Most enrollment shops already report program-level enrollment data to academic leadership. However, they don’t always do competitive analyses of individual programs (instead, these tend to happen at the institutional level).
But to meet institution-level enrollment targets, enrollment managers (EMs) should look more closely at increasing enrollment within individual programs. And to do that, EMs need a clear understanding of which programs might be losing market share to competitors—and why.
EAB‘s enrollment experts recommend a two-step process.
Step 1: Identify competitor institutions
Program websites are helpful to convert inquiries to applicants but their discovery depends on students first identifying the programs as enrollment contenders. Students are typically identified online when they search for the institution and their intended major.
Out-of-date or uncommon names fail to attract students and signal a program that may not be keeping pace with industry trends. EMs should flag programs in need of naming and specialization updates by benchmarking their enrollment performance to peers using National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data.
Most institutions use NSC data to identify their top freshman overlap schools but this same data can also help EMs asses the performance of individual programs. EMs can identify the students who indicated interest or applied to the program under review and then use NSC data to determine each program’s top peers.
Step 2: Benchmark against program-specific peers
Because some programs attract distinct student segments, the program-level assessment often reveals different peers than those identified at an institutional level. By sizing the headcount, revenue, and academic quality lost from applicants enrolling at peer institutions, EMs can alert academic leaders to the need for enrollment improvement.
Additionally, by narrowing program competitors to a handful of peers, EMs assist academic leaders in identifying program refreshment opportunities—pinpointing top institutions for program comparisons.
EMs can visit competitors’ websites to identify what program characteristics may be drawing away admitted students.
Example: Marist College
Marist College noted that its otherwise strong computer science program was losing admitted students to an institution with a less robust program, despite Marist’s strong intern placement and employment outcomes derived from its relationship with IBM.
The EM’s market research identified that the program had failed to signal its value by keeping specializations up-to-date. While Marist offered a generic computer science degree, its peer had added specializations in gaming and software development. Additional specializations, which did not require added faculty, led to a 10% boost in computer science enrollment after just two years from an additional 25 students.