Growing enrollment in higher education is essential for generating revenue.
School budgets are primarily made up of tuition and state support based on the number of students enrolled in a per-pupil funding system. Public and private schools are in an intensive never-ending cycle of enrollment-driven anxiety-causing budget deficits. Higher education is experiencing the greatest decline in college enrollments in a decade with falling enrollment rates ranging from 4.9% to 9.5%.
Changing approaches has been crucial as schools face many unknowns and major shifts that recalibrate enrollment management. Unfortunately, this downward trend may be long term, and the need for schools to adapt long term to challenges, requires diversification of retention and recruitment approaches.
Moving forward, here are some proven strategies your team can borrow from other higher educational institutions to address enrollment:
- Examine your structural framework: Engage in a strategic assessment of your enrollment management processes. Align your internal structural strategy with your enrollment goals along with any outside factors. At SUNY New Paltz, for example, this examination resulted in key streamlining shifts, giving more attention to online program delivery, and to broadening the existing scope of current employee’s roles when budgets don’t sustain hiring for new positions. An examination of how your school recruits and serves the student population can lead to more efficiency. Many structures and processes have served well in the past but refreshing the structural process will help you thrive in the future.
- Investigate your Institutional Influence: Think about how your school is an agent of social power, with influence, that can optimize your capacity to meet more diverse students’ demands by changing outdated admissions and enrollment policies that can expand your reach. Organizations can influence the kind of policies they have, and they can achieve noble purposes such as publicly showing care for people. One specific public policy change occurred during the pandemic. In 2020, the admission process did not require standardized test scores like the SAT or ACTs. This policy was loosened up to be more inclusive, shifting the value of an applicant beyond a test score and it removes barriers for underrepresented populations and makes room for more equitable enrollments. Admissions officers can choose to allow tests to be optional because arguably tests do not tell the full story of a candidate. Diversity policies provide a competitive advantage when it comes to increasing enrollment and currently works in unison with current social movements.
- Invest in Relationship Building: Another useful tactic to increase enrollment is building trusting relationships that tap into what students specifically want or need in order to motivate them to choose your school. Your school can generate feelings of being known, cared for, and supported when they nurture relationships with prospective students by showing genuine interest and maintaining connections. Form personal connections that matter by making phone calls, sending birthday cards, inviting them to join special events, sending a handwritten note, allowing prospective students to try out courses, or making a customized video of their tour. Relationship building can help match students to the best fitting schools by narrowing down a larger pool of prospective enrollees into more seriously interested applicants that finally enroll. Interested families will become more and more excited about your school during the recruitment process as you make efforts to understand what is driving their decisions. It is financially imperative to emphasize common goals as students and organizations rely upon one another. It helps students decide on the fit and commit to your school.
- Tell a Good Story: Good stories convey cultural information about our school’s morals, values, and beliefs. Make your school story memorable, convincing, and distinguishing. The story should carry history and reinforce the school’s identity. Crafting and continually renewing a strong school story using technological tools is an indispensable plan of action to reinforce enrollment management practices. With dynamic communication methods, schools can publicize marketing messages that highlight institutional stories to attract students to enroll. Help them to believe your school is where they belong, providing a narrative of hope for their futures.
Here at RBT, our team is experienced with handling the unique financial pressures your school is up against. We hope these strategies will help your school redefine needs and evolve through the enrollment struggle. If you’d like to know more, our dedicated education team is here to help develop a personalized long-term strategy for your school. Please feel free to contact us today to connect. Additionally, if you would like to submit topic ideas for future articles our team produces, please feel free to contact us at TLideas@rbtcpas.com.