by Lauren Lustgarten
Due to a number of factors, it is no shock that enrollment rates for Central Connecticut State University have been declining. From a total number of 11,784 students enrolled in Fall 2016 to 11,060 students enrolled for the spring semester, the numbers are at the lowest they have been in quite some time, according to Larry Hall, director of recruitment and admissions.
Increasing enrollment has been something Dr. Toro has set her mind to since the first day she started at CCSU. In order to implement the necessary tactics to raise these rates, the first step was to look at what exactly was causing them to drop.
“The fact that the college-age student population in the state is going down means our enrollment rate will as well,” said Dr. Toro. “We didn’t have a marketing campaign going and we didn’t have enrollment targets. All of those things are important. Even when I don’t think we compete with other institutions because I think our educational experience provides better volume, we have competition. The fact that people don’t understand all the things we offer is contributing to that competition as well.”
“We have been relying on the history of the institution, but we haven’t been diligently working towards maintaining our enrollment levels,” said Dr. Toro.
Hall explained how, although it is normal for spring semester enrollment rates to drop from fall, these numbers are still far too low.
“We cannot ignore the financial realities of 2016 and the climate that was there during that time. The economy will always play a role. It was also an election year and I am certain that there was some unsettling moments for individuals about what was coming next,” said Hall. “We need to work on moving the needle on our first to second year retention rate from 75 percent to above 80 percent.”
Progress has already started to be made.
“We have already started by launching a marketing campaign which includes billboards, a number of advertisements on public transportation buses, television ads and also digital ads,” said Dr. Toro. “We are also working with current students who are reaching out to perspective students. We have a call center downtown that we are using for that purpose.”
On top of a new marketing campaign, a new slogan has also been implemented to help along the recruiting process: “See You at CCSU.” Dr. Toro has been involving current students in the process by having them work on short videos and other pieces that you can find on social media.
Dr. Toro also held an Admitted Students Day where students enrolled for Fall 2017 came and interacted with faculty and students and were able to ask questions. Dr. Toro stated that her main goal with holding these admitted events is to have potential students picture themselves as part of CCSU. Another Admitted Students Day will be held soon.
Dr. Toro, admissions and other faculty continue to make visits to high schools, community colleges and community based organizations and recruit both within the state and region.
“We are in the process of developing the Central story; why students come to Central, what makes our educational experience unique. As soon as the story is developed we will launch another marketing campaign using that information,” said Dr. Toro.
The “Central Story” Dr. Toro has been speaking about is something that she believes will bring the university far if told.
“As a university, we have a responsibility to formally tell our story. It is really a matter of awareness,” said Hall. “There are still pockets in the state that don’t necessarily know us or think about us the way we would like them to. We have a lot of alumni across the state that are doing great things. We have to make sure people know that and that those folks are proud enough to say that they are alumni of this institution.”
Dr. Toro’s goal for the school is to have 15,000 enrolled students after five years. She remains realistic for Fall 2017 with a goal of 12,200 students.
“You may be thinking that’s not a high number, but when you have experienced this kind of decline, turning that around takes a lot of time. 12,200 is quite an accomplishment,” said Dr. Toro.
Hall explained that retainment and graduation rates are extremely important to enrollment rates. Everything is being looked at from making sure students continue to feel connected to the university to having mechanisms in place to help students if they have any sorts of problems.
“We need our students to have a positive experience so they can go tell their friends and family about the institution. No one can market the place like currently enrolled students and/or alumni,” said Hall.
“Dr. Toro’s implemented marketing campaign is certainly the start,” said Hall. “It is the beginning of continuing to move in the right direction, but that has to be coupled with positive experiences of students that continue to tell the story. Visibility and awareness is key.”
With these initiatives implemented and with the involvement of the right people, the future of enrollment at CCSU remains hopeful. Dr. Toro also hopes to add new academic programs that seem necessary for the school and students.
“There are definitely some obstacles, but nothing impossible for us to overcome. I am extremely happy to see how people have engaged themselves in the activities and the initiative we have been implementing,” said Dr. Toro.” The faculty, staff, students, alums and people from the community have been helping us along the way. I am very thankful and pleased to see that engagement.”