This blog post provides an updated look on a previous blog post stating how market research can help address higher education enrollment challenges. Institutions are still trudging through slower growth in enrollment than they have experienced in the past. As projected in the previous blog post, the National Center for Education Statistics has again reported the number of high school graduates to be on the decline, with 24 states and the District of Columbia expected to produce five percent or more fewer graduates in 2022-23 than in 2009-10. The Northeast can again expect the sharpest decline, where high schools are projected to produce 10% fewer graduates by 2023.
Fewer high school graduates directly influences the dip in projected enrollment in postsecondary institutions. While overall enrollment is projected to increase by 2022, the percent increase is projected to drop dramatically, from a 45% increase between 1997-2011 to a 14% increase between 2011-2022. Through conversations with clients and colleagues, it’s clear that institutions are aware that actionable insights will be needed to tread the waters. While the approach will vary across institutions, we’ve included some recommendations below for consideration in tackling enrollment challenges.
- Tap into Uncharted Territory
Through the projects that we’ve completed for higher education clients, RMS has seen online learning continue to gain in popularity among students and institutions alike. As mentioned in a recent blog post, online learning platforms are expected to become more customizable, providing immediate feedback on performance and tutoring, and ultimately leading to faster degree completion and enhanced academic relationships with professors. This has led to a surge in institutions demonstrating an interest in finding ways to upgrade or offer online educational options. A survey, in-depth interviews, or focus groups with current and prospective students are valuable tools to find out if online academic offerings is an uncharted territory worth pursuing.
- Understand and Recruit from the Changing Demographic Pool
The traditional college student is a shrinking demographic. Institutions saw a 49% increase in enrolled students between 18 and 24 years old from 1997-2011, but that increase is projected to decline to 9% from 2011-2022. In fact, post-secondary students 35 years or older are expected to command the largest enrollment increase during the same time frame (23%), while a 20% increase in enrollment of those between 25 and 34 years old is anticipated. This continual shift in demographics among college students is a trend that will force institutions to re-tool their marketing and recruiting efforts. Adult learners will require different student services and financial needs than their younger counterparts. Commitments outside of the classroom will also vary. There are many paths that institutions may take to determine the appropriate strategy for reaching these populations. It will be important to gauge interest in the college’s current suite of academic offerings, figure out if there are programs you should be offering to capitalize on untapped adult student populations, and match that with the labor market demand for those occupations to drive marketing efforts. Program feasibility studies will become vital components of an institution’s effort to answer these questions. Student services and financial needs can be measured through focus groups, surveys, or through a competitive analysis of the institution’s top competitors.
- Revitalize Retention Efforts
Retention is critical to higher education institutions, and for good reason. Retention is influenced by initial college impressions such as admissions procedures and policies, but includes many post-admission factors such as academic advising, financial aid, student activities, and residence services. There are several ways to determine which factors are weighing most heavily on retention. An institution can pinpoint their areas of opportunity by measuring current student satisfaction and comparing it to data gathered from individuals who inquired about the institution but did not apply or enroll. This will reveal where current students feel the college may be falling short and allow the institution to make improvements in an effort to reduce the likelihood of the student body seeking other academic options. It will allow the college to identify gaps in current processes or services that is leading to missed opportunity at the initial admissions phase. Focus groups, satisfaction surveys, and student services assessments are great options to answer these questions.
Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our higher education market research services, please contact the Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.