Maintaining Student Enrollment Amid Demographic Shifts

According to the Census Bureau, in less than two decades, older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Plus, there’s a downward trend of new high school graduates with some predictions showing a drop of nearly 300,000. 

With the number of high school graduates on the decline, university enrollment leaders face a challenge that will shift the demographics of higher education for years to come.

The National Student Clearinghouse has reported that fall 2020 enrollment of students aged 18 to 24 is down by 14.5 percent. As the U.S. continues to face an unprecedented pandemic, noticeable demographic shifts are already happening.

Cross-Campus Conversations

College recruitment doesn’t exist in a bubble. Bringing these new demographic realities to the table for intentional conversations is a must. Key stakeholders need to understand future enrollment trends and their overall impact on admission goals. Diving into recruitment data that exists in various enrollment technologies can help create a forecast of where things are headed at an institution. Data projections will be instrumental as schools navigate these demographic shifts. Additionally, as these projections come in, enrollment leaders will be able to analyze the overall effectiveness of their current admission ‘tech stack.’ This will allow institutions to create viable plans to help weather the storms of change as smaller pools of prospective students challenge the recruitment status quo.

Evaluate Admission Technologies and Strategies

College recruitment efforts can sometimes feel like a broken record. Schools purchase lists of names of standardized test-takers and that sets in motion a familiar cascade of strategies and tactics. However, with shifting demographics, the old ways are not necessarily the best ways. In fact, given the state of things in 2020, the ‘traditional’ admission tactics have continued to see diminished returns as multitudes of institutions move towards a new equitable normal of test-optional policies.

Admission leaders need to constantly evaluate the recruitment tools and approaches that they use to achieve their goals. With forward-thinking institutions moving towards ever-student-centric modes of operation, it’s important to evaluate how these tools and tactics fit with institutional values and priorities. Demographic shifts require new digital modalities for maintaining access, equity, and enrollment.

Planning for the Future

Once enrollment leaders have a sense of consensus, chosen appropriate recruitment tools, and discussed overall demographic trends, they can then work on plans for the long-term. Questions and insights will help inform these plans and include: How will enrollment goals be reached? What does recruitment look like with fewer potential prospective students? How will new technologies and solutions assist in the enrollment effort?

Focusing on groups of students that are more likely to convert throughout the recruitment funnel can be an effective approach to combat the shrinking pool of prospective students. For example, students who uniquely inquired about a college in Naviance have been found to be 54 percent more likely to apply, 82 percent more likely to be admitted, and a whopping 91 percent more likely to enroll than those found through the aforementioned old way of buying lists (Naviance Connection Data, 2020).

Always Pivoting

Change is life in higher education. There have been certain constants in enrollment and admission, but things are always evolving. The nimblest (and successful) admission offices will be the ones that create long-term plans that have room for smart pivots. As always, milestones can serve as important reminders to review performance, especially if early strategies and tactics need to be adjusted. Fortunately, the majority of higher education institutions will be facing these demographic shifts which in turn creates a level playing field for the best and brightest admission practitioners.

The Student-Centric Recruitment Framework

This post is the third in a series of six principles that will assist higher education institutions as they navigate the future of recruitment. The next blog post will be about how colleges collaborate with key student influencers. For more student-centric recruitment strategies, download the framework.

Here are links to the previous posts in this series:

Topics Higher Ed
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