Prepare Yourself for Another Roller Coaster Ride in Admissions

The Covid pandemic had a chilling impact on college enrollments in 2020. Even though vaccinations have become widely available, questions remain for the fall semester, and early indications are that enrollment does not look promising. So, what steps can academic institutions take to attract more students?

“Turbulent” perfectly describes education since spring 2020. In the blink of an eye, schools closed their doors, untested virtual learning replaced the typical classroom, and colleges scrambled to keep students enrolled and on track toward graduation. 

Admissions was thrown into pandemonium as the upheaval ensued. School hours were shortened, extra-curricula events were shelved, pupils struggled with Zoom overload, the College Board SAT/ACT testing was canceled, and AP exams were administered on the web. Many of the traditional application criteria were eliminated.

Enrollment continues to drop

College enrollment plummeted from 17.9 million students in the fall of 2019 to 17.5 million one year later.

We’re looking at a decline of 3.5% percent or 603,000 students, seven times worse than the reduction a year earlier, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The drop exacerbated a problem that has been brewing since 2011 when enrollment reached its US peak of 20 million students. Since then, the number of students has been falling, and it does not seem like academic institutions have hit bottom yet.

How can schools boost enrollment?  

Given the grim landscape, what steps can colleges take to increase enrollment in the short and long term?

Higher education institutions changed their admissions process dramatically. In the past, they encouraged students to visit their campus. With schools shut down, they created virtual tours. The first wave of such options was cumbersome and did not meet all the needs of students and their families. So, how can schools improve their presentations?

  • Be clear the admission office is still operating.
  • Make the admission inquiry, tour, and process pages simple to understand and navigate.
  • Ensure that commonly searched items, such as campus visitation policies, are prominently displayed.
  • Finally, assign staff to consistently monitor each channel that students and their families may use. 

Standardized testing lost its luster

Because of the upheaval, many colleges made taking standardized tests optional for a few reasons. Students had trouble taking the tests because most had been conducted in person, and the testing agencies did not have enough time to pivot and offer students remote options.

Moving forward, test-optional policies have been adopted by many public and private colleges. The entire California University system, the nation’s largest, as well as Amherst College, College of William and Mary, Dartmouth, and Harvard no longer require those test scores. In fact…

more than 1,600 accredited colleges and universities have made standardized tests optional for 2021 admissions, according to the National Center for Open and Fair Testing

More than 1,600 accredited colleges and universities have made standardized tests optional for 2021 admissions, according to the National Center for Open and Fair Testing

Source: National Center for Open and Fair Testing

How many students should a school admit?

College admissions staff across the nation have been in a quandary determining how many freshmen and upperclassmen to admit since their long-lasting enrollment management algorithms were built for a non-pandemic world. As a result, they are tinkering with new metrics and trying to be like Goldilocks, not admitting too many or too few students and minimizing the number of open beds and classroom slots. 

Admission officers can focus on select market sectors because the fall 2020 enrollment decline was distributed unevenly. Undergraduate students accounted for the drop, with a 4.9%, or 727,000 students, reduction, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

With social distancing and virtual classes becoming so common, many traditional students postponed their collegiate experience. Traditional college-age students (age 18-24) declined the most, so, the incoming student population is skewing older, and academic institutions need to adjust.

Because of the pandemic, many professionals found themselves out of work and decided to get a degree to increase their attractiveness to potential employees.

  • Adult students (25 or older) showed a 2% to 3% gain at public four-year and private nonprofit four-year colleges.
  • Graduate enrollment jumped by 4.6%, adding more than 124,000 students, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Schools need an agile lead management system

With the current chaos continuing into the fall, colleges need tools to empower employees, so they can adapt to the dynamic environment. A lead management system helps them adjust ASAP. Because of recent technical advances, these systems have become more sophisticated and functional. Now, the prospect pool comes from many sources, so these systems support multiple channels including websites, Google Ads, Facebook, and walk-ins.  

With them, a school now captures as many leads as possible, but managing a large volume of potential candidates and their data can be cumbersome. Schools do not want to lose a potential fit if their information is mishandled. They must map their complete journey from capturing to closure. So, the system needs to:

  • Scale as student inquiries increase
  • Provide data to interested parties throughout the school
  • Distribute leads within team members without any lead leakage
  • Proactively manage the application journey with targeted communications

Lead management systems enable schools to manage their personnel more effectively. >> Learn more about optimizing processes here.

Information is distributed to agents based on student location and courses they are interested in. The best-fit agents are assigned leads, based on criteria, like seniority and performance. Leads are parceled out to ensure the agents aren’t assigned more leads than they handle without compromising call quality. 

Schools are struggling to attract students. They are making changes to adjust to these tumultuous times. To be successful, they must engage with prospective students by offering them relevant information, intervene at the right time, and create a sense of delight rather than frustration as students decide where they are going next.

Paul Korzeniowski

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