Empowering Success: Delgado Community College's Redesigned Onboarding Journey for First-Generation Students

Michelle Greco, Tamika Tyson Duplessis, Delgado Community College / The Center / April 23, 2024

Delgado Community College NM Blog Auditorium

Delgado Community College (Delgado) has initiated a revamped student onboarding process aimed at enhancing the experience for first-generation students. Previous iterations of the orientation program primarily addressed the procedural aspects of college enrollment. The emphasis was more on outlining the subsequent steps for students rather than providing comprehensive guidance on navigating the enrollment process or fostering success at Delgado. In response, the team posed a fundamental question: "What should first-generation students gain from the orientation process?" The newly redesigned program is centered around equipping first-generation students with essential skills, including course planning using our catalog, navigating the financial aid processes via our self-service system, and utilizing Delgado's online resources effectively. Moreover, the overhaul of the onboarding process presented an opportunity to establish early relationships with students and set them on a trajectory toward success. Keeping this objective in mind, we developed a three-part onboarding program.


1 – Career Exploration

Part one of our improved onboarding process incorporates career exploration opportunities informed by Complete College America's Purpose First principle. Guided by this principle, Delgado created a Career Exploration Team that offer first-generation students career exploration services at any stage of the applicant journey. This team includes members from multiple student services areas, including Recruitment and Outreach, Admissions, and our First-year Experience Advising. Utilizing a cross-functional team, Delgado delivers a consistent career exploration student experience to incoming first-generation students regardless of where they were in the onboarding process. This strategy resulted in a 10-fold increase in the number of students who engaged in career exploration before beginning classes. A new student best summarized the success of this strategy, stating that the career exploration session "explained the classes I needed to take and the salary for the job I'm interested in; they helped me a lot."

Offering career exploration sessions during first-generation student onboarding is a strategic investment in students' academic and professional development that yields numerous advantages. From early awareness and informed decision-making to skill development, networking opportunities, and empowerment, career exploration sessions play a crucial role in preparing first-generation students for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. By integrating career exploration into the onboarding process, institutions demonstrate their commitment to first-generation student success and equips them with the tools and confidence they need to thrive in today's ever-evolving workforce.


2 – Orientations On-Demand

Delgado Community College Orientation Check-In
Next, we expanded our in-person weekly orientation program by creating a series of orientations delivered in multiple modalities: asynchronous, synchronous, and in person. Traditionally conducted in person, our multi-modal orientations have been adapted to the fit diverse needs and preferences of today’s students. By offering orientation programs in multiple formats, educational institutions can unlock a multitude of advantages that foster inclusivity, accessibility, and overall student satisfaction.

One of the primary advantages of offering orientation programs in multiple formats is increased accessibility. Not all students can easily attend in-person sessions due to various constraints such as distance, work commitments, or health reasons. By providing options institutions can ensure that all students, including first-generation students, regardless of their circumstances, have access to essential information and resources. This inclusivity sets a foundation for a supportive learning environment where every student feels valued and included from the start. Offering orientation programs in multiple formats allows students to engage with the material at their own pace and convenience. While some students may prefer the structure of a live session, others may benefit from the flexibility of accessing information asynchronously. By catering to different learning styles and schedules, institutions empower students to take ownership of their orientation experience, ultimately promoting a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy.


3 – Just-In-Time Communications

The final part of our onboarding process was to create and intentionally deliver a communication campaign using email and two-way text messaging to inform our new first-generation students about everything they must do to set themselves up for success during the beginning of the semester. This communication plan includes directions on task-oriented items like purchasing books. The plan also includes hints on successful behaviors like finding a person in each class that you can rely on to get any missed assignments. With the two-way text message, students are also prompted to use the tool to ask any additional questions or seek guidance from our Enrollment Coaches.

Just-in-time communications offer a strategic and student-centered approach to onboarding that brings forth numerous advantages for students and institutions alike. By delivering timely, relevant, and personalized information, institutions can enhance engagement, streamline processes, and lay a solid foundation for first-generation student success and retention. Embracing this proactive communication strategy ensures that first-generation students feel supported, informed, and empowered as they embark on their academic journey.

This 3-step approach significantly boosted first-generation student participation in the onboarding process while offering vital support for their transition into Delgado. The shift in focus yielded remarkable success. According to student onboarding evaluation surveys, 83.8% of students surveyed were confident about their required classes, 90% understood the tuition payment process, and an impressive 98.1% found the New Student Orientation beneficial. Positive feedback was consistently received across all facets of our onboarding process, and all learning objectives were achieved. Most importantly, we created an onboarding process centered around first-generation students that prioritizes their needs and meets them where they are.

For more information on Delgado Community College's approach, please visit their website here.