Maybe it was not always this way. But the undeniable reality now is that student recruitment is the sustaining life force of American colleges and universities. Getting students in the door, and keeping them in classrooms, is what allows some schools to grow, while others struggle.
That reality also means that schools are increasingly enlisting the tools and tactics of marketing, and the benefits of new technologies, to recruit and retain scholars. Budgets are swelling and new products and services are rolling off innovation lines with wartime cadence. And when one of those technology and service innovations can prove it works to recruit and retain, schools turn their heads.
Or at least they should.
Last week, Nearpeer and California State University, Northridge issued a research study which shows that what they did actually works to attract and keep students. And not just any students, the report says, the tools and tactics they used were effective among targeted minority and first-generation students.
That’s a very big deal.
The Nearpeer value propositions and solutions are easy – they assert that by connecting prospective students to their peers early in the inquiry and recruitment process, allowing them to form social connections on their own, that they are more likely to develop affinity and comfort through the process. Being more comfortable and connected, Nearpeer says, helps turn interest into application and application into admission and enrollment.
And based on the research and report from CSUN, it worked.
According to their press announcement, “students who used the Nearpeer platform to develop peer relationships prior to and during their experience on campus were more likely to be enrolled on Fall census day (e.g. lower summer melt), but also to complete their first academic year (e.g. higher retention rate).” Among Black students, the Nearpeer test group was nearly 17% more likely to enroll and return, the report says. Among first-generation students, the Nearpeer group was up 4%. The boost overall was also 4%.
From the report itself, “The results were clear by mid-year that students who had used Nearpeer were much more likely to matriculate and persist through their first semester and return for the second semester. The progress among first-generation, Black, and transfer students was especially promising.”
The testing population was 12,000 admitted students. And if 4% does not sound like a big deal, in enrollment math, it’s gigantic. CSUN says the results of a 4% boost across an entire class would mean an enrollment of more than 500 extra students and more than $7 million in corresponding tuition revenue each year.
Dustin Manocha, Founder and CEO of Nearpeer, said that while they expected to see a positive impact, “What was new and surprising in this Cal State study was just how large Nearpeer’s impact was on improving first-year student retention – nearly as large as the recruiting impact.”
Manocha also said, “This was especially significant because this study is arguably the largest and most rigorous of its kind on the power of peer connection and belonging.”
For those in the know, or who follow the razor’s edge world of college recruitment, boosting enrollment is gold. But also boosting retention, as was shown in this study, is platinum.
“That’s a big deal because, nationally, about one in four students don’t make it through their first year in college and return for a
second year. Even more, four in ten don’t graduate. As a society, we need to change that and our team is proud to be a part of building a better future,” Manocha said.
From the view of higher education as a whole, what may be best about the Nearpeer solution is that it’s less competitive than many other enrollment solutions. That is, the students this process may ease into college probably are not coming from another school’s prospect pool. Based on the students they are reaching, the choice is probably not school A versus school B, but school A versus no school at all.
These interventions work, Manocha says, “because students connect on the app and then transition into real life together as actual friends, roommates, and study buddies. This is a simple concept that is actually very hard to achieve.”
Since it works, it won’t be long before other colleges start connecting the dots and do this too. They should. It’s a smart bet they