Monday, September 7, 2009

Merit, need and engagement: The Role of Scholarships in Strategic Enrolment Management

Access to higher education is a long-standing priority of CQUniversity. We have at least five major programs in place that engage so-called non-traditional students, significant support services for international and domestic students (like the First Year Experience program), and access to a couple of million of dollars in various scholarships and grants which make university more affordable and attractive for students – some of which comes from generous private donors and others from government grants and community organisations.

Over the coming months, as we explore numerous strategies to increase enrolments and completion rates among domestic and international students I want for us to consider, among other things, the roles Scholarships and Financial Assistance play (and could play) in recruiting and retaining students.

Scholarships and grants can and do make a difference for a significant number of people, not just those from underrepresented backgrounds, when it comes to choosing a University and completing their degrees. And they’re taking on a more central role in universities’ information sharing with prospective and other students. So much so that six months ago another Queensland university established an Office of Prospective Students and Scholarships which brought together numerous university functions and resources under one umbrella.

I’m not suggesting that we take on that structure; what I am stating is that we need to consider the implications, benefits and risks of engaging students in a support structure that exploits more fully the advantages that scholarships and grants, based on merit and financial need, provide (to the student, the community and the University) at each stage of the Student’s Learning Journey – prospect, student and graduate.

With that in mind I want to look at existing programs, marketing initiatives and incentives which may no longer be relevant to our current and future needs and redirect much needed resources.

One of those programs is our Study with Friends and Family program (SWFF), a referral scheme we have successfully run for more than 10 years for international students. Students who referred other students to the University were able to qualify to accumulate ‘rewards points’ which then could be redeemed mostly for discounts on textbooks, phone cards, even airfare back home.

Whilst SWFF is compliant with ESOS legislation and does not compromise academic integrity, research shows it no longer appears to be relevant to most of our students or as a University marketing and recruitment strategy. Since 2005 it accounted for a total of 6.7% of our commencing students; but for the last two years only 11 students out of 1700 students at CQUniversity Melbourne have benefited from the program, only acquiring textbook discounts or international phone cards.

I have therefore decided it is the best interest of our students and the University to wind down this program and redirect resources, as a first step, to reinvigorate merit scholarship and bursary programs that reward academic excellence and make CQUniversity more accessible to qualified students from all backgrounds and countries.

In doing so, CQUniversity will still continue to benefit from good word-of-mouth among its students and graduates. Studying with family and friends, as a practice, will be something we continue to promote because we believe many students perform better surrounded by people they know and trust in an environment that is close-knit and personally supportive.
And we will still encourage students to share their experience. With or without a ‘reward’, like a textbook or a laptop, our students know that there is no one better than themselves to tell prospective students about the quality of CQUniversity’s programs and academic support services.

I believe a university-wide strategy which uses scholarships to reward academic performance and financial aid to make uni more affordable will increase and stabilise our domestic and international student numbers and enhance the profile and reputation of CQUniversity. It’s one way that we can help more people be what they want to be.


PS. I’m delivering my Inaugural Lecture at CQUniversity on Wednesday 16 September at approximately 545pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST). You'll be able to access the live webcast here at the blog and send me comments/questions during the presentation. Hope you can join me.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Hi Scott,

I am very pleased to see that you support the fact that scholarships provide a valuable tool to support student recruitment. I don't think that this perception is widely supported within the University yet. I think there definitely needs to be a larger focus on the marketing of scholarships within CQUniversity and I know DOM is working towards this. I would be interested to know if you are referring to scholarships and grants as one and the same or do you view them differently?