Admissions professionals: How to succeed in the new economy

January 28, 2014
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • AACRAO Connect
  • Financial Aid and FAFSA

It's no secret that economic and demographic trends are hammering institutional finances. A recent survey released by Moody’s Investors Services found that a growing percentage of intuitions, especially public, anticipate declines in net tuition revenues.   A survey of enrollment trends at small private colleges and comprehensive state institutions, conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, found that half of the 436 respondents were not hitting their targets for enrollment and net-tuition revenue. 

The question of how institutions can afford to pursue the laudable goal of providing educational opportunities to more need-based  students is a national one--the White House hosted a meeting in mid-January with more than 100 college and university presidents and dozens of concerned non-profit leaders to discuss ideas for increasing access and affordability. But the way forward is not clear.

The paradox

Many institutions are rethinking the model that requires large tuition discounts to meet enrollment goals--but efforts to reduce the discount rate to sustainable levels, however, make it difficult to increase or maintain enrollment. As one respondent to The Chronicle’s survey lamented, “Students today have more need, but families often have less willingness to take out loans than in previous years.  The poor job market and the media focus on “Is College Worth It?” has raised questions in the minds of families and students.”  In many cases, institutions are using merit-based aid to help meet goals for enrollment, revenues, and rankings, but these efforts have come at a cost. 

The experience of the University of Puget Sound, relayed in Inside Higher Ed, is a case in point.  A private college, Puget Sound raised its discount rate during the economic downturn.  Concerned about sustainability, the university limited its aid budget while loosening criteria for non-need based aid.   In terms of enrollment targets and finance, the plan succeeded.  Puget Sound reached its desired class size and the discount rate shrank by five percentage points.  However the limited aid budget discernably influenced the make-up of the class: the percentage of first generation students in the class declined by nine percentage points.   

Speaking in Los Angeles at the annual conference of USC’s Center for Enrollment Research Policy, Nancy Cantor was lauded by many for recruiting a more socioeconomically diverse class while at Syracuse University.  Her success in this area coincided with a falling SAT average and a drop in the rankings. 

Tools for admissions professionals

Achieving institutional goals and addressing such challenges requires thinking and operating differently.  It requires conducting analysis, making projections, and segmenting students.  It entails adopting new technologies, to streamline and automate operations, revising and changing the organizational culture. 

AACRAO will be holding a workshop on Becoming a More Effective Admissions Manager at its 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver, March 30 to April 2, 2014.  The full-day workshop is designed to help emerging leaders in admissions deal with challenges in recruitment, processing, assessment, enrollment management, and staffing.

Admissions professionals may also benefit from AACRAO's other professional development opportunities, including: The Admissions Forum @ SEM.

The most recent Forum, held in Chicago, provided useful ideas an analysis for admissions professionals.  Dr. Stephen J. Handel, Associate Vice President -- Undergraduate Admissions for the University of California System; Melanie Gottlieb, Director of Admissions Operations & International Campus Liaison, Webster University; and Dr. David Johnson, Vice Provost, Office of Enrollment Management, Indiana University delivered presentations on the following topics: Making your enrollment data work for you: understanding the past to predict the future; The Transfer Student Moment ; and Realignment for Operational Efficiency and Effectiveness. Find the whitepaper featuring these and other faculty presentations from the SEM Conference here.   

To get the most updated information and analysis on admissions and other issues affecting higher education professionals, attend AACRAO’s Annual Meeting in Denver, March 30-Apr. 2.