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2016 research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes
Ruffalo Noel Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2016 to understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student recruitment, campus marketing, and student retention. We also examined current campus practices for enrollment and marketing. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:
The college website is still the #1 way to communicate with prospective students but the runner-up is now split between email and text messaging. In recent polls, campus officials rated text messaging and email almost equally effective, and 70 percent of prospective students indicated they were open to receiving text messages from colleges and universities. But fewer than half of campuses currently send mass recruiting texts. Download our 2016 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Colleges and universities can accomplish five goals at once by increasing student satisfaction. Many consumer studies have shown that increasing satisfaction builds positive word of mouth. Now a 2016 study has confirmed that increasing student satisfaction is also linked to lower student loan default rates, adding to earlier-confirmed links with higher retention rates, completion rates, and alumni giving. Is your institution measuring and rewarding improvements in satisfaction? See the research.
At $2,232 per student, private colleges spent nearly four times more than four-year public institutions on student recruitment last year. We also learned that budgets for recruitment and admissions remained flat over the past two years for the majority of four-year and two-year institutions. Is your institution tracking ROI on all of its recruiting activities and identifying new, high-payback opportunities? See our 2016 Report: Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student.
40 percent of high school seniors apply to colleges they learn about during their senior year. In addition, 50 percent of seniors rule out institutions based only on “sticker price.” Is your institution focusing a substantial amount of its recruiting on seniors? And how are you emphasizing your institution’s value to skeptical students and parents? Download our 2016 Perceptions of Financial Aid Report and Infographic.
54 percent of adult prospective students have clicked on a paid online ad from a college or university, as have 47 percent of high school juniors, yet most institutions place these ads only occasionally. What new digital outreach strategies should your institution be considering in 2017? Download our 2016 Adult E-Expectations Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Mathematics is a struggle for 51 percent of incoming adult learners, including 53 percent of incoming first-generation adult students. Our 2016 research shows a majority of incoming students agree with the statement, “Math has always been difficult for me.” Do you know how many students at your institution are struggling with mathematics and other areas inside and outside the classroom? Download our 2016 Adult Learner Motivation to Complete College Report.
95 percent of incoming traditional-age students express a desire to graduate, but only about half do. Our latest freshman research shows a wide array of personal, social, financial, and academic obstacles prevent students from reaching their goals. Have you explored the merits of using noncognitive surveys to better understand your incoming students’ needs early on, or do you wait until you see visible signs of struggle? See our 2016 Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report.
New edition of book, plans for 2017 research
Also in 2016, we released our 2016 update of the book, Strategic Enrollment Planning: A Dynamic Collaboration. Order this authoritative, step-by-step guide to help your campus prepare for major changes in today’s marketplace.
Looking ahead to 2017, we plan to release new benchmarks on college student satisfaction and motivation, new research on recruiting conversion and yield rates, a new study of student retention indicators, and updates on rising seniors’ perceptions of financial aid and high school students’ and parents’ perceptions of and preferences for college communications.
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Learn more about our Higher Education Research
To help educators stay on top of the many changes in higher education, we regularly conduct trend research and share our findings widely. Learn about several ways we provide information.
This is part two of a two-part blog post published with the permission of Simmons College
Recap: Simmons College (read part one here)
“The college’s system was handling a growing number of applications and the admissions team was becoming increasingly bogged down with trying to get them to an actionable status. Having to focus on the logistics of application materials limited the meaningful conversations counselors could have with interested students and their families—and lower yield rates showed it. Dolan believed it was time to reconsider how they built and cultivated the college’s inquiry and applicant pools.”
Our story continues…Adapting to a new approach
Telling your campus that you’re experiencing what was ultimately a 27 percent decrease in applications is enough to cause panic, despite the very promising indicator of a rise in campus visits that fall. Dr. Dolan is the first to admit that there was more than a little trepidation on campus as their first early action deadline neared. The raw application numbers didn’t live up to the previous year, and he realized they needed to assess (and report on) different metrics because this was a very different approach. A closer look at the status of the first round of early action applications painted a more promising picture. “Our file completion rate was 97 percent. We had never seen that before.” Without changing its admission standards, Simmons had the same number of offers of acceptance to keep it on track for its yield and enrollment targets. The trend continued through the second early action and regular decision deadlines.
What’s more, with its inquiry pool now qualified, the team could see that the number of prospective students who had a very high interest in Simmons was, in Dr. Dolan’s words, “through the roof.”
Focusing on applicants—not applications
With RNL providing unprecedented intelligence on each prospective student, the counselors were able to focus their own outreach. They could do seemingly simple things that made a tremendous difference. For example, they could reach out to all of their prospective students who hadn’t yet filed financial aid forms and advise them on the process. In the past, the applicant volume prevented being able to achieve that in the tight timeline necessary. “The team became so much more efficient. They had more time to connect with their prospective students and strengthen those relationships. They really understood their students,” said Dolan.
Focusing on the right numbers
Explaining the new approach and its benefit to students is great, but in assessing and projecting enrollment to the campus, it’s still about numbers. It’s just that the numbers they needed to look at were different now. “We needed to educate our community,” Dr. Dolan explains. With the support, insights, and counsel of the RNL team, Simmons rebuilt its metrics to evaluate the applicant pool, including building a 13-point affinity metric. “It was still a bit of a leap of faith,” Dolan admits, “but by March 11 we knew we had it.”
This is part one of a two-part blog post published with the permission of Simmons College.
See part 2.
Simmons College was in a good place in fall 2015. One year after enrolling the smallest class in its history, the freshman class of this Massachusetts college was now its largest ever. Not a small feat for this private, liberal arts women’s college in Boston. It was the type of success you’d want to replicate. So—for many people—it was a bit of a shock when the college completely changed its recruitment and marketing approach for the class entering in fall 2016. Why make such a seemingly risky move?
Dr. John F. Dolan, vice president of enrollment management at Simmons since 2014, explains, “Our system was full with applications that didn’t necessarily behave the way we needed or wanted…and required too much time and energy to manage.” He chose to partner with Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) to more effectively manage the college’s enrollment stream.
The perils of inflated applications
In making this decision, Dr. Dolan had taken a close look at the numbers. Applications had more than doubled since 2007: to the casual observer, a positive indicator of demand. Yet the number of offers of acceptance remained steady—and not by a concerted decision to become more selective. Rather, it was because the number of completed applications actually remained flat over the same period.
This meant the college’s system was handling a growing number of applications and the admissions team was becoming increasingly bogged down with trying to get them to an actionable status. Having to focus on the logistics of application materials limited the meaningful conversations counselors could have with interested students and their families—and lower yield rates showed it. Dolan believed it was time to reconsider how they built and cultivated the college’s inquiry and applicant pools.
Refocusing on genuine interest: It’s all about getting the right applicants, not just generating more applications
In partnering with RNL to recruit and enroll its class entering for fall 2016, Simmons College utilized the company’s Enrollment Marketing Solutions and Enhanced Search Strategies. RNL employed its customized predictive analytics and its multi-channel creative communications approach to strengthen Simmons’ search program, which included rising seniors. RNL also surveyed students in the inquiry pool, scored their enrollment propensity using predictive analytics, and engaged with them via its Comprehensive Inquiry Management.
Sources for this infographic include four Ruffalo Noel Levitz reports:
The forthcoming fall 2016 E-Expectations Report
2016 Adult E-Expectations Report
2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report
2016 Marketing and Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report
How can you improve your digital marketing?
Call 800.876.1117 or email us for an appointment to discuss your digital marketing strategy with an expert from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. We’ll listen to what’s working for you, and share what’s working for our partner campuses. All conversations are completely confidential.
Join us for two upcoming webinars
|Maximizing Your Engagement With Prospective Students on Social Media
Thursday, October 20, 2016, 2 p.m. Eastern Time
How to Reach Prospective Adult Students: Insights From 2016 E-Expectations Research
Thursday, November 10, 2016, 2 p.m. Eastern Time
For Marquette University, freshman enrollment increased for fall 2016 by 163 students despite a 39 percent decrease in submitted applications. The difference? A stronger applicant pool. Marquette achieved a major boost by searching for the right students thanks to a shift in campus culture and data-driven strategies that targeted students who were more likely to enroll—not just fill out another application.
Better qualified pool of applicants a key to enrollment gain
In her first year as interim dean of admissions at this four-year private institution, Jean Burke saw the need for a change in student search and application generation. While Marquette’s application numbers had increased over the years through its search program, yield was not increasing. The university desired to reach more of the right applicants—those who would proceed to enroll after applying.
The quest to build a more qualified applicant pool and a more focused search program came with a challenge: Could the university trust the analytics from Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) which showed, counterintuitively, that yield would increase with a decrease in the number of applications?
To conduct a more intentional search based on using analytics to reach a more specific audience, the university’s leaders took a leap of faith. Why? Because getting more of the right applications was the goal—not getting more applications overall. Also, the staff realized that having a smaller search pool would make it possible to spend more time and resources on students who were more likely to enroll.
“Our staff was so excited to hear that we were going to make this change,” Burke said. “It was a risk, but I felt that it was a calculated risk.”
To set the wheels in motion, Burke built a team to work with Ruffalo Noel Levitz to implement the new strategy.
2015 research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes.
Ruffalo Noel Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2015 to further understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student recruitment, campus marketing, and student retention. We also examined current enrollment practices on campuses across the United States. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:
40 percent of high school seniors rule out colleges based on sticker price. A national survey earlier this year showed four of every ten high school seniors are ruling out colleges based on sticker price alone and 87 percent believe paying for college will be “somewhat difficult” or “quite difficult.” Download the 2015 Rising Seniors’ Perceptions of Financial Aid report.
The top three practices for recruiting adult learners are face-to-face information sessions, open houses, and website “request information” forms. Only a minority of campus officials in a poll last spring reported using webinar information sessions, but those who did rated them effective. Download the 2015 Adult Learner Marketing and Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report.
Adult learners are more committed to their educational goals and generally satisfied with faculty availability. Through two new national studies, we also learned that adult learners tend to have higher intellectual interests and greater receptivity to career counseling than traditional-age students. Download the 2015 National Freshman Attitudes Report and the 2014-15 National Adult Student Priorities Report.
Email is still their first choice, but high school students like to hear from colleges via other channels, too. Looking closer, we learned that high academic ability students prefer direct mail at a higher rate than average academic ability students (GPA between 2.5 and 3.4), while average academic ability students prefer the telephone at higher rates. We also found differences by students’ racial/ethnic background. Download the 2015 High School Students’ and Parents’ Perceptions of and Preferences for Communication with Colleges.
In recent years, the enrollment environment for higher education has been changing, and that means higher education must change with it. Dr. Lew Sanborne of Ruffalo Noel Levitz discusses why and how institutions are responding to the latest enrollment trends and projections in this one-hour recorded video focused on the fundamentals of strategic enrollment planning:
Fundamentals of strategic enrollment planning
This video is a recording of a webinar presented in April 2015 as part of Bay Path University’s Hot Topics Lecture Series.
Topics covered in this video:
- What five major trends are influencing today’s student enrollments across higher education?
- How can institutions of higher education use the full capabilities of their executive leadership, across divisional lines, to accomplish the institution’s mission and ensure long-term enrollment success and fiscal health?
- What is strategic enrollment planning and how is it defined by colleges and universities?
- How are campus executive teams responding to the latest enrollment trends and projections?
- How can campus executive teams take a data-informed, analytical approach to align their institutions with the changing academic marketplace?
Strategic Enrollment Planning Executive Forum:
December 10-11, 2015 in Las Vegas
Interested in learning more about strategic enrollment planning? Join Ruffalo Noel Levitz for a dynamic discussion in Las Vegas.
Learn more about the forum and register.
Questions about strategic enrollment planning?
If you are interested in how you can begin to build a strategic enrollment plan, please email us and we will have one of our enrollment consultants get in touch with you.
Dr. Tim Culver, the retention leader of Ruffalo Noel Levitz, recently presented a 45-minute webinar on the essentials of student retention planning for higher education. The recording appears below:
This webinar discussion provides a helpful overview of retention planning from a theoretical and practical standpoint.
Topics covered in this webinar include but are not limited to:
- How is retention defined by colleges and universities?
- Who should be included on a campus retention committee?
- How can campus retention professionals take a data-informed, analytical approach to retention to determine which students drop out and why?
The webinar was presented as part of Bay Path University’s Hot Topics Lecture Series in April 2015.
Questions about retention planning?
If you are interested in how you can build a stronger retention plan, please email us and we will have one of our retention consultants get in touch with you.