In a recent article for The Atlantic, Jeffrey Selingo discusses the changing landscape of college admissions and the challenges enrollment leaders face for the future.
1. Technology: Online tools like the Common App have driven a flurry of applications—the number of students applying to seven or more colleges increased by ten percentage points from 2008 to 2013. But this has made it much harder for enrollment leaders to predict which students will accept their offers and estimate their yield.
2. An emphasis on “fit”: Colleges are increasingly recruiting students based on their values, personality , and interests, rather than simple demographics. To understand and connect with new student audiences, enrollment leaders are turning to big data and social media for recruitment. A 2016 survey found that 40% of admissions officers visited applicants’ social media pages as part of the consideration process, four times as many as reported doing so in 2008.
Students increasingly rely on colleges’ digital presence during their search process as well. In another 2016 survey, 58% of students reported that online reviews were very important to their college selection process. A separate study found that 70% of students think their college should update its digital strategy.
3. Demographic changes: In the next few years, the pool of prospective students in America will begin to look very different. Selingo cites research by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education showing that future high school graduates will be more racially diverse and are expected to include more low-income and first-generation students. In wake of the 2016 presidential election, rural students are also getting more attention from colleges, the New York Times reported earlier this year.
4. Recruiting partnerships: According to Selingo, colleges’ traditional recruiting strategies—such as purchasing lists of prospective student names from the College Board—may not continue to work as the population changes.
Instead, he writes that many institutions are partnering with organizations that have relationships with low-income and first-generation students, such as QuestBridge, the Posse Foundation, and the College Advising Corps. Colleges looking to recruit rural students are using a similar strategy, partnering with organizations like College Forward and College Possible.
5. Price transparency: Today’s students are more price-sensitive than their predecessors—yet research shows that many students and their families struggle to understand how much college will really cost. Even relatively small fees, such as application fees and testing fees, can present barriers to low-income students.
Selingo writes that colleges have traditionally tackled financial barriers for students with financial aid. But he points out that this comes late in the enrollment process. Students may have already decided not to apply in the first place.
Together, these five trends mean that colleges face tough enrollment decisions in the coming years, Selingo argues. Recruiting students from traditionally underserved populations might contribute to higher headcounts and a more diverse campus, but may also require investing in new recruiting and student support strategies (Selingo, The Atlantic, 4/13).