A new leader to help draw students to GW, and keep them there

Thousands of admitted students chose not to attend GW this year, and the University’s first-ever enrollment manager is trying to understand why.

Laurie Koehler is laying out GW’s data-driven recruitment strategy as rising tuition costs and sluggish selectivity complicates the admissions cycle even further. She was hired this summer to bring together the offices of financial aid, admissions and the registrar’s office for the first time.

With college admissions more competitive than ever, GW is joining dozens of colleges that have tapped a top official to oversee all the parts of that process.

“We can’t look at [enrollment] in these little boxes anymore, of undergraduate admissions and financial aid and registrar,” Koehler said. “We need to think about it more holistically.”

To keep GW ahead of the curve, Koehler is collecting data to better understand what applicants want, from hands-on learning opportunities to the impact of financial aid options.

Within the next two years, the University will record every email, phone and in-person interaction that it has with prospective students through pricey, high-tech software. The technology will also draw connections between admissions and financial aid information.

“If we lay this foundation, then we’re able to make good decisions about tactics and strategies because they’ll be decisions that are rooted in data, not just in, ‘This is what we’ve done’ or, ‘I think this works,’” Koehler said.

She declined to provide the cost of the software but called it “not inexpensive” and said it would be a time-intensive project.

Koehler is taking the reins after years of creeping application numbers and a stagnant acceptance rate. Over the last three years, applications are up just 2 percent and the University’s admit rate hovers around 33 percent.

Her arrival marks a new era for the admissions office, which saw its top leader, Kathryn Napper, abruptly retire last year after she oversaw class-rank reporting errors that led to GW’s unranking.

Koehler’s work isn’t just about the numbers. The strategy will look to not only help bring students into Foggy Bottom, but also to keep them there.

Nearly 90 percent of students who entered GW in 2010 stayed at GW from their sophomore year to their junior year. That figure was 94 percent for students’ freshman to sophomore years – and while this figure is on par with peer institutions, Koehler is meeting with deans and student life administrators and looking to gather more data to understand why students transfer out.

“Retention, in my mind, like recruitment, is everyone’s responsibility at this University,” Koehler said, adding that professors, students and staff of all levels can drive students to stay in Foggy Bottom or transfer out.

Colleges across the country are increasingly letting data drive the conversations, according to a top official with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Susan Albertine, vice president of diversity, equity and student success, said colleges are shifting away from the mindset that “you just let students in and then see what happens to them.”

For example, data can give colleges more insight into the pressures and circumstances that can burden underrepresented populations like low-income students, Albertine said.

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Karen Felton said the approach could help GW focus on specific populations such as transfer students.

Terri Harris Reed, who leads GW’s diversity efforts, said she also hopes she can focus more on retention.

“The work around enrollment management is that you inform your admissions practices based on what you know happens to students when they get to your institution,” Reed said. “And so, right now we are saying do we even capture the data to answer that question.”

This post was updated Oct. 1, 2013 at 5:39 p.m. to reflect the following:
Correction appended
Due to an editing error, The Hatchet incorrectly reported that 1,500 students chose not to attend GW last year. Thousands more chose not to attend in fact, but 1,500 students responded to a sample survey explaining why they did not attend.

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