Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly

Advancing research in enrollment and student success

Editor's Note

Clayton Smith


We are hearing many higher education observers speak of the “looming higher ed enrollment cliff” or the emerging “higher education enrollment bubble” that could result in college student enrollments declining by as much as 15 percent after 2025. This, on top of the already strained or declining enrollments following the COVID-19 pandemic, is making enrollment managers examine enrollment performance and efficiencies. This issue of SEM Quarterly speaks to two areas that may help institutions as this challenge develops: enhancing the student transfer function and optimizing enrollments within the academic context of the institution. 

With nearly 40 percent of postsecondary students transferring among higher educational institutions, understanding the transfer function is closely connected with achieving institutional enrollment goals. Student transfer is, however, complex as it is difficult to translate student learning experiences across institutions. Casey Bullock discusses the challenges institutions face as they engage in the transfer function, including transfer credit evaluation policy and practice, transfer function efficiency, and transferability versus applicability of credit. He suggests that institutions can mitigate these factors by developing strong articulation agreements and enhancing advising and pathway structures.

One way of addressing the transfer function challenge is to assess institutional performance and student satisfaction to guide the work of transfer services professional staff. Kim Morton and Kelly McCallister write about how one university, Appalachian State University, used survey, SWOT analysis, and direct experience to create a plan that identified service gaps and developed new initiatives to ensure transfer students’ persistence and success. Outcomes identified include active collaboration across the university and the creation of a holistic view of transfer students’ academic and social needs.

The strategic enrollment management literature often speaks of the importance of achieving optimum enrollment, where optimum is defined within the academic context of the institution. It also endorses the notion that institutions should work toward the achievement of equity, diversity, and inclusion in its enrollment policies and practices. Catherine Laing, Sandra Davidson, and Carrie MacKay propose a lottery-based admissions process for nursing students, whereby students who meet established admissions criteria would be selected at random until all seats are filled. In this way, institutions would achieve both full classes and fairness in their admissions practices.

Developing course enrollment predictions is another way of achieving optimum enrollments. It helps institutions to allocate appropriate teaching resources and classroom space while effectively managing course waitlists. Lucy Shao, Martin Leong, Richard Levine, Jeanne Stronach, and Juanjuan Fan describe how they improved upon existing course enrollment prediction models by applying two tree-based algorithms. They found that the proposed decision tree approach was able to improve upon the current state-of-the-art conditional probability analysis slightly, and the proposed random forest model was able to further improve upon both methods.

One of the most successful ways to achieve sustainable enrollment is by making an institution-wide commitment to student success. Thomas E. Miller describes how one institution, the University of South Florida, shifted the institutional culture to make student success everyone’s business. He describes the predictive tools that were developed to give more focus to the students who need extra support to succeed, and how human and financial resources have been used efficiently to support this effort.

By finding ways to support our growing number of transfer students and sharpening the way we manage academic resources and the institutional culture, enrollment managers and educational leaders will take an important step toward meeting future enrollment challenges.

Happy reading.

Clayton Smith