NWC enrollment steady as recruiting efforts continue

Posted 10/19/21

Preliminary enrollment data shows that the fall enrollment at Northwest College appears to be about the same as it was in the fall 2020. 

As of the middle of October, the college’s …

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NWC enrollment steady as recruiting efforts continue


Preliminary enrollment data shows that the fall enrollment at Northwest College appears to be about the same as it was in the fall 2020. 

As of the middle of October, the college’s headcount stood at about 1,415 students, down from the final fall 2020 count of 1,443, said NWC Institutional Research Manager Lisa Smith. However, the final number typically ends up higher than the preliminary figures — sometimes by as much as 5% to 7%, Smith explained to the NWC Board of Trustees at its regular Oct. 11 meeting.

In an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data, the Chronicle of Higher Education found that Northwest College had the best enrollment outcomes of all public higher education institutions in Wyoming between 2019 and 2020. The college grew 4% in that time period while all the other community colleges and the University of Wyoming lost students, according to the analysis. Laramie Community College had an enrollment drop of 21% and UW lost 20%. 

While NWC has been bucking downward enrollment trends most recently, it has seen some of the biggest drops in enrollment over the last decade, falling from the highest enrollment rates relative to the population of the county it’s located in. 

At this month’s meeting, the board also heard from West Hernandez, enrollment services director, and Carey Miller, communications services director, on the college’s ongoing recruitment efforts to improve NWC’s enrollment. 

“Recruitment is obviously on everyone’s mind, and everybody has a hand in how all that shakes out,” Hernandez said. 

He presented a list of more than two dozen primary and secondary sources the college uses to try to reach prospective students. 

The primary sources include career fairs, high school visits, coach referrals and social media relationship building. Secondary sources, which Hernandez said were more “passive,” include things like ACT tests and walk-in inquiries.

He said about 50% of their prospect generation comes through outreach efforts, which include a lot of travel around the country and especially in neighboring states. In face-to-face interactions, the college has a variety of literature with information about scholarships, costs and tours. Hernandez added that travel is costly and challenging — and in today’s digital world, travel to events has a diminishing rate of return on the investment. 

For that reason, half of the college’s prospect generation comes from the college’s website and social media campaigns. In May, NWC launched new customer relationship management (CRM) software, used to create personalized digital experiences for its interactions with prospective students. 

“We’re able to collect more information now on students than we have in the past, and monitor their behaviors,” Hernandez explained. 

Based on interaction with social media ads and the website, college officials are able to better determine what qualities of the institution resonate with students.

This is important in NWC’s recruiting efforts, Hernandez said, as the school attracts students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some students are looking for a community college with solid transfer opportunities, some are non-traditional students looking to improve their skills in their careers and some are international students.

Miller explained that when students click on the college’s social media advertisements, it will take them to an NWC webpage specific to that ad. So if, for example, a prospective student clicks an advertisement on the affordability of NWC, it will take him or her to a page about the college’s value. 

The advertising campaign includes a lot of traditional media as well, such as newspapers, magazines and radio. This includes custom-branded articles that speak to the colleges four key messages: location, quality, affordability and experience. 

“We’re using that to tell our story more,” Miller said.

From July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, NWC’s digital ads across 16 social media sites were seen 4.7 million times and clicked on 34,000 times. This amounts to a click-through rate (as it’s called in social media analytics lingo) of 0.96%. While it may seem small, the national average for higher education online advertising is 0.73%. 

“We are reaching our audiences,” Miller said. 

During the same time period, the NWC website had 187,000 visitors viewing 1.2 million pages. Unpaid social media efforts resulted in 160,000 engagements, which is an interaction with a visitor (such as clicking a link). These engagements came from 6.1 million impressions, which is a measure of the number of times the college’s social media posts were seen. 

With the new CRM being in use for only five months, Hernandez said it’s too soon to fully determine how well it’s working or where improvements are needed, but he said it automated a lot of the department’s workflow. 

Trustee Dusty Spomer asked Hernandez how budget cuts have impacted the department’s recruiting efforts.

While more money can always help, Hernandez said, “if you compare us to other colleges around the state, we’re right where we need to be in terms of admissions staff.” 

The college just hired another admissions representative, one with a computer science background.

“I think it’s going to be a big bonus,” Hernandez said.

Miller said the communications department does a lot more work now than it did six years ago, and that’s with a staff of five, down from nine.


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