According to recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment among high school graduates is declining at an “unprecedented” rate.
Some might argue that this trend was unavoidable—and to a certain extent, they’d be right. The under-age-18 population has been on a downward trajectory for the last decade, meaning there are simply fewer college-age people to entertain the idea of higher education in the first place.
Still, other factors contribute to lower enrollments, and those of us who focus on higher education marketing would do well to understand the nuances of this challenge—and strategies for overcoming it.
Why Are College Enrollments in Decline?
If we put aside the realities of population decline, the fact remains that fewer high school seniors are electing to attend college after graduation.
Years ago, young adults had a relatively binary pathway to their futures: they pursued a traditional college education or entered the trades. But the very nature of work has changed so drastically that today’s 18-year-olds have more options to consider.
Many young people now participate in the gig economy, opting for short-term contracts instead of permanent employment, with the goal of gaining more flexibility and ownership of their work-life balance.
Technological advancements have also altered the academic landscape, making college seem less relevant to many people—and higher education has been slow to adapt to this changing mindset. Anyone with an internet connection has instant access to endless amounts of content—no student loan debt necessary. Even employers are moving away from requiring college degrees, accepting or even preferring certifications or skills training as indicators of employees’ abilities.
And let’s not ignore the elephant in the room—the COVID-19 pandemic. Many potential students are daunted by the prospect of ongoing remote learning, choosing to take time off or delay a college education indefinitely. The pandemic, in general, has led people of all ages to reevaluate what’s important to them—for some, college is low on their list of priorities at the moment.
What Can Colleges Do to Grow Enrollments?
Schools can’t address all of these challenges at once, but they can take steps to grow enrollments in this current climate. It all begins with a more intentional marketing approach—how can schools effectively reach and engage potential students who are interested in attending college?
Here are some of my takeaways regarding a few key elements of higher education marketing:
Reach. Schools must direct their resources toward initiatives that meet students where they are. At MindMax, we’re helping schools allocate financial resources for marketing initiatives strategically to reach the right prospective students for their programs.
Messaging. Once colleges get in front of prospective students, the next critical step is engaging them with messaging that truly resonates. There’s no shortage of discussion about how competitive college admission is for students, but university leaders cite competition from other schools as one of their top concerns, too. Students have many colleges to choose from—especially in regions like the Northeast—and schools must use the right messaging to demonstrate why they’re a better fit than the others.
Personalization. Today’s consumers expect the brands they interact with to offer highly personalized experiences—and colleges can certainly learn something from this kind of approach. Companies like MindMax can provide expert support to help schools home in on these efforts.
The higher education climate is constantly changing, and colleges must make a deliberate effort to keep up. One of MindMax’s core values is to learn always because it reminds us to continually strive to learn from all experiences in order to grow.
For colleges to increase enrollments, they need to be open to marketing strategies and tactics that they may never have considered before. When MindMax partners with schools for higher education marketing and enrollment initiatives, we use data-informed insights to determine what works (and what doesn’t) while helping schools be agile enough to adjust their strategies as needed.
Connect with us today if you’d like our support increasing enrollment at your school.