3 enrollment pressures to prepare for in 2018

By Jahanara Saeed

2017 was a whirlwind year for higher education. We witnessed heightened scrutiny of the industry in the public sphere and the rising tide of student activism across college campuses. This was coupled with increasing pressure on business models fueled by changing demographics, decreasing enrollment, and rising costs. As you look ahead to 2018, it's important to dig deeper into some of these emerging trends, their impact on your institutions, and how you can best prepare yourselves and your teams to adapt to them.

A changing and challenging new customer to serve

Recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data demonstrates higher education enrollment has continued to decline. Not only are you competing for fewer students, but it’s becoming more challenging to get your target student through the door. As students’ information sources diversify, they are increasingly skeptical of university websites and often look to external sources for validation. Some prospects are even going so far as to deposit at multiple institutions to attend numerous orientations before settling on their final choice. This lengthens the recruitment cycle and makes it even harder for institutions to predict yield.

Demanding Shoppers

Similarly, looking outside the U.S. to supplement our domestic enrollment is not the strategic move it once was. Over the last decade, international students have increasingly looked to regional universities to meet their higher education needs. And as the number of fully taught English degree programs abroad continues to grow, students no longer have to travel too far from home for college.

Changing Locations

Moreover, the current political climate doesn't bode well for international student recruitment. Our analysis shows that 31.1% of 2017 and 42.8% of 2018 prospects said their interest in studying in the U.S. has declined due to the current political climate. This mirrors domestic trends, where campus climate and student activism is increasingly becoming an important decision-making factor for students and their families.

As these trends demonstrate, higher education institutions must contend with heightened competition, both at home and abroad, for an increasingly discerning applicant pool. These changes make it even more challenging for us to attract students and their dollars.

Students, regardless of modality, increasingly bound by place

On the flip-side, we have found that students are increasingly constrained by geography. EAB’s recent student mobility analysis shows that 56% of incoming first-years enrolled at a college located 100 miles or less from their primary residence. The expectation is that demographic trends may lead the U.S. to become even more place-bound. As high-school graduates are increasingly comprised of first-generation, low-income, and racial and ethnic minority students, our prospects may be less willing or able to travel further away from home for college.

Place Remains Important

Surprisingly, the geographically constrained student exists in the online education space as well. Recent Learning House data shows that 54% of online students live within 50 miles of their institution, and another 18% are within 100 miles. Research also shows that we shouldn’t expect a sudden generational shift in this trend. Even though today’s students are digitally hyper-connected, 83% of Gen Z actually prefer face-to-face communication and interactions.

Online Students Local

Regardless of modality, our prospect pool is limited by our geography. If the number of high-school graduates declines in your state, looking to out-of-state students, either in-person or online, may not be a guaranteed boon to your enrollment numbers.

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