their goals were, and maintained that throughout their education career. And the college wanted to make sure that those same students stayed aware of and focused on those goals as their academic career progressed. To help with those focuses, Minnesota State turned to Emsi’s Career Coach.
As part of the “It’s Your Turn to Learn” campaign, Minnesota State was already doing cutting edge work by systematically targeting its non-returning, non-completing students. Adding Career Coach strengthened that effort considerably. And it also helped with the work being done for “undecided” students still at the school—students who lacked clear direction in their education path. Those students were given access to Minnesota State’s full range of career exploration tools, including Career Coach, career counseling workshops, and more, with a goal of giving them a definite educational target that they could make a plan to reach.
Career Coach is now a great success story for Minnesota State. According to the college’s internal data, more than 400 people search for careers per month are using Career Coach. And the “It’s Your Turn To Learn” campaign has led to the re-enrollment of about 60 former students—a major win.
Continuing to Move Forward
So what’s next? One of Minnesota State’s goals to join the elite group of Career Coach clients who have actually put Career Coach into a “coach.” Shaffhauser said that he was inspired by the story of how St. Louis Community College used a 36-foot computer- and WiFi-equipped trailer to get in touch with the community. Now he’d love to find a beat-up bus that automotive students from the college can fix as part of their studies, then fill it with computers with which to show Career Coach to potential students, decorate it with eye-catching graphics, and take it out into the community.
But the publicity and flash of that dream are really just means to an end for the real goal, which is to serve Minnesota State’s community. “Our primary dream is to combat the cycle of declining enrollment,” Schaffhauser said. That means using the means at his disposal, including Career Coach, to bring the facts about Minnesota State to the community, through high schools, workforce centers, and whatever else is available. “The college’s vision is a success story for every student,” Schaffhauser added. “To do that, students have to have goals. It doesn’t usually happen by chance.”
About Minnesota State Community And Technical College
Minnesota State Community and Technical College offers more than 120 career and liberal arts programs at locations in the heart of Minnesota lakes country and the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area. With campuses in Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena, the college also offers 25 online majors and hundreds of online courses.
Emsi turns labor market data into useful information that helps organizations understand the connection between economies, people, and work. Using sound economic principles and good data, we build user-friendly services that help educational institutions, workforce planners, and regional developers (such as WIBs, EDOs, chambers, utilities) build a better workforce and improve the economic conditions in their regions. For more information, email Josh Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit www.economicmodeling.com.