Student Engagement
Begins with the First Interaction

Written by Judy Tierney

For Ken Boutelle, NCU’s Vice President for Enrollment, getting students excited about Northcentral University often begins months or even years before students begin their first class. Boutelle and his team are responsible for communicating with prospective applicants, onboarding new students and developing resources and programs to keep them engaged while they earn their degree. “Creating a meaningful, consistent communication that draws students in early on, and keeps them engaged through graduation and beyond, is becoming more and more important,” he said.

Establishing the kinds of connections that will last over time is no easy task. In addition to constantly refreshing the University’s offerings and consistently evaluating and adjusting the way they communicate, Boutelle credits a vast network of supportive individuals for guiding students on their journey.

“NCU’s one-to-one learning model has long been a hallmark of the University’s success in enhancing the student experience,” explained Boutelle of NCU’s approach of pairing one student with one faculty member during each course. “We use that same model for every touchpoint we have with students, starting from our first interaction with them.”

The journey most likely begins with an enrollment advisor who helps the student determine what program is right for them, and takes them through the enrollment process. From there, they are paired with an enrollment specialist for support submitting all of the required documents for admission evaluation. Working one-to-one with a financial aid advisor, they can identify financial aid options to meet their individual needs. As students begin their one-to-one coursework with their faculty member, a new student advisor is available to help orient them to the University and set them up with various resources.

Boutelle described the efforts as a collaboration between enrollment services and marketing. “We assess how we communicate, what programs have been the most meaningful and try to develop new opportunities that we feel will be relevant to students going forward,” he said.

Enrollment advisors are the first line of communication with the prospective students. They hear student questions and concerns first-hand, and provide important insight into shaping the resources needed to address their issues. While the technology for communicating is shifting – students today are much more responsive to texting versus traditional phone calls, for example – many of their concerns are the same. “Cost, time, technology and whether they have what they need to complete an online program are still major areas students want to talk about,” Boutelle said.

Academic and financial advisors are specifically trained to guide students in identifying financial aid packages that can ease the cost burden. Additionally, the University consistently offers grants and scholarships targeted to the types of students – independent self-starters – who typically thrive at NCU. The University’s 20th Anniversary and Kick-starter grants, as well as the Back to School and Bright Future scholarships were among those recently offered.

“We assess how we communicate, what programs have been the most meaningful and try to develop new opportunities that we feel will be relevant to students going forward.”

Ken Boutelle, Vice President, Enrollment

NCU’s Student Technology Resource Center was specifically designed to help ensure easy, cost-effective access to the technologies that play such an important role in an online program. Here students can find major discounts on computers, receive a free download of Microsoft 365, or access Better Weekdays, a job-matching site, which helps pair students with positions that fit with their education level, interests and skills, and workplace cultural preferences.

To help students with time management and the demands of getting through an online program, NCU offers a variety of ongoing workshops and resources. Upon enrollment into NCU, students are paired with an academic advisor tasked with orienting them on how the classroom operates and guiding them to the programs that will be most helpful for their specific needs. One of the first steps is helping students get connected to The Commons, a place where students can interact with one another online and engage in academic discussions.

Additional resources that students can tap into throughout their time at NCU include the Library, which provides various services and research assistance, the Academic Success Center for writing resources and coaching, and the Dissertation Center. Workshops, such as Mark Woods’ “Attack Your Day Workshop,” offer helpful tools for students on how to successfully integrate going back to school into their busy schedules and other relevant topics.

“Students are becoming much more interested in the student services that universities provide,” Boutelle said. “I’ve seen a shift from students wanting to get through a program as quickly as possible and wanting to find the easiest path to a genuine interest in a getting a quality education that’s going to help them professionally with their career. I’m sure it has always been there, but I’ve noticed it’s come much more to the forefront over the past several years.”

“Students are becoming much more particular about the student services that universities provide.”

Ken Boutelle

For Boutelle and his team, making sure that students have a relationship with the University from the start is essential in helping them accomplish their ultimate dream of earning their degree. “My theory has always been that it takes a village to support a student to graduation,” he concluded. “It’s still an evolution, but we work very hard to keep students engaged, provide them with a support system and to do everything we can to make them part of the NCU community.”