Recruit & Retain (Capital University)

Intentional Growth and Retention

While Capital University in Columbus, OH, is one of the oldest and largest Lutheran-affiliated universities in North America, the institution is rooted in its commitment to provide an intimate and impactful college experience. Boasting fewer than 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Capital has been on a consistent and strategic path resulting in six consecutive years of record enrollment classes and an aggressive retention effort that is already yielding success.

As anyone in the higher education industry can attest, these types of results don’t happen by accident. Capital’s leaders have been hard at work to turn smart decisions into incremental growth and retention over a period of years, using a very intentional approach that has resonated with prospective and current students. Here are a few tactics that helped along the way.

Commitment to Affordability

The rising cost of education continues to dominate headlines and weigh heavily on prospective students and their families, prompting Capital to pass a tuition freeze for the 2014-2015 academic year. Prior to that, the university’s most recent increase was just two percent — its lowest in more than two decades — and followed a multiyear trend of below-the-national-average increases. Capital also provides scholarships and grants to 99 percent of its traditional undergraduate students based on academic achievement and need, and invests more than $43 million annually in university-funded financial aid.

Comprehensive Communication

The admission process can be stressful, but resources and advice can help. Capital reaches out early and consistently to help prospective students and families navigate the enrollment process step by step, easing their transition to Capital before fall orientation. The university launched welcome.capital.edu to create a pathway to guide new students and their families from application to acceptance to enrollment.

Continual Campus Upgrades

Located in a quaint suburb within eyeshot of downtown Columbus, Capital has limited options for land expansion and has had to be creative in upgrades and new construction. Add to that the fact that 85 percent of buildings on campus are 25 years old or older, which makes maintenance a top priority. The university has to carefully balance its desire to preserve its historic campus with the need to continue adding functionality for students.

Along with a routine schedule of proactive campus maintenance updates, covering everything from heating and cooling to furniture, the university unveiled its brand new 126,000-square-foot recreational and athletic Capital Center in 2001. A new, suite-style residence hall opened in 2004, complementing Capital’s other traditional residence halls and existing buildings that have been renovated into apartment-style housing. The university purchased a luxury condominium in 2008 and adds to its housing stock when certain nearby properties come on the market. The university’s two longest standing structures — the Harry C. Moores Student Union and Blackmore Library — have undergone extensive updates in recent years.

Emphasizing the Experience

Part of what an institution Capital’s size can provide is the opportunity to have multiple experiences on campus. Last academic year, the university’s athletics department unveiled a new Instagram campaign, called the #AndExperience, which gets at that very issue: showcasing students whose talents and interests lie in more than just academics. Current student-athletes are encouraged to post and hashtag photos illustrating multiple facets of their lives at Capital. The visual content generates pride for current students and also sets an important example for prospective students.

Aside from athletics, students are encouraged to engage in activities ranging from improvisational comedy to the campus radio station, regardless of major. Even Capital’s degree programs have evolved to fit students’ need and interests. For instance, while the university is known for its Conservatory of Music, some students are more interested in behind-the-scenes work than performing. Often, this work crosses disciplines. As a result, students can pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in professional studies, emphasizing music technology. Students partner with peers in Electronic Media and Film, Music Technology, Marketing and Theatre Studies departments on projects and productions to solve problems, complete a shared task and communicate clearly with people in other fields. That flexibility makes the difference when prospective students are choosing where they will spend their undergraduate years.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Amy Adams, Ph.D., is the associate vice president for enrollment services at Capital University.

Jody Fournier, Ph.D., is a psychology professor and the dean of studies at Capital University.

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