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Laying the Groundwork: Riverland preparing for rise in enrollment next year

Graduation may have just been held, but Riverland Community College is already laying out the groundwork for the next incoming class of future Blue Devils.

With the end of the school year coming to a close, the college is already looking ahead for its future students who are committed to attending Riverland this fall from Austin High School and Pacelli High School as a result of The Hormel Foundation Austin Assurance Scholarship Program.

During the most recent academic year, Riverland was one of only five of the 37 colleges and universities in the Minnesota State system who saw enrollment growth, having seen a three percent increase. Chelsea Anderson, dean of students, attributes several factors contributing to the growth, including strategic and intentional retention and success strategies for new and current students.

“In addition to enrolling more new students and increasing our concurrent enrollment and partnerships, we are focusing on putting more measures in place (both in the classroom and outside of the classroom),” Anderson said. “To ensure their success and persistence in their programs.”

On top of last year’s growth of three percent, there is an anticipated increase of at least 10 percent of students from Austin High School and Pacelli students attending Riverland in 2019-2020 because of Austin Assurance Scholarship Program. During Tuesday’s “Future Blue Devils” celebration that was held at Austin High School, more than 90 students from both Austin High School and Pacelli said they were planning to attend Riverland this fall. There’s hope that from those students who are able to attend Riverland tuition-free, many of them will end up choosing to stay in Austin to live, to raise families and to work.

“It will remove the financial barriers that so often inhibit student success and retention,” Anderson said. “It will lift the burden of financial stress that is put on the student or the families who financially support their college students. It will open the door for students who may not have otherwise chosen to go to college. It will increase the amount of college graduates we have in our Austin community, which may lead to an improved local economy.”

Preparing the path to success

Since the unveiling of the scholarship program, Riverland has held multiple application sessions at Austin and Pacelli to allow seniors the opportunity to apply for the scholarship, regardless if they planned to attend Riverland this fall or not. It was considered important because those who apply are eligible up to five years to enroll in the college and receive the scholarship.

Some of the strategies that were put in place to help with the preparations of incoming students include:

•The hiring of a full-time, year-round academic advisor to work with each scholarship applicant and recipient in order to answer individualized questions and help the “Future Blue Devils” complete all necessary steps for successful enrollment to Riverland. The advisor is physically located in Austin High School and Pacelli twice a week through the remainder of their school years.

•Riverland has additional advisors by career cluster available to answer program-specific questions and work together with students to create an individualized academic plan, which maps out their courses and requirements throughout their entire student life cycle at Riverland, including advisement around financial literacy and university transfer pathways.

•The college is enhancing its developmental education and English as a Second Language programs.

•Riverland is enhancing its student life department to ensure more strategic student engagement, retention strategies and leadership opportunities.

•Riverland is increasing placement and testing options to allow for multiple measures to most accurately place students in the right level courses.

•The college is increasing and enhancing services provided in tutoring, counseling and accessibility departments.

After the unveiling of the Austin Assurance Scholarship Program, many more students will be able to attend community college and have education available to them. For some, they may be the first in their families able to pursue higher educational opportunities that were out of reach because of cost.

Anderson believes that with the financial obstacle removed, there will be more students taking control of their own futures and forging their own path to success.

“The Hormel Foundation Austin Assurance Scholarship Program will be a game-changer; not just for Riverland, and not just for our students, but their families and the entire Austin community,” she said. “This generous scholarship program will allow for reduced student loan debt for students and families.”