Enrollment Blog

Does “up” really mean “up” this year?

by Peter Farrell

Since this post was originally published, we have updated commentary on the results of the survey mentioned below. Check out our most recent post, "Application volatility continues in wake of early FAFSA," for the latest insights.

Normally, record-setting increases in application volume would qualify as a cause for celebration for enrollment leaders, especially at schools looking to grow class size.

This seems to be a particularly good year for many of Royall & Company’s partner institutions. We’ve had a number of reports of unprecedented spikes in application volumes, and our marketing teams are cautiously elated about the positive news. So why aren’t we breaking out the party hats?

In a word, “FAFSA.”

This could be a year where being “up” right now in applications is a false signal for many enrollment offices around the country. Because of the change in the timing of FAFSA submissions for this cycle, we could be experiencing significant activity pulled forward in the year. A recent Royall & Company survey found that more than a third of students expected to apply to schools earlier this year as a result of the FAFSA rule changes.

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If this is indeed a year when the application submission curve is shifting earlier, that shift would lead to higher than expected year-over-year application activity in the fall. This, in turn, could lead a number of colleges to feel they’re in a good spot through early-mid November, but see their early lead evaporate as the holidays approach. Not to be even more downbeat, but schools experiencing absolute declines in application submissions at this point in the cycle should be particularly concerned.

Our EAB research team is surveying Enrollment Management Forum members and Royall & Company partner institutions on the ongoing impact of FAFSA timing shifts, and we hope to be able to report back quantitative findings across the next several weeks. In the meantime, we are advising enrollment leaders to temper their enthusiasm, at very least.

It would be marvelous news if the early surge in applications persists through the end of the year and yields an especially robust Class of 2021, but we suggest monitoring application volume very closely to see if application activity starts to tail off in later November and into December.

 

Want more on FAFSA-driven behavior change?

Read about our survey results in our white paper College Costs and the Influence of FAFSA Change.

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