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Graduate Schools Centralize Orientation, Lower Melt Rate

Online Orientation Yields High Satisfaction & ROI

Graduate Schools Centralize Orientation, Lower Melt Rate

 

The graduate schools at George Mason University and the University of North Georgia (UNG) are quite different in size and makeup. However, the challenges each faced with their new student orientation programs—inconsistency, ineffectiveness, and a lack of insight—were strikingly similar. They now share one characteristic: compelling results within a year of implementing Advantage Orientation®. During a recent webinar, graduate school leaders from these two universities discussed their experiences.

Two Paths Forward

George Mason is Virginia’s largest public university, an R1 institution with nine schools and colleges and more than 11,000 graduate students enrolled at any time. UNG is a collection of five campuses across northeast Georgia with a growing population of less than 1,000 graduate students.  Dr. Laurence Bray, Sr. Associate Provost of Graduate Education at Mason, and Dr. Troy Terry, Dean of Graduate Studies at the UNG, were both unsatisfied with the mostly in-person orientations their schools were operating.

“Orientation was really a mix of everything,” Laurence said. “And in the end, not every graduate student coming in had a similar experience.”

Both described decentralized processes, with individual programs and colleges handling their own new student orientations. This resulted in inconsistencies as some larger entities might provide two or three days of comprehensive instruction while others might offer little to no guidance. With orientations often including university-wide and discipline-specific information, leaders of baseline services were inundated each year with duplicative updates and had to hurry from one orientation to another to conduct presentations. However, inconsistencies persisted regarding the communication of such critical topics as policies and procedures, research expectations, and student services.

“Graduate orientation was all over the place,” Troy said. “There was a need for us to communicate some things collaboratively across the board to create a common foundation for every graduate student.”

Features Worth Funding

Knowing their schools already used Advantage Orientation® for their undergraduate onboarding, Laurence and Troy returned to Advantage Design Group® for a virtual experience tailored to graduate students. Advantage Orientation, one of many recruiting and orientation solutions offered by Advantage Design Group® for educational institutions worldwide, creatively blends videos, graphics, quizzes, and dynamic style options with practical information and discovery tools to stimulate student engagement.

Laurence and Troy also used similar strategies to secure funding. This is the advice they offered during the webinar:

  • Point to a virtual orientation (or similar kind of expenditure) currently used by your institution’s undergraduate program, particularly if it has been effective. You can leverage this as a way for leadership to demonstrate how much it also values the graduate program.
  • Make the student experience part of an overall strategic plan. Funding is easier to obtain when you're trying to advance a strategic goal rather than acquire a specific item itself.
  • Stress the platform's adaptability, which enables administrators to make incremental changes and expand over time.

Mason launched its online graduate student orientation in June 2023; UNG launched its own a couple of months later. The browser-based platform is completely customizable for schools and highly flexible for users, enabling students to progress at their own pace and access it on any device, providing convenience and encouraging completion. Using the platform’s built-in analytic tools, Laurence and Troy were easily able to access and track data more efficiently.

Solid Returns within One Year

With a full academic year to examine, Laurence reported a 60.5% completion rate among 1,959 students. Despite UNG's late implementation, Troy still reported an 8% completion rate in fall 2023, a 48% completion rate in Spring 2024, and a 38% completion rate for a 2024 summer term. Like Mason, UNG’s 362 students who participated were not required to undergo or complete the orientation.

In terms of student satisfaction, a survey at the end of every Advantage Orientation® captured the following parallel results:

Student Satisfaction Ratings

Mason

  • Very Convenient: 99%
  • Complete/Useful Content: 95%
  • Strongly Agree/Agree More Equipped to Attend: 82%

UNG

  • Top Feature: Convenience
  • Complete/Useful Content: 95%
  • Strongly Agree/Agree More Equipped to Attend: 95%

For Mason, the significant number of satisfied students completing online orientation contributed to another crucial metric: a lower melt rate among the same cohort of students. By adding a graduate enrollment deposit to the pre-enrollment process and the online experience, Laurence said the percentage of students who quit before enrolling decreased from 30% in fall 2022 to 19% in fall 2023.

Moreover, Laurence and Troy each said their online orientations have started having the effect they hoped for from the beginning – removing the disorganization, unevenness, and redundancy from the program- or college-led events. Troy said that while the program directors still offer their orientations, they have begun removing common baseline subjects they know will be covered elsewhere.

“For the first time, we have a streamlined, comprehensive onboarding process for graduate students across all programs that we did not have before,” Troy said.

“It’s made a big difference just having a uniform experience for all graduate students,” Laurence added. “We hope a lot of incoming students for fall ’24 are going to be able to take full advantage of the experience.”  

While both leaders acknowledged they will have some monitoring and tweaking to do along the way as they learn more about student behaviors through the platform’s analytics and other data, they are encouraged by the numbers so far and believe making the orientation mandatory may not be a high risk. Troy mentioned that the ability to make incremental, real-time changes is a highly desirable feature in addition to many others that make the product cost-effective.

“It’s not a make-or-break item for, I think, the results we’re going to get and the students we can serve,” he said. “We could not duplicate it face-to-face or try to create this ourselves with our current elements.”  

Are you seeking a more centralized and effective solution for your student orientation needs? Consider our pre-designed solution customized to Graduate Students and enhance retention with single-topic videos from Advantage OnDemand.  

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