This is a joint post by Van Davis and Jacqueline Hammond

Inside Higher Ed and Gallup recently released 2017 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, their seventh annual report seeking to understand how admissions leaders view higher education admissions and recruiting policies and issues. The Blackboard-sponsored report found that admissions offices are facing unprecedented challenges as they work to recruit and enroll students in a rapidly changing higher education environment that sees an increasingly larger number of Americans question the belief that higher education is an engine for success. Today we’ll be taking a look at the major challenges admissions directors are facing and the ways to meet those challenges.

Major challenges facing admissions directors

  • Americans are getting older: Americans are getting older and this means we are seeing a decrease in the number of high school graduates. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2060 almost a quarter of all Americans will be 65 years old or older, compared to only 20 percent who will be under 18. As a result, a larger percentage of state and federal budgets will be directed towards funding programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. This means less money for public education at all levels.
  • The high school pipeline is changing: As the American population ages, we will also see decreases in the number of high school graduates—traditionally the largest population of entering college students. As a result, higher education will need to look for new student pipelines. Institutions are already attempting to respond to this shift; the 2017 Survey found that an increasing number of admissions directors reported that their institutions are very likely to increase recruitment efforts of transfer and older students.
  • Higher education cost and student debt: The rising costs of higher education is certainly not news, but increasing attention is being paid to how that translates into rising student debt. In 2016 the New York Federal Reserve Board reported that total student loan debt had risen to a staggering $1.31 trillion. It should come as no surprise then that the 2017 Survey found that eight in ten admissions directors reported losing potential applicants because of concerns regarding student debt.
  • Value propositions: Related to the increase in cost and student debt is a growing concern that college is not worth the expense. A recent joint poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal found Americans almost evenly split when asked if getting a four-year degree was worth the cost—49 percent said yes, while 47 percent said no. Not surprisingly, this was reflected in the 2017 Survey where there was almost universal agreement that higher education must do a better job of explaining its value.

How to meet these challenges

Blackboard’s Lifecycle Services strategists help institutions navigate these challenges and develop plans for long-term viability. Below are several of their suggestions:

  • Research new audiences: Successfully expanding beyond core student populations requires an in-depth understanding of the market and prioritizing investments that present greatest opportunity. Market sizing, competitive research, audience segmentation and financial modeling can help you understand where you should focus for the biggest impact.
  • Make sure you have the right services: Whether you plan to expand to serve more adult learners who require after-hours support, international students whose parents weigh heavily into the decision-making process, or underserved populations who are looking for financial support, your approach and services should be customized to the new segment of the population you intend to serve.
  • Don’t forget your core audience: It’s also important to remain connected with your core student audience. With shifting student preferences across generations, make sure to take time to understand the factors influencing a student’s decision-making process so you can remain relevant and develop the programs or features that resonate most with students.
  • Communicate your value: Two questions we hear most from students are: How much? What do I get for it? Take the time to scan your market and understand how your tuition compares to other options available to students. While cost is not the only deciding factor, value has to outweigh cost in order for students to take the next step. One-on-one conversations with students are one of the most effective ways to communicate your institution’s unique value proposition. Students often tell us their perception of your school, and ultimately their decision to enroll, can be heavily influenced by the experience they have before they enroll or even apply. We can help institutions scale their strategic enrollment management outreach so students are more prepared when they enroll. If you’re looking for some easy steps to boost your recruiting and enrollment practices for spring, we’ve shared three timely tips for doing so here.
  • Develop workforce partnerships: A major factor in the perceived value of your institution is how well it will prepare students for a successful career. Institutions that incorporate employers into the classroom and make jobs and internships part of the student experience are able to attract students and address return on investment. We can help connect employers and institutions so they can forge reciprocal partnerships to deliver education tailored to workforce needs.
  • Strategically plan for the future: Strategic and financial analysis can help uncover opportunities for greater investment and stability. We work with institutions to develop multi-year strategies that improve financial health by aligning with or creating new market demand. Sometimes this means evaluating whether an institution has the optimal mix of programs such as dual enrollment to create new revenue and connect with high school students earlier, enhanced transfer programs, and/or potential expansion into online or international markets. At other times, it might mean out-of-the-box strategies like mixed use or off-campus facilities assets, partnerships, and/or mergers or acquisitions.

At Blackboard we understand the challenges that institutions are facing and are proud to help institutions respond to this rapidly changing higher education landscape. Whether it’s cutting edge technology or our deep portfolio of services, we have the tools that institutions need to strategically plan and respond to these demographic shifts and enrollment challenges and provide their students with a valuable, high-quality educational experience.

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