On April 7, 2020, Vemo Education convened a panel of three school partners for a webinar, “Navigating a New Enrollment Landscape.” The panel included Tim Lehmann, Vice President of Student Financial Services at SNHU; Brad Reeder, Assistant Vice President for Financial Services at Berry College; and David Walker, Vice President of Finance and Treasurer at Messiah College.
In a previous installment of this blog series, Vemo published a condensed transcript of Tim Lehmann’s contribution to the webinar discussion. In the text below, Brad Reeder describes his take on enrollment and ISAs at Berry College. Vemo has edited his words for clarity and length.
Berry College is a traditional, residential, private liberal arts institution. We’ve been in existence over 100 years. Over half of our students come from the state of Georgia, where we are in the northwest corner. We have small graduate programs—an MBA program and MEd/EdS program—and very few international students. We are a Division III program, so we do not give athletic scholarships. That’s greatly decreased our international students. About 90 percent of our students live on campus. Only about 50 of them are here right now.
We have a couple different ISA programs, the first focused on retention. We would like to think we have a great chance of enrolling prospective students who visit, and then hopefully creating an atmosphere to retain them. We were actually pushed by some parents of incoming students, who had heard about ISAs. That prompted us to take a heavier look at ISAs.
We were trying to be creative and think of ways we could meet the needs of our students, many of whom may be adverse to loans and are looking for other ways to fund their education. So, we focused on this retention and completion program. It’s built for our on-campus students, and this is just another tool we use to meet families where they are.
Our second program is a graduation assistance program. It’s focused more on meeting students who’ve lost their other options. The best example I have is a student whose parents just kind of walked away from the student their last year here. The student was lost and uncertain how to proceed. An ISA really fit the model of meeting that student’s needs, helping them complete their four-year degree here at Berry.
We’re in year two, and we’ve seen some increase in the numbers. It’s been a successful venture from the perspective of the students we’ve asked about it. We’re giving them an option that meets their needs, as well as showing some flexibility on our end. As our team has become more aware of how ISAs work and the administration of the ISAs, they grow more comfortable explaining that process to our families and our students throughout their admissions and recruitment process. It’s been a great partnership. Vemo has educated our team well, and trained them up on the process from their perspective.
Our team has gained a better understanding of how this program works and where it may meet some students where they need—to fund, for example, a small gap in their funding of higher ed. We have seen this increase in financial aid, but we have always felt ISAs were a good model for us to explore and to share with students as needed.
We haven’t publicized it across campus, but our financial aid counselors and our admission counselors do have it as a tool for them to help students. It would be nice if every student had all the finances to afford higher education, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, curveballs are thrown at these students—like the student I mentioned, who needed something those seventh and eighth semesters to complete their degree.
We’ve been open-minded about this, and our families have really been receptive. I think there’s been a change of perspective, where they’re not looking at the Berry counselor as just a recruiter, but as more of a partner, who’s trying to help them understand how higher education can be more affordable. We don’t want families to think we’re just a group that’s billing and collecting from them, but, obviously, as a partner that’s helping them make sense of private higher education.
We’ve been pleased with the program so far. We’re still relatively new to it but excited to be a partner with Vemo. We’re looking forward to seeing more from this program as it grows and matures here at Berry College.