Top Enrollment Trends in 2023: Insights and Strategies

July 24, 2023

his year has been a rollercoaster ride for higher education recruitment teams. Initial excitement over a surge in applications was dampened by a slight dip in enrollments. However, there are positive signs as the multi-year decline in enrollments has slowed down. This article explores the key trends of 2023 and how agile institutions can turn challenges into opportunities for long-term success.

Trend 1: Enrollment Changes Across Institutions:

Public and private institutions experienced a slight decline in enrollments, particularly small liberal arts colleges and schools in the Southeast and Western United States. Community colleges, on the other hand, saw a modest increase of 0.5% in enrollments. Notably, community colleges have witnessed a 7% growth over three years, offsetting the overall decline in undergraduate students. To address this, four-year colleges are considering increasing their aid budgets but must be cautious not to reach unsustainable discount rates.

Trend 2: Shift in Tuition Strategies:

The traditional pricing strategy of high sticker prices coupled with increased discount rates, known as the "Chivas Regal affect," is losing its appeal. Families facing financial constraints are now seeking easier-to-understand and more affordable degree options that provide a solid education. The income distribution among families with children in college has become polarized due to the fact that only the lowest and highest income families are able to afford the net cost after aid. To adapt, some schools need to reset their pricing structures, especially if none of their enrolled students are paying the full sticker price.

Trend 3: Demand for Flexible Program Formats:

Families from various income brackets are reevaluating their expectations from higher education institutions. This shift in expectations requires colleges to rethink their tuition costs and offer more institutional aid to attract students from a shrinking pool of candidates. Another significant trend is the demand for diverse program offerings. The pandemic highlighted the viability of online learning, prompting many students to consider it as a cost-effective alternative to traditional residential colleges. Moreover, stackable academic formats, such as micro-credentials, prior learning credits, competency-based education, and certificate programs, are becoming essential to meet the needs of a diverse range of prospective students. Flexibility is now key in the new educational landscape.


Despite the challenges faced by higher education institutions, there are opportunities for growth and innovation. Institutions that can identify areas for new formatting and delivery options, aligning them with the skills in demand in today's job market, can create flexible offerings to attract a wide range of prospects. Working students, those reentering higher education, and individuals transitioning from the military represent untapped potential for diversification and success in the higher education landscape.