Fighting Enrollment Declines Through Data-Driven Enrollment Approaches

Derek Flynn

Vice President

November 13, 2020

Fighting Enrollment Declines Through Data-Driven Enrollment Approaches
How can your campus find the right strategies that will keep your enrollments steady in an environment full of declines?

In the true spirit of higher education, 2020 is a year from which we can learn many things (even if it’s a year that can’t end soon enough for many of us). Seeing how colleges and universities have had to rethink how they deliver a quality education in a new modality—and make that shift rapidly—reaffirms my commitment to work in this profession and serve higher education.

RNL works with 300 public and private institutions that use our Advanced FinAid Solutions (AFAS). We have witnessed first hand the pressures and challenges they have been in under during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent data released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggest that public institutions have seen 12 percent enrollment declines in FTIC enrollments (ages 18-20); private institutions had a decline of 11 percent in FTIC enrollments.

Our campus partners using our AFAS services, however, managed to beat those national trends on enrollment declines.

  • RNL’s four-year public campus partners had an aggregate 1 percent enrollment increase, a significant success given the environment.
  • Our four-year private partners had an aggregate decline of 4 percent, but again, that was significantly better than the national average. This also varied by region, with the Midwest region reporting no loss (flat enrollments), while all other regions reported declines from 3 percent in the south to 8-9 percent in middle states and western regions.

Find the new strategies you need by analyzing the right data

Regardless of where your campus is located, it’s highly likely you found yourself needing to make sharp directional turns midstream to account for lost spring travel and events, drops in campus visits, moves to test optional (temporary or permanent), and stress on your IT department. RNL consultants spent a significant amount of time this year working closely with campuses assessing their need or desire to “pivot” from using traditional multi-variable indices (i.e. test, hsgpa, rank, etc.) to analyzing other metrics so they could allocate finite institutional resources more strategically. We looked for metrics that not only assist in better predicting enrollment likelihood, but also (and perhaps more importantly) those students more likely to retain.

This may sound simple, but it’s something that bears reminding: enrollment doesn’t take place at any one stage of the funnel. We know that we can’t offer aid or enroll someone that’s not admitted. We can’t admit a student that does not apply for admissions and complete his/her application. We can’t read an application that’s not submitted from an inquiry. We can’t effectively utilize our communication flow to students not raising their hands in interest in our institution.

RNL also tracked nearly 40 campuses that utilized multiple services (RNL Demand Builder and Advanced FinAid Solutions) spanning across the funnel. We observed flat new enrollments at private campuses partners (compared to an 11 percent decline nationally) and a 6 percent enrollment increase in public campus partners compared to a 12 percent decline nationally. It any other year these may not sound like stellar results, but in 2020 it’s a significant win. Here’s what one of our campus partners said:

“Concordia University-St. Paul experienced a 32 percent increase in FY admits and a 4 percent increase in new student enrollments using a targeted multi-channeled approach at the top of the funnel while strategically allocating financial aid dollars and delivering the award using state-of-the art Personalized Financial Aid Videos.”
—Kimberly Craig, Ed.D, Vice President for Enrollment Management Concordia University-St. Paul

How can you beat the national trends next year? Let’s talk.

We take from this the reaffirmation that data-driven strategies will continue to be critical. Many feel 2021 may continue to present similar challenges as 2020. How are you using data to drive your digital strategy? Are you repurposing resources to reach students “their” way?

We are here to help. Contact us and we’ll set up a time to talk. We can discuss your goals, challenges, where you need insights, and how you can find the optimal strategies for today’s environment.

Talk with our enrollment experts

Let’s talk about how you can find the optimal strategies for digital marketing, inquiry management, financial aid awarding, optimizing yield, and other key actions.

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About the Author

Derek Flynn offers more than a dozen years of experience in enrollment management. He specializes in admissions strategies and maximizing the impact of an institution's financial aid packages on enrollment. Derek has consulted with more than...

Read more about Derek's experience and expertise

Reach Derek by e-mail at Derek.Flynn@RuffaloNL.com.

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