College admissions budgets—how are they changing?

Ashley SpainSenior Vice President, Marketing StrategyMarch 23, 2018

How are college admissions budgets changing as institutions adapt to changes in technology, student behavior, and the college admissions process?

Ruffalo Noel Levitz polled enrollment managers on this question as part of our 2018 Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student Report. We asked these institutions how their budgets were changing overall, as well as which areas would see greater increases or decreases. The poll included four-year public and private institutions.

Overall changes in college admissions budgets

First, respondents answered how their budgets for the 2017-18 cycle changed compared to 2016-17, and also the 2016-17 budget compared to the previous year.

College admissions budgets: Percent change in last two years

For four-year privates, nearly one in three said they had a budget decrease for the 2017-18 year, compared to just 7 percent of four-year publics. About one in four private and public institutions said their budgets would increase, while the largest majority across both sectors said their budgets would stay the same.

We also asked how much eight notable marketing and recruitment activities would be allocated to college admissions budgets. These were the median values for public and private institutions:

College admissions budgets: allocations for four-year privates

College admissions budgets: Allocations for four-year public institutions

Regarding website development and maintenance, the low allocations may be because this activity does not come from the admissions budget.

Traditional marketing was by far the largest allocation for private institutions and slightly ahead of admissions travel for public institutions (although not by a statistically significant amount). However, for the next question, respondents indicated whether they anticipated changes to their allocations for these activities, and traditional marketing was the area where the largest number of respondents expected a decrease.

Anticipated changes in allocations for college admissions budgets

Notable areas of increase
Private colleges and universities

  • Digital marketing 71%
  • Transfer recruitment 42%
  • Student search (purchased lists) 39%
  • Website development/maintenance 38%
  • Admissions events 33%
  • Traditional marketing 30%
  • International recruitment 23%
  • Admissions travel 21%

Public colleges and universities

  • Digital marketing 61%
  • Transfer recruitment 40%
  • Admissions events 36%
  • Admissions travel 34%
  • Website development/maintenance 30%
  • Student search (purchased lists) 27%
  • International recruitment 20%
  • Traditional marketing 18%

Notable areas of decrease
Private colleges and universities

  • Traditional marketing 14%
  • Admissions travel 13%
  • International recruitment 9%

Public colleges and universities

  • Traditional marketing 23%
  • International recruitment 13%
  • Admissions travel 11%

The contrast between digital and traditional marketing shows the shift occurring in student marketing and recruitment. While 61 percent of public institutions and 55 percent of private institutions said their allocations for traditional marketing would remain the same, nearly one in four public campuses and 15 percent of private ones said it would decrease. Contrast that with 60-70 percent of campuses saying their digital marketing would increase.

It is also notable that travel and international recruitment were both listed as top items for decreases, although one in three public institutions said their travel budgets would increase.

Read all the findings in the 2018 Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student Report

2018 Cost of Recruiting ReportCheck out our poll of enrollment management professionals on their costs related to student recruitment, including:

  • Costs for recruiting an undergraduate student
  • Costs for recruiting a transfer and international students
  • Staffing levels related to admissions
  • Costs by size of institution

Download the report now.

About the Author

Ashley Spain is an enrollment management professional who helps drive RNL’s strategy, research, and solutions for college enrollment, marketing and student success. She offers more than 10 years of experience in marketing and recruitment. Before coming...

Read more about Ashley's experience and expertise

Reach Ashley by e-mail at Ashley.Spain@RuffaloNL.com.

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