Using Data to Drive Enrollment Decisions: The Impact of COVID-19

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The process of administering and awarding need-based aid can be complicated, and by not utilizing available data the challenges become needlessly obtuse. 

In the latest session of NASFAA’s 2020 Summer Training Series, a group of higher education enrollment and financial aid experts discussed how colleges utilized data in their enrollment and policy decisions and how those tools can better equip aid offices in dealing with the fallout of the novel coronavirus. 

With the onset of COVID-19 hitting during the peak time of the admissions process, schools saw their enrollment cycles turned upside down, forcing them to operate under new conditions that are rapidly approaching.

“At Portland State we had a massive number of students taking online courses from us over the summer,” said Chuck Knepfle, vice president for enrollment management at Portland State University. “We saw that more of our students seemed to be enrolling in our online courses, but we’re seeing some doom and gloom for the fall.”

For many schools, fall enrollment remains uncertain.

“This is a nervous time for schools, no doubt,” said Forrest Stuart, assistant vice president for financial aid at Lafayette College.

The panel provided examples and suggestions from their institutions and how they’ve utilized data to project ongoing scenarios being imposed both short- and long-term by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

By pulling data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on COVID-19 hotspots, for example, Stuart was able to compare which prospective students might be living in areas more heavily impacted by the virus to help inform his institution on the risks of students traveling to campus. 

Even before the onset of coronavirus,  2018-19 NASFAA National Chair Billie Jo Hamilton, associate vice president for enrollment planning and management at the University of South Florida, said that low-income and minority students faced challenges in enrollment and financial aid. Now as the crisis further impacts the economy, she expects those communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 will have those economic gaps widened.

The panel also stressed how beneficial data can be and echoed that data-driven modeling gets better with each year it is utilized. 

“I think the most important thing that I try to emphasize to my staff is data driven decision making,” Knepfle said. “We need to [have answers on enrollment trends] with some confidence, and not just an opinion.”


Publication Date: 7/23/2020

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