The enrollment numbers game is getting harder to play.
Fewer high school students are graduating, enrollment officers are relying more on cold leads to recruit, and students are applying to more schools than ever.
Those factors are making it increasingly difficult to accept, enroll, and maintain the right number of students. Even after committing by the May 1 decision deadline, students may back out before classes begin in the fall. And as state funding for higher education falls, many schools are increasingly dependent on tuition revenue.
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Many schools buy lists—some 100,000 names long—of high-school students and send them unsolicited contacts.
"It's essentially a cold lead," says Kent Rinehart, Marist College's dean of admissions. "It's not from someone who has put a hand up and said, 'Yeah, send me more information.'"
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Enrollment managers then drop students who don't respond to the first contact and continue to pursue those who expressed interest.
But a large group of potential applicants may go unnoticed: "secret" or "stealth" shoppers who research the universities online.
"The first time we hear about them is when they actually apply," says James Mager, University of Toledo's interim vice president of enrollment.
The prevalence of the Common App and "snap apps," which often waive fees and essays, increased the number of people applying to many schools. But while that may increase rankings slots and make schools appear more competitive, it remains difficult to actually convert those prospects into enrollments.
If enrollment numbers come up short, "you go to your waiting list or you admit more folks," says James Cotter, executive director of admissions and recruitment at Michigan State University. His institution accepted more than three times the number of freshmen seats this year. "If you're over the target, there's not a lot you can do. That's why it's so important you are very measured in predicting how many will take you up on your offer," Cotter says (Craven McGinty, Wall Street Journal, 5/27).
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