Uncertainty in Enrollment Management: The State of College Admission
“A theme that is reflected throughout this report is uncertainty – uncertainty for colleges, high schools, students, and families.” – National Association for College Admission Counseling, 2012 State of College Admission
Uncertainty is a bad word if you’re a higher education professional whose institution is largely dependent on tuition revenue. Yet, there’s no better way to describe current and near-future enrollment trends.
- It is increasingly difficult to predict who and how many will apply.
- It is increasingly difficult to decide who and how many to admit.
- It is increasingly difficult to estimate who and how many will enroll.
Let me set another frame here: popular culture has bought into the hype that it’s really hard to get into college these days, that students are rejected in droves, and that the risk of not getting into a “good” college is high. All of that talk is for the most part nonsense (The Atlantic did a great series about this back in 2011). The majority of students who apply to college are admitted to and enroll in their first-choice college or university, and 95 percent enroll in one of their top three choices. The truth is that most colleges want and need paying students, the gates are wide open, and the true challenge is for higher ed professionals to appropriately communicate in a volatile market.
Why is it so darn uncertain these days? The NACAC report offers a few insights:
- Demographics are changing. The number of college-going Hispanic youth is at an all-time high. The West and Southwest college-going numbers are up significantly, while the college-going numbers in the Midwest and Northeast are down. Women complete high school and enter postsecondary education at higher rates than their male counterparts. Homeschool students are at an all-time high.
- Students apply to more schools. Approximately a third of students apply to seven or more institutions. The average number of applications per institution increased 60 percent between 2002 and 2011.
- The average applications to admission counselor ratio increased from 359:1 in 2005 to 662:1 in 2011.
- The majority of inquiries occur online, rather than in-person at high school visits or college fairs.
- Colleges and universities increased the use of their waitlist and the size of their waitlist over the past ten years.
Understandably, there is a lot of reporting and discussion lately around the disruption of traditional educational delivery methods in higher education, emphasized by the rise of MOOCs in the past year. However, I don’t think the disruptions in enrollment management have gotten similar attention.
I’m curious – how is your institution handling this type of uncertainty? What other trends are you seeing?
Final note: Ashley Hennigan had a great conversation with David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, on Admissions LIVE last week. Check it out!