Enrollments represent a significant revenue source for all higher education institutions, but enrollments have been in decline for eight years. With the COVID-19 pandemic placing further pressure on enrollment targets, this decline is expected to continue, with early projections suggesting the potential for a 15% drop in enrollment this fall.
The contributing factors to enrollment decline are wide ranging. College-age student populations are decreasing in many geographic areas, forcing institutions to compete over a shrinking applicant pool. The continued ascent of tuition and fees has priced many students out of higher education, and there is rising skepticism over the value of a college degree. Additionally, institutions increasingly fear the loss of tuition revenue from full fee-paying international students due to travel restrictions and concerns about study abroad. With such varied contributors of enrollment decline, the burden of addressing the enrollment challenge can’t just be placed on enrollment departments alone. Combating these challenges requires an institution-wide effort to creatively and strategically target enrollment efforts while standing out from the competition.
By leveraging the unique strengths of each department, institutions can holistically address the various contributors of enrollment decline. Departments beyond the enrollment office can contribute by optimizing academic programs and tuition and aid structure, communicating institutional value and highlighting alumni success, and improving student engagement and retention. Read on to learn what each department can accomplish to drive enrollment.
By coordinating an institution-wide enrollment strategy, higher education leaders can leverage the unique attributes of each department to boost enrollment.
Optimize the Enrollment Funnel
Offer In-Demand Academic Programs
Communicate Institutional Value
Highlight Alumni Success
Engage and Retain Students
Optimize Tuition and Aid Structure
Enrollment departments are under more pressure than ever before to contribute to their institutions’ financial health. With enrollments continuing their years-long decline, population demographics in many areas also spell an uncertain enrollment future for many institutions.
Competition for a limited pool of applicants means enrollment offices need to upgrade the strategies they use to attract applicants and convert them into matriculants. To draw students to their institutions, admissions leaders are casting a wider prospective student net, with more than three-quarters of admissions professionals at four-year
institutions increasing recruitment efforts to out-of-state and minority students.
In addition to expanding recruiting targets, institutions should assess inefficiencies across the enrollment process to strengthen any areas of weakness and maximize the number of students that apply to and enroll at the institution.
Institutions that provide compelling academic programs that appeal to a wide range of students and offer promising employment prospects are a key factor in driving enrollment figures.
A carefully curated portfolio of academic program offerings helps institutions maximize their appeal to a broad range of potential students and gain a higher volume of applicants.
Academic Affairs departments can help maximize enrollment by ensuring they are
offering in-demand academic programs that reflect the interests and preferences of
their target prospective student pool, and ensuring degree programs align with healthy employment prospects post-graduation.
More than 80% of marketing professionals say that the primary objective of marketing
and advertising in higher education is to increase undergraduate enrollments. Marketing can help institutions break through enrollment barriers in a few ways. It can help differentiate the institution so it stands out within an increasingly competitive field, and it can help drive home institutional value with compelling messages delivered to students through their preferred channels.
From basic website and email optimization to more advanced augmented and virtual reality experiences, marketing can boost enrollment by promoting brand awareness and competitive differentiation. Additionally, marketing can contribute to recruiting efforts to pave the way for enrollment by coordinating an outreach strategy that engages prospective students.
Post-graduate outcomes are a significant factor in enrollment decisions. Alumni Affairs can help drive enrollment by tapping into alumni insights to provide success stories demonstrating how the institution prepared them for post-graduate life.
Institutions can address student concerns over the value of a higher education by highlighting alumni recommendations and success stories that paint a vivid picture for why students should enroll. In particular, these hard data and personal statements can demonstrate that higher education significantly boosts annual and lifetime earnings, reduces rates of unemployment, promotes retirement security, increases civic engagement, and leads to healthier lifestyles.
Retention is a key factor in institutions’ enrollment strategies, as a healthy retention rate can take some of the burden off of new student recruitment and enrollment.
Institutions can increase retention rates by identifying at-risk students early and intervening to lessen the chance of dropout. Additionally, they can gather student feedback to ensure they are offering a healthy school climate that reflects a dynamic, diverse, and welcoming environment.
Tuition and fees are a primary source of revenue for institutions, with many increasingly placing the cost burden on students. Decreased government funding has negatively impacted revenues, especially for public institutions who report 41% of their revenues coming from government sources.
At the same time, many students are extremely sensitive to cost. Tuition sticker price, therefore, is a delicate balancing act for institutions as they try to maximize revenue while still keeping costs competitive enough to maintain healthy enrollments.
Institutions often experiment with tuition reduction strategies to address price sensitivity among prospective students. It is crucial for institutions to understand which tuition pricing model is best, their chosen model’s expected impact on students, and how their model compares to competitors’ in order to succeed in increasing enrollment.