Survey findings: How does your admissions budget measure up?

Salary budget the largest expense category in admissions

The Enrollment Management Benchmarking Survey collected data from enrollment managers (EMs) at 87 institutions. The survey asked EMs to report total budgets for the four largest expense categories within the admissions office:

  1. Operations
  2. Salary
  3. Vendors
  4. Admissions marketing

The data depicted below show the average amounts spent on the four categories.

Average Total Admissions Budgets, by Expense Category, All Schools

Graph 1

Average Total Admissions Budgets (in millions of dollars), by Sector and Segment

Graph 2

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While salary is the largest expense category for both public and private universities, it accounts for a much greater percentage of the overall admissions budget at public universities.

Admissions budgets per student reveal contrasts between publics and privates

To compare expenses across universities correctly, the size of the institution must be taken into account. To do so, each expense category in admissions was divided by the total number of undergraduate students at the institution.

Average Total Admissions Budgets per Student, All Schools

Graph 4

Average Total Admissions Budgets per Student, by Sector and Segment

Graph 5

Graph 6

Measuring admissions budget expenditures per student brings the public-private divide into sharp relief. Private universities, irrespective of segment, outspend publics by at least three times across all four expense categories. The difference is most pronounced for operations (eight times) and admissions marketing (nine times).

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Admissions marketing budget allocation: Privates spend more, especially online

Given the importance of admissions marketing, it's informative to look at how admissions offices allocate the marketing budget across different marketing channels. The survey asked EMs to classify the admissions marketing budget into three categories:

  1. Print
  2. Online
  3. Other (radio, television, etc.)

Average Admissions Marketing Budget Breakdowns, All Schools

Graph 7

Average Admissions Marketing Budget Breakdowns (in thousands), by Sector and Segment

Graph 8

Graph 9

What emerges is that public universities spend far more on print than on any other channel. In contrast, privates invest more in online marketing, spending between seven and eight times what publics do on that medium. This likely reflects the greater market pressures that have compelled private universities to explore new avenues of admissions marketing.

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Notably, while regional private universities spend similar amounts across the three categories, selective private universities focus their spending on print and online marketing, with comparatively little expenditures made through other channels.

Privates spend more to attract each new student

A more illuminating measure of admissions marketing expenditures is the amount that offices spend per new student because it hones in on a core measure of effectiveness: How many admissions marketing dollars does it take to bring in each new student?

Average Admissions Marketing Budget Breakdowns per New Student, All Schools

Graph 10

Average Admissions Marketing Budget Breakdowns per New Student, by Sector and Segment

Graph 11

Graph 12

On this measure, the public-private divide is stark: Privates spend over nine times what publics do on admissions marketing.

It is also notable that regional publics spend more per student than selective publics across all three categories of admissions marketing expenditures. While this finding is unsurprising, the disparity is significant, especially in online spending.

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Overall, examining the admissions office budgets reveals an unambiguous public-private divide. Although the budget differences are relatively minor when measured in aggregate, the per-student differences are truly marked. The overall finding is that private universities spend significantly more than their public counterparts to recruit and enroll each individual student.

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