The predicted higher education enrollment numbers for the next 10-15 years look bleak. A recent report on the Future of Enrollment by the Chronicle of Education provided an in-depth analysis of the changes in enrollment. As many influencing factors converge, it isn’t enough to weather the storm and hope for the best. Schools have to critically assess their long-held practices in recruitment and look at admissions with a new understanding of the changing demographics.
The number of high school graduates peaked in 2013. Between then and 2030, it is predicted that the overall number of graduates will stagnate or decline. More than that, the demographics are shifting, bringing about lasting changes to the future generation of students. The three key demographic changes are:
- Uneven growth across the country
- Growth in non-white population
- Growing economic divide
Effects on student choices
Not all states are predicted to experience a decline in students. The South and Mountain West regions of the country will see growth in their student populations, whereas the Midwest and Northeast (the two areas with the highest density of colleges) could see a 15-25% decline in student numbers. Hispanic students are expected to increase by 50%, and many of the growing populations of students who choose to attend college will be first-generation.
Going away to college, in the grand scheme of education, is a relatively new concept. Ease of travel certainly plays a part, but first-generation students and Hispanic students are traditionally more likely to stick close to home, making it harder for institutions who rely heavily on out-of-state tuition. Finances will also impact students’ willingness to relocate for college.
Researchers found that the biggest factor in determining whether a student goes to college out-of-state is family income. More than half of the current students in K-12 schools come from families who make less than $40,000 a year. Kids will be less willing and able to attend an out-of-state school. On top of that, lower income students pursue higher education less often, and the retention rate among the students is significantly lower.
What schools can do
There will still be students who are willing to travel to the school they want, but the competition for those students will increase. Recruiting, retaining and reaching students in the coming years will be more important than ever. It will be up to the school to reach out to the students and make them feel like they want to be part of the campus community from the recruitment phase to the end of their education.
- Big data and predictive analytics — Using existing data, schools can identify students likely to be successful and those who need more attention to ensure their continued success. Many schools have already begun creating systems that can connect the pieces of the data they already have to help with their retention numbers. This same methodology can be applied to incoming students as well. Use the indicators of success in existing students when determining recruitment areas to find similar students
- Applications will become a portfolio — Looking for better indicators of a student’s success, the standardized test could be left behind. Many schools are already making ACT and SAT scores optional for admission. Utilizing platforms that allow students to start uploading written work, videos and photos as early as 9th grade, students can show off abilities that standardized tests and transcripts don’t highlight to schools of their choice
- More focus on transfer and international students — Transfer and international students can help bridge some of the gaps in enrollment. The students have higher yields than first-time freshman. A third of students transfer at least once during their bachelor’s degree, and 24% went to schools in other states. International students on American campuses have also been growing at a faster rate than in competing nations. Developing relationships with two-year colleges can open a steady flow of transfer students and starting programs to help international students adjust to campus life and hone their communication skills can help engage the students
- Financial aid — Students are increasingly more aware of the actual cost of education. Generation Z is more financially practical than previous generations, having grown up during the recessions. Students are more likely to add an out-of-state college to their consideration if they offer substantial financial aid. The University of Alabama increased their out-of-state student population significantly by giving away twice as much on merit-based scholarships as need-based aid.