College Presidents Turning Attention to Enrollment Management

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

When it comes to assembling a study body, the top concerns college presidents have aren't about enrolling enough students who don't need financial aid or improving their position on a list of college rankings. College presidents are most concerned about meeting basic enrollment goals, and ensuring those students persist and complete their programs, according to Inside Higher Ed's annual survey of college presidents.

Overall, the survey—conducted with Gallup—found that 82 percent of college presidents were at least somewhat (40 percent) or very concerned (42 percent) about enrolling their institution's target number of undergraduate students. That number is nearly unchanged from the year prior, when 84 percent of presidents said they were somewhat (33 percent) or very concerned (51 percent) with that statement. Another top concern was enrolling students who "are likely to be retained and graduate on time." Overall 82 percent of college presidents said they were somewhat (43 percent) or very concerned (39 percent) with meeting that goal.

The next most pressing concern among college presidents was enrolling enough students who do not need institutional student aid. Fifty-six percent said they were somewhat (29 percent) or very concerned (27 percent) with that goal. Presidents were less concerned with enrolling enough racial and ethnic minority students to ensure a diverse student body (45 percent), enrolling more out-of-state students (45 percent), or enrolling more first-generation (42 percent) or Pell Grant-eligible students (42 percent). The college presidents were least concerned with enrolling a class that would improve their institution's position in a college rankings list. While just 31 percent expressed some level of concern with that goal, 39 percent said they were "not concerned at all" about that issue.

It makes sense that college presidents would be increasingly invested in enrollment management issues, according to Craig Cornell, senior vice provost for strategic enrollment management at Ohio University. Private institutions, which are much more dependent on tuition revenue, "live and die" on enrollments, he said. And as public institutions continue to feel the impact of state disinvestment in higher education, enrollment management is becoming a more significant focus.

The conversation around retaining students and ensuring their success, Cornell said, "is directly tied to state initiatives across the nation of making student retention, graduation rates, and success the driver for state funding."

Because enrollment management—and by extension tuition revenue—is a driving force behind institutional budgets, the topic is becoming one that would rise to a level of importance to interest more high-level institutional administrators.

"It's the total business of the university," Cornell said. "Enrollment management was barely a term 30 years ago."

While enrollment management is making its way into the agendas of college presidents and governing boards, it's also impacting the world of financial aid.

"There will be more and more enrollment managers that come from financial aid," Cornell predicts. "The importance of understanding the nuances of that and what you can and can't do and how that plays against your institutional aid dollars is highly significant to be effective. I don't know how you do it if you're not. It's a significant piece of the puzzle. If they don't understand that, they're in a world of hurt."

 

Publication Date: 3/26/2018


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