Survey Takes Pulse of Enrollment and Student Affairs Leaders in Wake of COVID-19 Response

InsideTrack survey finds retention, remote student support and enrollment top list of student success priorities, with planning centered on fall 2020

PORTLAND, ORE. (JUNE 23, 2020)  — InsideTrack, the nonprofit student success organization that pioneered the application of executive-style coaching for student success, today released results of a new survey of 137 senior college and university administrators on their major student success priorities and challenges. The analysis, based on a survey conducted in early May 2020, shows retention of current students as the highest priority across all institution types.

“While the pandemic has significantly disrupted college and university operations, the resilience and focus on student wellbeing that institutions have demonstrated over the past several months is encouraging,” said Dave Jarrat, senior vice president for strategic engagement at InsideTrack. “The findings of our survey highlight how institutional leaders are planning to direct resources as they seek to recover from the pandemic’s initial impacts on student success.”

This survey is part of InsideTrack’s ongoing efforts to provide higher education leaders and other stakeholders with unique and actionable insights on critical student success topics. The data is rooted in the direct experience of senior administrators managing student-facing functions, including student affairs, academic affairs, enrollment management and admissions. 

Retention Tops Priorities, As Focus Centers on Fall 2020

Even as institutions attempt to look to long-term strategic planning, most are still embroiled in short-term decisions related to the upcoming semester. When given choices ranging from the current spring term to 2021 and beyond, 77 percent of respondents said they are primarily focused on the fall 2020 semester. When asked for their top 3 student success priorities, retaining current students (80%), offering more online/hybrid classes (55%), and enrolling more students (48%) topped the list.

In Enrollment, Traditional Students Prioritized

Despite the rapid growth in working adult, online and part-time learners over the last decade and the high numbers of these post-traditional students expected to pursue further higher education in an economic recession, most institutional leaders indicated they are much more likely to focus on enrolling traditional-aged, first-time, full-time residential students.  Among leaders at 4-year public institutions, 42% listed enrollment of so called “traditional” students among their top three priorities versus 15% listing enrollment of post-traditional students.  At 4-year private institutions and 2-year public institutions, the results were 62% versus 16% and 34% versus 32%, respectively.

Budgets Strapped, Leaders Turn to Staff Development

With institutions facing uncertain enrollments and budget shortfalls, leaders expect similar to lower budgets across most student success areas.  They also expect to address their student success concerns through training and development of existing staff, as opposed to hiring new staff or contracting with outside services providers.

There are several areas where a significant number of administrators are optimistic about having additional financial resources, including student financial aid (53%), mental health/counseling services (38%) online/hybrid program development (34%) and closing equity/achievement gaps (26%).  Respondents said they are most likely to leverage outside services providers to support mental health/counseling services (31%).

Some Variance by Institution Type and Size

Although the top level results were fairly consistent across institution types and sizes, there were some distinctions, including:

  • 4-year private institutions collectively rated enrolling more first-time students (62%) as their second highest priority, ahead of offering more online/hybrid courses (46%).
  • 2-year public institutions collectively rated retaining current students (73%) and offering more online/hybrid courses (71%) almost equally.
  • Larger institutions (27%) were three times more likely than smaller institutions (7%) to rate re-enrollment of students who had stopped/dropped out as a top priority.
  • Smaller institutions are more likely to enlist the support of outside service providers, except in the area of offering more online/hybrid courses, where mid-sized institutions (27%) are more than five times as likely as smaller and larger institutions (5% each) to seek outside support.

An interactive dashboard of the results is available here.


About InsideTrack

InsideTrack is passionate about student success. We partner with institutions and organizations to improve enrollment, persistence, completion and career readiness. Our student support methodology uncovers first hand feedback about student goals and challenges. Through strategic guidance, staff training and student coaching, we help institutions turn this feedback into actionable insights that drive better student outcomes. As a nonprofit member of the Strada Education Network, we offer partners access to a comprehensive range of student success solutions as well as the latest research and insights on student success. We’ve supported more than 2 million students since 2001 and currently serve over 4,000 programs. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @InsideTrack.

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