How can colleges convince admitted students to enroll?

Dive Brief:

  • Highly personalized methods for getting admitted students to enroll at a particular college, like counselor outreach, may be expensive and difficult for institutions to scale. But sometimes solutions can be simple, such as asking students if they intend to commit and focusing outreach on those most likely to attend.
  • These are some of the conclusions of a new report from EAB. The consultancy outlines core components of robust admissions predictive modeling and the strategies for targeting students likely to enroll. 
  • Virtual outreach tools, such as school-owned social media platforms and online campus tours, are particularly effective at attracting admitted students, according to the report.

Dive Insight:

The coronavirus pandemic inspired many colleges to grow their pool of admitted students and figure out how to secure their commitment. 

Undergraduate enrollment dropped by 3.5% this fall from the previous year, according to preliminary figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The losses were unevenly felt among institution types, as some competitive private colleges enjoyed record application numbers while enrollment sank at other institutions, including community colleges and for-profit schools.

But every kind of institution needs to employ a dynamic model for determining which admitted students will enroll, said Madeleine Rhyneer, EAB’s dean of enrollment management and vice president of consulting services.

Colleges should be the ones to choose how many variables they include in these model as they work to pinpoint student enrollment patterns, Rhyneer said. 

“What matters is not having something right out of the box with a few tweaks,” Rhyneer said of predictive models. “It should be really built for you.” 

Predictive models will help even if the pandemic has upended the traditional factors for forecasting enrollment, Rhyneer said. The pandemic also accelerated such trends as an impending demographic cliff, an anticipated drop-off in college students brought on by declining birth rates in the Great Recession.

But first, admissions offices should consider surveying admitted students and ask if they intend to enroll, according to the report. Often, a majority of the admitted students who respond “yes” ultimately do so, it said.

Rhyneer acknowledged college students may change their minds, especially amid the health crisis. But with a survey, colleges could have a general concept of which admitted students are the best options for focusing their time-intensive personalized outreach. 

Information that students might want, including about financial aid, potential academic programs or study abroad opportunities, should be easily available to targeted admits, Rhyneer said.

Knowing students’ preferred communication methods — email, texting, traditional mailers — can also suggest the most effective way to reach out to them, the report said. Colleges should continuously evaluate whether to update individual financial awards during enrollment season. Increased awards can attract admitted students, it said.

Social media can help amplify an institution’s outreach to admitted students, but the best platforms are the ones owned by a college, according to the report. Colleges can decide what their social media tools will be used for, Rhyneer said. And college-owned social media can easily be integrated into their existing systems. Student and faculty ambassadors should staff these platforms and openly talk about their experiences on campus, according to the report. 

That type of project doesn’t usually cost too much, Rhyneer said. But it won’t be effective unless the admissions office has a clear vision of what it will use the platform for, she said.

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