RNL’s New Graduate Student Report Guides Institutional Planning

Scott JeffeVice President, Research (Graduate and Online)August 30, 2023

As graduate enrollment begins to cool and traditional undergraduate enrollment continues to face challenges, institutions need to ensure that their marketing, outreach, and recruitment practices align with how today’s graduate students make their decisions. And we mustn’t forget the programs themselves – programs must align with student expectations or the student will go elsewhere to find what they are looking for.

Graduate enrollment is normalizing

Graduate fall enrollment trends, 2017-2022

Blog: Graduate Enrollment Trends, 2017-22

The combination of unparalleled “choice” and the consumer outlook that millennial and Gen Z grad students are bringing to their enrollment decisions are the drivers behind RNL’s new Graduate Student Recruitment Report. The report presents 25 findings derived from our survey of 1,500 prospective and enrolled graduate students, and each one is designed to help institutions position their programs for success.

The report builds on our 2021 graduate-level study, the findings of which remain as valid as they were two years ago (particularly on how graduate programs need to be configured). These students want flexible programs—often online, sometimes hybrid—that are offered in accelerated formats, and much more.

This year’s report offers new insights into no less than seven new topics:

  1. Motivations for enrolling in graduate study
  2. Distance away from programs of interest
  3. Preferred institutional contact and format of contact
  4. Motivators to interact with digital marketing
  5. Most effective ways to personalize contact
  6. Impact and interpretation of slow responses
  7. How they pay and impact of cost on decision making

Seven key findings impacting success include:

  1. Demand for fully online graduate study may have already overtaken classroom, and if not institutions will see this happen in as little as two years.
  2. Cost has returned to being the most important factor in enrollment decisions and has been joined by employment prospects and flexible course options.
  3. Only 26 percent of graduate students enroll at the least expensive programs they considered.
  4. 40 percent of online students live within 25 miles of the program of choice.
  5. 90+ percent of graduate students do a search as their first or second step.
  6. All but 30 percent of graduate students will become less interested in a program that does not respond on their expected timeline.
  7. 70+ percent of graduate students are likely to remove a program from consideration if its sticker price.

Each of these finding have implications pertaining to marketing, enrollment, planning, AND academic planning. Our recent webinar brought RNL leaders representing each of these domains together for a conversation focused on how institutions can apply findings for enrollment success. 

You are also invited to schedule a guided tour of the full report for you and/or your team with one of RNL’s experts and hope you will take advantage of this personalized discussion of not only findings, but also how they apply to your institution.

About the Author

Scott Jeffe

Scott Jeffe has worked with more than 200 institutions in 40+ states to apply market data to strategic decisions. With a focus on profiling the demands and preferences of nontraditional (adult, online, etc.) students, Scott...

Read more about Scott's experience and expertise

Reach Scott by e-mail at Scott.Jeffe@RuffaloNL.com.

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