Crowd in Student Commons Building lecture hall

The daughter of Mexican immigrants gets an education and finds her voice. A military veteran and first-generation student shows his stepdaughter that college is possible. An LGBTQ individual finds belonging and career inspiration.

These are real stories of CU Denver student success shared at the first-ever Enrollment Assembly during the summer. Staff and faculty from throughout the university came together to celebrate these stories – and to commit to making more of them happen at CU Denver.

“Every one of you matters and has a role to play, even if you don’t have a student-facing position,” said Genia Herndon, associate vice chancellor for Access and Enrollment, who emceed the half-day event. “What we really need, as much as a strategy, is a culture around enrollment. Student success belongs to all of us.”

Four objectives

More than 250 individuals spent their morning in the Student Commons Building for the event. Breakfast burritos, a salad bar lunch and custom-made ice cream sandwiches kept them energized, as they rallied around four objectives.

Enrollment Assembly objectives

  1. Clarify definition of enrollment as both recruitment and retention.
  2. Focus on our collective “why” in enrollment strategy,
  3. Create a cross-institutional team that supports CU Denver enrollment goals.
  4. Provide resources for future connections with students.

Herndon shared a personal story of who inspired her on her own educational journey and encouraged audience members to identify their own “who” and “why” for their success as a student – and to think of how they can be the “who” and “why” behind our students’ success story.

Work on a new enrollment strategy began in fall 2017. As part of a multi-tiered approach, Herndon said the university will focus first on undergraduate and transfer student enrollment. The approach aligns with the Student Success project the university started five years in partnership with EAB education firm. Several EAB representatives from Washington, D.C., participated in the Enrollment Assembly.

EAB Managing Director of Client Services Duncan McLean congratulated attendees on enrollment progress so far, noting that CU Denver is outpacing national benchmarks for freshman application growth. Now, the university is targeting enrollment of 1,500-1,600 students.

University Senior Budget Director Todd Haggerty explained how enrollment relates to the new university budget model. State funding – which used to be the biggest source of university revenue – has decreased, and tuition competition from other universities has increased.

“Enrollment is the driver of resources on this campus,” Haggerty said. “All of our enrollment strategies are coming together to serve the one goal of student success, which means we’re aligning our resources with our priorities.”

Erika Larson, project manager for Student Success, presented national data to put into context the challenges that face college students, including drop-out rates and obstacles to career advancement. She noted that, since October 2017, CU Denver academic advisors have made 16,000 appointments with 8,000 students to support them through those challenges.

“No matter what life throws at our students, we’re committed to helping them reach each milestone,” she said.

A powerful panel

Event panelists in Student Commons Building lecture hall
Panelists share their experiences at the first-ever Enrollment Assembly. From left to right: Mike Ferrara, professor of math; Christina Hughes, student, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Jacob McWilliams, coordinator, Women and Gender Center; Sarah Leger, admissions counselor; Diana Lee, student, College of Arts & Media; and Yonas Ambaye, scholarship advisor.

The Enrollment Assembly agenda included a panel session focused on recruitment and retention. The seven-member panel consisted of students, faculty and staff, who fielded both pre-written and audience-posed questions.

In response to a question about an impactful experience on campus, CARE Team Case Manager Brooke Farley told the story of a student who lost a friend to suicide. After supporting the student through her grief, Farley and her colleagues helped the student channel her pain to help others. In collaboration with the Counseling Center, the student created a campus event called “You are needed” to support other struggling students.

When asked what she wished university administrators knew in order to support students, Christina Hughes, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, expressed her wish for more diversity throughout the university.

“In class, I am often the one woman, the one black person and the one non-traditional student,” said Hughes, a mother of four and CU Denver’s first McNair program scholar. “I would really like to see faculty mirror the culture we’re trying to create on campus.”

Panel member Diana Lee, a student in the College of Arts & Media, explained how her classmates and professors at CU Denver empowered her to be confident and speak up. She drew a laugh from the audience when she said, “I used to be OK with being a doormat, but now I’m the doorbell!”

Real-life student challenges

“What we really need, as much as a strategy, is a culture around enrollment. Student success belongs to all of us.”

The Enrollment Assembly drew participants from various units throughout the university – including Student and Academic Affairs and all schools and colleges. The final session of the event prompted them to break out of their normal teams and mix themselves into diverse groups.

Groups received descriptions of real student challenges that have occurred on campus and were asked to discuss the challenge and share ideas for supporting the student. For example, one student challenge involved an undocumented student with a hold on his account due to an unpaid deposit.

In their conversations and information sharing, participants learned that the deposit can be waived for undocumented students. They discussed further how to make the process as simple and convenient as possible for the student by avoiding passing her or him from one office to another.

Group members recorded ideas for resolving the student issues on white boards around room.

An enrollment team

Daniel Ramirez
CU Denver student Daniel Ramirez. Photo by Evan Semón Photography.

The event closed with a speech from undergraduate biology student Daniel Ramirez. An undocumented first-generation college student, Ramirez plans to graduate in fall 2018.

“I had so many things going against me,” Ramirez said, “but I also had so many individuals investing their time in me and making sure I had the right resources. Thank you all for the support you give to CU Denver students.”

Herndon seconded Ramirez’s gratitude and sent participants off with directions to be on the lookout for follow-up information on how to get involved in university enrollment strategy.

“For you all to be here and engaged in this work speaks volumes about our university’s commitment to student success,” she said. “I’m dubbing you all an ‘enrollment team.’ We’re happy to guide this work, but our success is dependent on everyone being involved.”

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