PITTSBURGH – Adult students going back to school at Carlow University are getting more personal attention to help them transition from admittance to attendance and beyond.
An adult student onboarding experience started in 2018 is proving successful in both fall-to-spring persistence and fall-to-fall retention of adult learners, as well as transfer students.
Traditional students typically onboard to the university with campus tours, admission days, overnight visits and weeklong orientations.
Carlow’s student success coordinator walks adult and transfer students through the orientation process and coordinates information about credit transfer evaluations, transcripts, schedules, advisors, technology, financial aid and other key resources.
Onboarding starts when the student is accepted and continues until the add/drop deadline, said Nicholas DeWitt, student success coordinator since 2020.
During an initial 45-minute session by phone, virtually or, available this fall, in person, he discusses with students their vision for the first semester, their life outside school, whether they prefer online or in-person schooling, the availability of classes that fit their needs, and any other pertinent issues.
“I want the students to feel they are empowered to make their own schedules, to make their own decisions,” DeWitt said. “At the end of the call many students said they felt so much better about the transfer simply because they had a chance to get their questions answered.”
Through 2020, 1,282 students have been onboarded through the process.
Mollie Cecere, vice president of enrollment management and marketing, said Carlow is focusing on growing adult and graduate enrollment, an area of higher education that has projected growth.
“We saw a real need for this position as we were transitioning and onboarding traditional transfers and adult students to walk them through the process, anything from helping them register for classes to doing credit evaluations or just onboarding them to our actual system,” Cecere said.
“Typically, the biggest hurdles that adult learners have to overcome when returning to school are, how do I log in to the system? How do I register for classes after this semester? How do I pay my bills? Everything typical students would get during orientations or welcome weeks, we wanted to deliver on a one-on-one basis to the adult learner,” she said.
Jason Krall, assistant provost and former registrar, and Registrar Elizabeth McClintock addressed the new adult onboarding and coordinator’s position April 1 at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ annual conference. The virtual presentation, attended by 83 participants, was titled “Bridging the Gap: Reimagining the Student Onboarding Experience through Collaboration and Connection.”
Krall said improving student satisfaction was an important goal. He praised Carlow’s response in monitoring emails and getting back to students quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to send out emails to students reminding them to log in and monitor these online orientations, but the student success coordinator was the one really telling students, ‘Hey, make sure you log in, make sure you have your login so you can access all of our technologies,’” he said.
McClintock said the student success coordinator is also a bridge to students’ academic advisors.
“There really is a strategic hand-off from the coordinator to the academic advisor,” McClintock said. “Nick is very much the point person for the new students coming on board, and he is going to help with the hand-off. That kind of makes all the difference in helping with the students’ connection (to their advisors).”
DeWitt said assigning the student advisor quickly is important.
“The sooner the students can make that connection, the more likely the students will persist and start classes because they have a framework in place,” he said. “If we don’t introduce them to their advisors by the end of add/drop, we are not serving the students well and we are not serving the faculty well.”