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Recruiting Intelligence

Demography as destination: How it will affect your enrollment

Customer demographics are important for many businesses. Education is no exception. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) publishes a must-read report for higher education executives, senior admissions officers and trustees creating mid to long-term strategies for academic institutions.

WICHE’s April policy insights “Demography as Destiny: Policy Considerations in Enrollment Management” provides highlights of the detailed report “Knocking on the College door.” The report’s ideas are not necessarily new or surprising, but they are well documented and graphically presented. Helpful state-by-state analyses are available (here is the example for Ohio).

Here's our take on the report's most important points:

  • The U.S. has reached the peak of its graduating cohorts of high school students and the next decade is going to see flat graduating figures overall.
  • We are going to see on-going and rapid racial diversification of the graduates (Figure 1 below). By 2019, white non-Hispanic students are projected to be only 55% of graduates. By definition, we will see significant increases in minority populations with implications for regional access and college completion rates. A significant trend is that the percentage of Hispanic students attending college is currently about half that of the white population. Figure 4 below shows the difference in college completion by ethnicity.
  • Nation-level projects obscure significant variations at the state level due to the wide variations in population growth and ethnic compositions accross the different states. The majority of states are looking ahead to a contraction in their number of high school graduates. Figures 2 and 3 show projections for declining enrollment trends in the Northeast and Mid-Western states most heavily affected by declining graduation numbers.
  • The differences in college attainment between younger and older adults by race/ethnicity is also interesting to follow. Looking at Figure 4 again. Note that the fastest growing group of graduating students (the Hispanic cohort) shows the lowest propensity to attend college. This means that even with stable or a growing number of 18-year olds, the number of potential students interested, prepared and financially able to move to a college-level education is not growing to the same extent for this group. In fact it is declining in absolute numbers.

These trends challenge national education policies designed to develop a sufficiently educated and prepared workforce. At the institutational level, these trends point to the increasing challenge of recruiting students to utilize existing teaching capacity and make use of existing infrastructure in both public and private institutions. In the coming years, there will be increased pressure to consolidate and eliminate academic programs and entire institutions.

We already see increased competition, in particular for institutions in the Midwest and Northeast, for qualified domestic and international students with the financial means to pay for college. The majority of universities recruit the majority of their students within a few hundred mile radius. Universities will have to raise their institution’s competitiveness in many dimensions to attract students from larger geographic swaths in the U.S. and globally.

What to do...? Consider enhancements to targeted, highly-attractive programs and services (internship programs and career services) and a renewed focus on educational outcomes. And evaluate your ability to communicate your brand position in the market place. A greater investment in marketing capabilities across a wider geographic footprint domestically and internationally is often hard to justify in the face of academic cuts. It is never easy to trim one thing and increase spending elsewhere (cue the national budget debate over new taxes vs. spending cuts). However, to remain viable as an institution, improvements will have to occur while exerting even greater cost control since continued tuition increases won’t easily be passed on to students and parents.


Topics: Insights