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Columbia College partnered with Hanover Research to improve student enrollment

Columbia College Reverses Declining Student Enrollment with Data & Research

Partnering with Hanover, Columbia College used market research to improve its recruitment and tuition strategies, leading to increased enrollment.

With a strong tradition of embracing innovation, Columbia College a private college in Columbia, Missouri, is often named a top college for its online, traditional, and custom degree programs. Founded in 1851, the college has a rich history of serving military personnel and embracing online education.

To increase its student enrollment, the Enrollment Management & Marketing office began working with Hanover Research to use a multifaceted, data-informed approach to develop a new recruitment model and enhance the student experience.

The Challenge: Reverse Declining Student Enrollment

Over the last twenty years, Columbia College has seen significant changes in enrollment, with year-over-year declines of up to nearly 20%. To counter those trends and achieve campus strategic enrollment goals, the college needed to harness the right objective data and research to make concrete and lasting changes.  

Partnering closely with Hanover, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Dixie Williams initiated a variety of research projects to help her and other institutional leaders make important decisions. Her team aimed to understand the enrollment funnel, create targeted marketing and messaging, develop tuition strategies, and refine support services to better serve online, in-person, military, and civilian learners. 


The increase in student enrollment in 2023–24, compared to the previous year


The percentage of military students who want to come to the physical campus even if not required, compared to 39% of civilian students


The percentage of prospective students who would consider enrolling part-time

21 out of 36

The number of admitted non-matriculated students who say affordability is the most important factor in deciding where to enroll

The Solution: Harness Recruitment, Tuition, and Retention Data 

The research team at Hanover developed a custom series of projects to better understand the factors related to student enrollment, including why students choose to enroll or not enroll at Columbia College, what alternative enrollment trends exist among non-matriculants, and how to best target their enrollment efforts to achieve the greatest return.  

They also compared academic programs and tuition to competitors and investigated how to better support applicants through the stages of admission. In addition, Williams’ team examined how online students use physical satellite locations, and what student services and supports were most important to online as well as in-seat students.  

 The Hanover team used mixed-methods research to complete the following projects: 

  • Benchmarking analyses of tuition and fees, residential life, military messaging, online advising and support services
  • Survey analyses related to tuition optimization, financial aid, online students, admitted students, and non-matriculating student outcomes
  • Enrollment funnel analysis
  • Geomarket assessment and dashboard
  • Academic portfolio review and optimization 

“As an institution, we can qualitatively tell ourselves a lot of things and have our own opinions from experience, but we are striving to harness research and data to drive our decisions. Students move and change, and we need to listen to them more. Hanover has become our go-to research partner, making it possible for us to pursue the answers we need.” 

— Dixie Williams, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing

Find out how other institutions are tackling enrollment challenges with our report on the 2024 Trends in Higher Education.

The Outcome: Strategic Recruitment and Retention Improvements

Over the last two years, these research projects have yielded significant data-centered findings and recommendations that Williams and other leaders have leveraged to understand the college’s current state, imagine new ideas, validate key decisions, and generate buy-in from other campus stakeholders. Some examples of recent changes include: 

  • Deciding to bundle book fees with tuition based on student feedback 
  • Modifying the online application to initiate earlier financial aid conversations with applicants
  • Moving the application inquiry to a top page location
  • Combining advising and student services into a centralized service model 

While other insights are still being considered and implemented, Columbia College is already reaping positive results from its data-driven initiatives, seeing a 5% increase in student enrollment in just the last year. 

Moving forward, college leaders will continue to use Hanover to optimize their enrollment strategies, with plans to assess the college website’s student journey and conduct a prospective student survey.

“In two and a half years, the college moved from a 20% year-over-year decline in student enrollment to a positive gain of 5%. If not for trusting Hanover’s findings and recommendations, changes would have happened much more slowly. We would not have had the internal resources to do it so comprehensively on our own.” 

— Dixie Williams, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing 

See how Columbia College improved student enrollment with strategic recruitment and retention changes

Columbia College


Private undergraduate and graduate institution


Columbia, Missouri 


Understand student enrollment choice and refine outreach efforts

Help your campus units work better together to support student enrollment with our guide, Drive Higher Education Enrollment with Cross-Departmental Collaboration.

Hanover helped Columbia College gain a deeper understanding of:

Why some admitted students chose not to attend

How to optimize recruitment, programs, and tuition

Strategies to support enrolled students

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