Making Enrollment and Student Success Everyone’s JobTimothy Fournier | Managing Director, Huron Consulting Group
Changing demographics, increasing price competition, rising student debt, shrinking state funding and questions related both to graduates’ job prospects and the market relevance of certain degree programs are fundamentally changing the nature of enrollment operations at many colleges and universities.
For many years, colleges have competed for new students with expanded services and facilities. The industry could afford to add capacity and capability because demographics, tuition increases and a growing economy provided the resources needed to fuel the education machine. Retention has always been an objective for higher education but, until recently, a secondary one. An increasing supply of potential students enabled higher education to lavish attention on the admissions end of the student lifecycle with less focus on seeing students through to graduation and then engaging with alumni.
The time has come to move from simply managing the application funnel to a more holistic approach: aligning enrollment activities—from recruiting to retention to graduation–with institutional mission.
Once an implicit social contract, college graduates reasonably expected to get good jobs with compensation at levels seen as appropriate relative to net cost of attendance. But that has changed. With a challenging economy, dramatically increasing debt loads for some students and excess capacity across higher education, the value proposition of higher education for many students and parents is no longer the same. The power dynamic shifted in favor of students and parents forcing institutions to compete on price. To do so successfully, institutions will need to focus on their strengths and core identity to demonstrate their true value.
The notion of enrollment management has long been associated with integrating admissions and financial aid activities to target and enroll the best class for the institution. With the changes to the higher education environment that have emerged in the last five years, many colleges and universities have found it more difficult to meet recruiting goals. As student selection behaviors change and the national dialogue increasingly turns to employment-related outcomes, many enrollment managers have noticed that the old predictive models have lost much of their power.
To fill some of the excess capacity built up over years of population growth, colleges and universities have been forced to turn to new geographic markets, both domestic and international, and to consider overall enrollment composition–including the number of undergraduate, transfer and graduate students–and increase tuition discounting accordingly. Many colleges can no longer anticipate with any level of precision exactly how large that incoming fall class will be, making it essential to utilize new techniques for gathering and analyzing relevant data.
An innovative new approach is Strategic Enrollment Alignment. This institutional approach uses a data-centered process to link enrollment operations with academic objectives and resources.
Strategic Enrollment Alignment:
- Capitalizes on institutional strengths
- Builds on prospective students’ existing perceptions of the institution
- Supports students throughout their academic career to completion
- Aligns academic programs with future employment needs
An approach that aligns institutional identity and capabilities with academic programs that prepare students to build future careers attracts and retains today’s students better than programs that expect the student to make those connections. For example, an institution with academic strengths in natural resources, mechanical engineering and marketing can prepare its students for careers in environmental sustainability fields that meet both student interests and market demand.
Strategic Enrollment Alignment brings together academic and administrative leaders from across the organization to analyze institutional identity, enrollment data and future societal need to capitalize on the institution’s strengths and opportunities. The end goal is to provide an academic path for students that prepares them with the skills and abilities they need to begin, build and sustain long-term careers.
Author Perspective: Business