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Finding the fit: How Bryant bucks higher ed trends through experiential learning, career outcomes
May 13, 2024, by Jennifer Spira
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Bryant University Vice President for Enrollment Management Michelle Cloutier has weathered nearly three decades of admission cycles, including those with disruptive impacts like the pandemic, 2024’s FAFSA delays, and the looming enrollment cliff.  With 18 of those years invested at Bryant, she shares her insights on the changing face of admissions, helping students find the right fit, and how Bryant’s powerful career outcomes are leading to its largest enrolled classes in history despite a crowded and competitive market.  

What trends are you seeing in higher ed enrollment right now? 
Students are applying to more and more colleges, year over year. With the cost of higher ed right now, it is an investment. Families are looking for experiential, hands-on learning and real-world experience. Outcomes are an incredibly important piece of a college education. There need to be tangible proof points. 

Students are also very in tune with their parents’ perspective, and parents are playing a bigger role than ever. There’s a different expectation today of their involvement and I think that started even before the pandemic. We see timid first-year students coming in who, over the years at Bryant, build their self-confidence and transform into leaders.  

For a school Bryant’s size, with a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, what are some of the opportunities for students? 
Our faculty know the students. They care. There is a real focus on working with students one-on-one. We have a small school community feel but all the opportunities of a large school: variation in programs, research opportunities, internships, student clubs. And our location in Rhode Island is a great corridor for both the financial industry and the healthcare industry. 

The piece that’s student-specific is finding the right fit: Do you want a small school or a large school? Do you want the safety of a suburban campus like Bryant, or do you want the nightlife of a city? That’s where I tell families to start: Take your time and look close to home and away, city and suburb, a large school, a specialized school. See what feels best and then narrow it down.  

 

"When our Bryant students talk with their friends from other colleges, our students are far ahead in lining up internships and landing job offers, often several job offers." - Michelle Cloutier

 

Bryant was founded more than 160 years ago as a business school, and that’s still a core strength. But the university is also expanding, especially in the health sciences. What’s the appeal of the business piece across the curriculum? 
The pedagogy at Bryant is such that students come out well-rounded. It’s a requirement to come out multi-credentialed. 

As a young woman who went to a liberal arts school, the first time I took a business course was when I came to Bryant for my MBA. I’ve since realized that no matter what, everything is a business. Whether you’re working in a nonprofit or in education, or as a physician in a hospital, everything is a business. That knowledge of business, whether it’s supporting your function in your career, or it becomes your career, is a really solid foundation. 

I think Bryant is uniquely positioned with the School of Health and Behavioral Sciences to prepare our students who go on to medical school or the Bryant PA program. We’re launching a new Psy.D. program, and that will fulfill a real need. We open a unique perspective to our graduates going into the workforce in those areas, to have that healthcare and business blend.  

Bryant is among the top in the nation in metrics like ROI and economic mobility. Are you finding that more families are looking at Bryant specifically because of those outcomes? 
I will joke with families: “You want your child to go to college so they get off your payroll and onto their own,” and I think that’s something we do very well at Bryant. 

When our Bryant students talk with their friends from other colleges, our students are far ahead in lining up internships and landing job offers, often several job offers. They find that their peers are begging for anything. That has a lot to do with the resources here on campus — but it’s also our students. They get involved in a lot of things on campus, and there’s almost a competition to see who can have the longest email signature: president of this, member of that. 

They’re not afraid to take risks and put themselves out there. They understand this is the time to do that. It’s encouraged here; that’s our community and our environment. They’re a very driven group of students, and they support each other and bring each other along.  

How have you seen Bryant transform over the last 18 years? 
I’ve seen a lot of physical changes to the campus: new residence halls and academic buildings, a new stadium and fields, the PA wing. But the program piece of campus — whether academics or student life — is always growing, too. We’re always moving forward and adapting.   

Things on the Bryant campus change based on the students’ needs and how they change. We listen to them and try to support them where they are, and as things evolve — whether it's socially or with technology — we evolve with them.

Students are looking for a sense of belonging, to be able to see themselves on our campus. I’m very excited about what the Ellen Wilson Leadership Center will bring for all our students, and I have a particular fondness for the Women’s Leadership Institute within the center. 

I think that students are looking to get hands on, into labs across our curriculum, like the Bloomberg terminals and the radio station and the TV station. They’re really excited about doing and making an impact.  

 

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