HAI's Top Enrollment Planning Strategy for the 2023 Cycle
h, the beginning of fall. No sooner does the Admissions team close the books on one recruitment cycle than they’re off filling funnels for the next. It’s also the time when HAI Analytics shares findings from across our client base to bring you the freshest high-level market intelligence for the coming year.
Since this fall marks HAI Analytics’ four-year anniversary, we’re celebrating by thanking our readers with our number one strategy for helping enrollment professionals thrive in 2023. So, here’s to our birthday—and your institution’s good health. Cheers!
Part 1: Identify Emerging Trends
Predictive modeling is a powerful tool for forecasting everything from students’ likelihood to apply and enroll to colleges’ financial aid budgets and discount rates. But since models necessarily use existing data from previous cycles, they can’t automatically adjust for unanticipated variables like a global pandemic or looming recession. For this reason, even the best statistical models need to be carefully interpreted by experienced professionals.
For example, consider the role of campus visits in college applications/enrollments. In-person campus visits have long been the top indicator of whether a student will commit, thus providing enrollment professionals with a strong and consistent data point to include in their yield models. Then came COVID. Campus visits nose-dived as families and institutions complied with health regulations; and visits remained relatively weak through 2021 as the pandemic raged on and virtual info sessions gained popularity. And while 2022 saw in-person visits starting to rebound, the numbers were, and still are, far from stable—meaning we cannot rely on this crucial indicator to the same degree we did in the past.
So, what is an enrollment professional to do? Foremost, don’t wait for a “return to normal” that isn’t going to come. The pandemic didn’t just bring with it virtual options that aren’t going to disappear, but it also tightened the geographic radius that some families would consider. Others decided to forego a four-year college experience in favor of vocational or trade schooling, or saw their students simply head into the workforce. Given these monumental shifts, only one thing is for certain, and that’s that there is KEEN competition for the students that are left.
Other trends our clients have seen during the pandemic:
Changes in program demand
The pandemic wrought changes in what students want to study. For example, some HAI clients reported seeing a drop in health-focused professions like nursing and pharmacy science. That’s hardly surprising given the toll taken on frontline workers throughout the pandemic. But it does necessitate following the trend to see where such medically inclined students are heading instead so that your school or college doesn’t lose them to other institutions. A nimble predictive modeling strategy means looking at such trends in real time and acting on them fast before your competitors act on them first!
Grade inflation and test-optional admission policies
When the pandemic hit, most colleges switched to a test optional (TO) admission policy in deference to limited test availability and significant student anxiety. At the same time, due to disruptions in teaching, many high schools replaced standard grading with pass/fail grading, at least temporarily. Neither of these changes is objectively bad, but both needed to be taken into consideration by schools as they admitted and aided students. Without a standardized test score, schools that had been relying on this credential had to be nimble enough to shift strategies quickly.
Budgets were busted
With grade inflation, some students were admitted to schools they would not otherwise have been admitted to; and some students were offered merit awards at a level they would not have seen pre-pandemic. An increase in unbudgeted merit awards was costly for many institutions. In addition, high school grade inflation may negatively affect retention at colleges because they may have admitted students who were not fully prepared for their institution, dealing another blow to universities budgets.
Part 2: Adjust in Real Time (we’ll help!)
Once you’ve identified trends, it’s time to grab the competitive advantage by acting quickly. That sounds like common sense, but it requires real-time adjustment to your admission and aid strategies. Yet in talking with enrollment professionals across the country, we’re surprised by a common compliant—that they currently receive data tracking reports once a week, and in some cases once a month!
Unfortunately, such lags make it too late to offset unexpected headcount and revenue outcomes. Even in a typical cycle (i.e., one that doesn’t involve a global pandemic), adjustments need to be made to strategy once the applicant and admit pools for the current year can be assessed. Throw in a wildly unpredictable environment like the last two years, and failing to adjust could quickly cost millions of dollars. Our results show that in turbulent times and calmer ones alike, the schools that are able to adjust their strategies in real time are the ones who successfully balance their budgets and bring in the classes they targeted.
This is why we believe that clients should be able to update their key performance indicators whenever they would like, and view these indicators in a format that is easy to interpret and share. The more often you are able to update your tracking reports and projections, the sooner you will be able to detect emerging patterns, allowing you to tweak your models to achieve individual enrollment, financial aid and retention goals. But remember, HAI clients never “go it alone.” We differ from plug-and-play companies with our ongoing partnership model, which means that we’re always monitoring your data, too. That way, we can help you identify when strategy adjustments need to be made. It’s this blend of nuanced modeling, accessible tracking, and side-by-side partnership that keeps HAI’s clients on track and in control. In fact, for the 2022 enrollment cycle alone, our clients realized a combined:
- 10% growth in enrollment
- 8% increase in net total revenue
- 20% increase in target market enrollments