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This is part two of a two-post series on opportunities associated with the new FAFSA PPY (Prior-Prior Year) regulations which went into effect in fall 2016. See part one.
How well is your enrollment team tracking the impact of FAFSA PPY? Are you maximizing your early filer conversion and yield rates?
In September of 2015, the Department of Education announced that we would be moving to Prior-Prior Year (PPY) or Early FAFSA Filing for the fall 2017-18 academic year. This change was largely supported by higher education institutions, policy groups, and lawmakers with a number of goals in mind:
- Simplify the aid application process
- Increase FAFSA completion
- Increase the accuracy of the FAFSA
- Provide families an earlier and more accurate idea of their anticipated financial aid and college costs
- Provide all students more time to plan and make informed enrollment decisions
And of course the ultimate goals: greater affordability and greater access for students.
Now that PPY and fall 2017 recruitment are well under way, it is important to review the early results of FAFSA PPY and identify specific strategies to maximize filer conversion and yield rates.
Early FAFSA PPY filing rates: What the data show
FAFSA PPY filing started off quickly in comparison to previous years but slowed during December. In the absence of previous filer rates for October, the Department of Education in its reports decided to compare FAFSA filing rates from 2016 to 2017 by week. For example: Week 4 of 2017 included filing data through October 21 compared to Week 4 of 2016 which included data through January 22:
Above, we can see the first 4 weeks of filing this year were exceptional with 497,884 filers compared to 390,819 in the previous cycle, a 27.4 percent increase. The FAFSAs submitted were also more accurate, with the number of rejected ISIRs dropping by 12.6 percent in the first month. This translates to a 34.1 percent increase in the number of completed FAFSAs submitted during the first four weeks of the FAFSA cycle for 2017.
Last month the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) released updated high school graduate projections through 2032 . The report contained the following findings and observations:
- The steady growth in high school graduates that led to significant expansion of higher education in the United States in recent decades is coming to an abrupt halt. While the percentage of graduates grew 30 percent from 1995 to 2013, the number of high school graduates is expected to show virtually no growth for the next seven years.
- Dramatic increases in graduates who are Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander will continue. The racial/ethnic mix of high school graduates in the United States will shift significantly toward a more diverse population of graduates fueled primarily by large increases in the number of Hispanic (50 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islander (30 percent) public high school graduates through about 2025.
- Marked regional differences will continue as well. There is significant regional variation, with the Northeast and the Midwest experiencing continuing declines in the number of high school graduates, while the West will see slight increases and the South significant and steady increases. Most notably, the South is the engine of growth for high school graduates.
The enrollment challenges noted in these findings are probably not a surprise to most higher education leaders who are already feeling the impact of weakening student demand. Indeed total enrollment in degree-granting institutions declined by more than 800,000 students between fall 2010 and fall 2014 according to IPEDS. The National Student Clearinghouse, which produces data ahead of IPEDS, has now reported enrollment declines for ten consecutive terms through fall 2016.
Many in higher education are zeroing in on improving college completion rates among transfer students—a growing undergraduate subpopulation on campuses of all types. Yet data from our latest research study shown above indicate that retention programming for transfer students lags behind when compared with first-year student retention programs.
For example, 44 percent of the four-year private institution respondents in the study rated their first-year student programs “very effective” on a rating scale that used a four-part scale: “very effective,” “somewhat effective,” “minimally effective,” and “method not used.” Yet just 15 percent of these same respondents rated their transfer student programs “very effective.” Respondents from four-year public institutions and two-year public institutions also gave lower ratings to transfer student programs.
What’s working in 2013 in the areas of student recruitment and college marketing?
Graduate enrollment has long been an important component of many institutions’ overall enrollment picture. However, in recent years, we have seen institutions giving even greater attention to their graduate recruitment and enrollment practices, especially in the many areas of the country where the high school graduate pool is shrinking and undergraduate enrollment is challenged.
This increased interest in graduate enrollment is raising new questions about the most effective practices for attracting and recruiting graduate students. To help address this need for information, Noel-Levitz and the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals (NAGAP) partnered this spring to survey the nation’s graduate recruitment and admissions professionals to find out what they think are the most effective recruitment practices to recruit master’s degree students.
The survey asked graduate recruitment professionals to assess the effectiveness of nearly 80 practices across all stages of the graduate recruitment funnel. And because many graduate admissions professionals often ask Noel-Levitz consultants to help them benchmark their funnel rates—especially admit rates and yield rates—the survey also asked for funnel rates, and for practices regarding name purchase practices, as optional questions. (Doctoral student recruitment is often different from master’s recruiting so the survey focused on recruiting master’s students as a starting point for building the knowledge base.)
The report, 2012 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices for Master’s-Level Graduate Programs, provides an analysis of responses for each of four different Carnegie institution types: private doctorate-granting; public doctorate-granting; private master’s/baccalaureate/specialized institutions; and public master’s/baccalaureate/specialized institutions. (Keep in mind that the survey focused on master’s recruitment at each of these types of institutions.)
The new 2012 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Noel-Levitz shows colleges and universities are working to keep up with prospective students’ changing behaviors and preferences by employing a wide range of online technologies such as mobile-optimized Web sites, text messaging, social media, QR codes, and more.
For example, in response to the rising use of mobile devices among high school students, more than one-third of four-year colleges and universities nationally now have mobile-optimized Web sites. Specifically, 39 percent of four-year public universities and 35 percent of four-year private colleges now have a Web site that is optimized for mobile browsing. The study also found these figures are set to double within the next year, as at least half of the study’s respondents that are currently without mobile-optimized sites reported they were preparing to launch one by spring 2013.
The study was based on a national poll of undergraduate admissions officials at U.S., degree-granting colleges and universities conducted between March 21, 2012, and April 20, 2012.
To further gear up for mobile browsing, nearly two-thirds of four-year college and university respondents in the study reported using QR codes to attract students to their sites. In addition, more than one-third of four-year public institution respondents and nearly one-quarter of four-year private institution respondents reported offering mobile apps.
As the above table shows, most four-year colleges and universities this year are operating with the same or increased budgets for recruitment and admissions as a year ago, according to Noel-Levitz’s recently released 2011 Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student Report.
Noel-Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2011 to further understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student success, student retention, and new student enrollment. Here are some highlights from what we learned:
- One in three freshmen lacks confidence in academic preparation for college. In our 2011 National Freshman Attitudes Report, we found that up to one-half of first-year undergraduates nationwide acknowledged that their academic preparation wasn’t as solid as they may have hoped. First-generation freshmen in particular were apprehensive about their abilities in math and writing.
- One of the top undergraduate recruiting practices in 2011 was addressing students’ concerns about costs. In our 2011 Report: Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions, we ranked 78 emerging and familiar recruiting practices for public and private colleges and universities. At the top of the list, across sectors, were activities that encouraged prospective students to take action, addressed their concerns about costs, and built relationships between them and institutional representatives, including currently enrolled students.
- Students’ levels of financial need continue to rise. In our 2011 Discounting Report, a comparative research study of private nonprofit institutions that are partnering with Noel-Levitz to strategically award their financial aid, we found that “high need” students continued to enroll at these institutions in greater numbers while enrollments of students with less need continued on a downward trend.
- College students today tend to be more satisfied than their counterparts from 15 years ago, but 40 percent remain dissatisfied. In our National Student Satisfaction and Priorities 15-Year Trend Report, we found that, overall, today’s students are more satisfied than students in 1995, though a significant percentage of students remain dissatisfied across sectors. Student satisfaction has increased the most at four-year public institutions, increasing 10 percent from 47 percent in 1995 to 57 percent in 2010.
- Nearly 60 percent of prospective undergraduate students are researching college choices with their parents. In our 2011 E-Expectations Report, we found both parents and students look for links related to academic programs and admissions information when first visiting college Web sites. In addition to indicating that they were researching colleges together, 49 percent of students and 61 percent of parents said the final decision on where to enroll would also be done together.
- Between 9 and 19 percent of first-term freshmen fail to return for their second term. In our 2011 Mid-Year Retention Indicators Report, we took a closer look at retention and learned that first-to-second-term attrition was greater for first-year students than for second-year college students, but the difference wasn’t as big as some may have thought.
- One of the top undergraduate retention practices in 2011 was giving students practical work experiences in their intended majors in order to apply their learning. In our 2011 Report: Student Retention Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions, we ranked 53 emerging and widely-used practices for keeping today’s undergraduates on track to complete their degree. In addition to identifying widely-used practices, the report identifies a few top-ranked practices that were used by only half or less of the survey respondents.
You can find more higher education papers and reports on our Web site and additional student research on our blog, including dramatic expected growth in students 25 and older and among Asian-American/Pacific Islanders. In 2011, we also looked at special populations including online learners, adult learners, second-year students, and recipients of Pell grants. Looking ahead to 2012, we anticipate many more studies, including further research on graduate students, adult learners, and “secret shoppers” (prospective students who search for colleges online without identifying themselves to the institutions).
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Demographic trends show that nearly 40 states will experience significant declines in the number of high school graduates in the coming years. Specifically, declines in Caucasian and Asian students—the two ethnic groups that attend colleges at the highest rates—will undergo a significant decline. This development means colleges and universities will face growing enrollment management challenges in the coming years.
The following map illustrates how widespread these declines will reach, and how the Midwest and Northeastern United States in particular will experience significant losses of high school graduates: