To increase enrollment, look beyond tuition discounting

Schools encouraged to differentiate themselves in the market

Experts at a recent conference at University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education conference argued that schools need to look beyond tuition discounting to recruit students, Mikhail Zinshteyn writes for the Hechinger Report.

While many in the industry assume that recruiting challenges derive from high tuition, conference speakers said other factors are crucial. They encouraged attendees to forge emotional connections with students, recruit high-quality faculty, and build a solid marketing plan.

Colleges courting potential students post-admissions

"If I hear one more school say 'we're student-centered,' small classes, et cetera, et cetera, I'm going to scream," says Kent John Chabotar, former president of Guilford College. "Yeah, they all are, exactly. So what else differentiates you from other schools students are considering?"

Academic programs as a recruiting tactic

For example, President Neil Theobald spoke at the conference about how Temple has increased its appeal to lower-income students. About 40% of Temple University's undergraduate population receives Pell Grants.

One of the school's first steps seemed counterintuitive. In 2012, the university started hiring more tenure-track professors, although it meant paying higher salaries. But Chabotar says that strong faculties and academic programs are important to prospective students.

To offset the cost of the salaries, Temple defunded some varsity sports teams and administrative services, then reallocated that money to academic programs.

Temple also found creative ways to retain current students. For example, many of the university's students work outside of school to make ends meet. But the school wants students to limit their hours to less than 15 a week, citing research that students that work more than 15 hours are less likely to graduate. So Temple reimburses students for the hours they could have worked, to keep their students graduating on time.

Discounts don't work for some students

Although students often pay far less than “sticker price” once student aid is awarded, Chabotar noted that half of prospective students rule out colleges based on sticker price alone.

NACUBO: Tuition discount rates 'not sustainable'

Often, these are first-generation students who are less versed in the nuances of the college admissions process. They rely on information that can sometimes be misleading, including the listed price of the school.

Students don't speak "financial aid"

Chabotar also encourages college presidents to ask their students for ideas about cost-saving solutions, adding that the conversation starts with being more transparent about finances. At Guilford, students can take a class on college finances and discuss the school's financial outlook with faculty and administrators.

"They sat there and dealt with our problems really realistically, because they had the data and they had the context," Chabotar says (Zinshteyn, Hechinger Report, 1/15).

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