Early enrollment numbers are in for Fall 2022 - just in time for Early Decision and Action deadlines for the class of 2023. And while early reports had experts hopeful that we’d see a rebound after the steep two-year decline in the wake of the pandemic, it appears that the overall enrollment rate has once again decreased for the fifth semester since fall 2020.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports a 1.1% decrease in enrollment, which is the closest the enrollment rate has been since pre-pandemic. And while that’s good news, experts are concerned that those high school graduates who didn’t enroll in the last two years are not coming back.
Another looming concern is the “enrollment cliff of 2025” - when demographers predict a decrease in the traditional college-age population. As a result of the recession in 2008, the birth rate took a nosedive and hasn’t rebounded since, leaving some experts to predict an estimated 15% decrease in college freshmen starting in 2025. This, plus the lost students of COVID, sky-rocketing costs of higher education in a challenging economy, and more high school graduates questioning the value of a college education will result in even more financial strain for smaller, less-selective schools, and will likely start to impact larger and more popular four-year colleges and universities as well.
In order to combat this troubling enrollment trend, it’s not enough to try to compete for the shrinking number of graduating high school students. Institutions will need new strategies to attract those groups of previously underserved or non-traditional students in hopes to win them back to enrolling in higher education.
Whether impacted by financial restraints, process headaches, or time constraints, small universities and community colleges would be wise to talk to potential students experiencing these barriers and use the insights discovered to develop new strategies to alleviate these common pain points. Some potential ideas include:
Offering dual enrollment opportunities. Many high school students take advanced placement or honor level courses at local state or community colleges during their time in high school, but these credits are not always accepted at universities. Allowing these credits to count toward a degree will encourage students to consider enrolling and will also alleviate some of the financial strain. College advisors could work directly with high school advisors to clearly identify classes that aid in a student’s path toward a degree of interest so they could begin earning college credits that count earlier in their education.
Attracting more adult learners. Most adults looking to transition to a higher-paying career do not have the luxury of dropping everything for the two to four years it takes to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree. However, research has shown that many stackable credentials or certifications don’t necessarily increase wages significantly. Including shorter-term programs that accelerate skills training - while also ensuring that students can earn industry-recognized credentials required for higher salaries - will draw more adult learners to pursue a secondary education. Providing even more flexibility, like childcare services, evening classes, and programs to find jobs after completion will show that support for these non-traditional college students.
Partnerships between larger universities and community colleges. Making it easier for students to transfer between schools will prevent the chance of enrollment drop-off, which is often seen with students with lower household incomes. One great example of this is the partnership between George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), where students apply to both institutions at the same time and once enrolled, have a specialized curriculum that ensures all credits toward their desired degree easily transfer. As a result, NOVA reports steady enrollment rates while George Mason has seen above-average increases thanks to this partnership.
Collaborations with companies. Offering a similar program as the above but between universities and businesses could give students a clearer path to securing a position after graduation and reinforce the benefits of paying for a secondary education. Additionally, institutions could work with companies to better align their offerings with today’s most in-demand jobs. Students would waste less time and money ensuring they have the proper requirements to secure a position in their desired field.
These are just a few of the ideas that universities could utilize to achieve more enrollments, but - as we always say at Vennli - it’s your customer that knows best. We can help you create a custom survey to gather data directly from these lost, potential college students that will give you the actionable insights you need to help you increase enrollment.