Why wooing long-distance applicants is turning into a "recruitment war"

Today's students are less likely to attend college out of state than in previous years

Caroline Hopkins, staff writerCaroline Hopkins, staff writer

In the past few decades, the connected nature of our modern world has encouraged students to attend colleges increasingly far from home. 

Affordable travel and 24/7 lines of communication have gradually made college students less confined to their home states. In fact, in seven states, the number of distance-education students has more than doubled over the last nine years.

But the trend is about to change.

Jeffrey Selingo argues in the Washington Post that out-of-state attendance is poised to wind down as student demographics and economic trends affect enrollment.  Future applicants will be more inclined to pursue a degree in-state, Selingo predicts. He identifies three trends to consider in out-of-state recruitment:

1. Changing student demographics will call for different types of support

Selingo explains that, in the past, students applying to attend colleges out-of-state looked a lot like the "traditional" college student. They came from families with enough income to pay the extra costs associated with studying out-of-state as well as access to knowledge about their options.

But according to demographic predictions for the upcoming decade, an increasing percentage of high school graduates will be lower-income. Selingo notes that the biggest growth in high school graduates will come from Hispanic and first-generation students. 

40% of students who decline acceptance to their top-choice schools do so because of cost

Peter Farrell, a managing director and senior principal of enrollment services at Royall & Company, a division of EAB, explains that recruiting first-generation and Hispanic students will require a change in approach for colleges.

Hispanic students, for instance, tend to respond well to later communication about key deadlines and first-generation students respond well to transparency and up-front information—especially when it comes to cost. 

What works and what doesn't when recruiting Hispanic students

2. Less-elite institutions will have to get creative with recruitment

Students applying to out-of-state schools tend to be motivated by the prestige of the institution, says Selingo. In fact, elite institutions that accept less than 50% of applicants now account for a third of the nation's college applications—easily enabling them to shape geographically diverse student bodies. 

For less-elite institutions seeking geographic diversity, financial aid has served as a way to compensate for a lack of brand name. In 2015, one university cut tuition in half for some out-of-state students.

Jon Boeckenstedt, the associate vice president of enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University, says wooing out-of-state students is turning into a "recruitment war." He adds that "colleges are spending a lot more money to go a lot farther away to get students." But Boeckenstedt argues that the model isn't sustainable and the pipeline of long-distance recruits will dry up if schools try to reduce their discounts.

Emily Bauer, managing director of program marketing at Royall & Company, says using a multichannel approach to recruitment could boost the odds of reaching students from farther geographic distances. Applicants' preferred channels vary based on location and demographic group, says Bauer, which is why it is important to be strategic when planning your targeted multichannel approach

How to use a multichannel approach to reach recruitment blind spots

3. Yield will become less predictable

It's becoming increasingly difficult for enrollment leaders to predict yield—and manage others' expectations about yield, says Farrell.

According to Selingo, yield rates have been falling for years. From 2002 to 2015 average yield dropped from 49% to 36% for non-elite colleges. Selingo predicts it will likely continue to drop as applicants apply to greater numbers of schools.   

Farrell says there are steps schools can take to gain a better understanding of their yield metrics—one of which is to simply ask students if they plan on enrolling.

Royall & Company conducted a survey last year asking applicants if they planned to enroll. Farrell says responses to survey like this one can provide reliable information that helps predict yield: "We've found that [students'] responses are strong indicators of what they'll actually end up doing."

He explains that students who answer 'yes' enroll at a rate of 70%; those who answer 'no' enroll at a rate of 0.4%; and those who answer 'probably' or 'maybe' enroll at rates of 54% and 15%, respectively.

More about how to survey students to predict yield

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