Executive Summary

In the following report, Hanover Research will discuss some ways that institutions of higher education can increase student enrollment. Attention will first be paid to overall enrollment trends in the U.S. higher education sector, in an effort to provide a concise overview of enrollment growth within the sector as a whole. Following this, we review certain factors influencing student enrollment growth, with particular emphasis placed on the factors which influence a student’s decision to enroll at a particular college. Finally, we present six brief profiles of some of the “fastest-growing” institutions of higher education in the United States and discuss how this enrollment growth has occurred. It is important to note that student enrollment figures can be affected by a variety of factors both inside and outside an institution’s control. In light of this, we focus on identifying the types of enrollment growth that these institutions have realized in recent years, as well as some of the initiatives and actions these institutions have undertaken which were designed to achieve, which resulted in, or which may be related to enrollment growth. The appendix to this report identifies a greater number of postsecondary institutions that have registered high enrollment growth over the past decade.

The overall structure of this report is as follows:

  • Section One: Trends in Student Enrollment Growth
  • Section Two: Factors Influencing Student Enrollment
  • Section Three: Profiles of High-Growth Institutions
  • Appendix Fastest Growing Institutions of Higher Education

Key Findings:

  • Over the past several decades, enrollment in postsecondary education in the United States has increased dramatically. Between 1989 and 1999, enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States rose by approximately nine percent. Over the course of the next decade, from 1999 to 2009, enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions skyrocketed approximately 38 percent, from 14.8 million to 20.4 million.
  • Between the fall of 2009 and the fall of 2020, total enrollment in postsecondary degree-granting institutions is projected to increase by approximately 13 percent. It should be noted that different student groups are projected to experience different projected changes in enrollment during this timeframe. For example, enrollment is projected to increase 8 percent for men but approximately 16 percent for women. In the same time period, enrollment is projected to increase nine percent for students who are aged 18-24, 21 percent for students aged 25 to 34, and 16 percent for students 35 and over.
  • Achieving student enrollment growth depends on a variety of different factors, not all of which an institution can control. For example, several empirical studies have noted that college enrollments in the United States have increased as unemployment increases, suggesting that prospective students deem it worthwhile to leave a struggling workforce to enter higher education.
  • A student’s decision to enroll at an institution is based on several factors, such as “student background characteristics and external influences which include significant persons, institutional characteristics, and communication from institutions.”1 Institutional characteristics such as cost, financial aid, location, academic quality, and recruiting materials and practices have also been identified as notably influential in the student college choice process.
  • Institutions that successfully increase student enrollment typically make enrollment growth a core university value by incorporating this mission into their strategic plans. Many institutions profiled for this report highlight institution-wide commitment to enrollment growth as a significant factor in successfully attracting high numbers of prospective students
  • Many institutions are able to achieve higher student enrollment by creating additional programming—both on-campus and online—that attracts a wider range of prospective students. For instance, Tiffin University recently added a Masters of Humanities program which accounted for nearly 20 percent of graduate enrollments in 2009. Similarly, as a result of the University of West Alabama’s decision to expand its online programming, the university has successfully attracted more adult and non-traditional students.
  • Generally, institutions seeking to increase student enrollments tend to revise their recruitment efforts to focus on either a larger geographical area (including international locations) or a specific subgroup of students. Many institutions profiled for this report have found success through targeting prospective students from areas outside of the institution’s geographic region or minority or first-generation students.
  • As institutions begin to experience enrollment growth, they often need to embark on capital campaigns to accommodate their higher student numbers. Additionally, many of the institutions profiled in this report have increased their financial aid and scholarship offerings in order to make postsecondary education more attainable for a wider range of students.

To download a complimentary copy of the full report, complete the form below:

Hanover Research