Why optional does not work : an analysis on recruitment through College Connection
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There is an ever increasing need to ‘Close the Gaps’ in higher education and increase college enrollment rates. Colleges have responded to this need through numerous recruitment efforts yet limited research exists on the successful components of model programs that have been established. This study explored components of College Connection, a nationally recognized recruitment initiative by Austin Community College. College Connection is geared toward increasing the college-going rate in central Texas by providing all high school seniors with the tools, support, and guidance to enroll in college. The research was conducted through a qualitative study of graduating high school seniors from two different high schools in central Texas. The study explored whether students were participating in the four ‘required’ components of College Connection, and if so, were the ‘optional’ and ‘recommended’ support services at each of the high schools being utilized. It was also important to examine which of the student support services offered on the high school campuses were most helpful according to students. Factors that students perceived were preventing them from participating in enrollment activities were also explored. Additionally, themes and recruitment strategies that emerged from the qualitative interviews were collected and used as suggestions to refine current practice. Background data on the participation rates, success, and retention of students who had participated in College Connection showed enormous progress in central Texas. This study, however, reaffirmed the idea that “students don’t do optional,” and it was essential to have students in all high schools participate in all of the enrollment steps. None of the participating students in this study attended any of the ‘optional’ evening or Saturday events held on their high school campus. The study went on to reveal that even the ‘required’ enrollment components at one of the high schools were not being required of all high school seniors. This prevented many graduating high school seniors from participating in enrollment activities and gathering college information as was intended. Furthermore, both high schools elected not to schedule any of the optional or recommended components the college had offered such as registration support, teleconferencing or campus tours. This study overall found that students who did participate in the required enrollment activities found the college support services to be extremely “helpful and informative.” It also became evident that the recruitment efforts at both high schools had begun to establish a college-going culture where students were familiar with college enrollment steps and terminology, and all but one student mentioned they would be pursuing higher education after high school graduation.
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