Click to see full size
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.
This post is the first part of a two-post series on opportunities associated with the new Prior-Prior Year regulations which went into effect in fall 2016.
Prior-Prior Year is now in its fourth month. How well prepared is your campus for the new realities of today’s marketplace? And how are you making a stronger case for your affordability using P-P-Y for today’s cost-conscious families? Consider:
- 2 million students will graduate from U.S high schools every year for at least the next 10 years (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2016).
- Approximately 62 percent of American students annually will consider postsecondary education (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 2016).
- The price tag of higher education has nearly doubled in the last 20 years (Perry, 2016). There are no consumer goods or services that have increased more than the annual cost of college education since 1996. If we compare the overall consumer prices of all goods and services during this same period, the cost of higher education has increased in real dollars by more than 94 percent.
Need evidence that cost is a growing concern? The Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey is part of the Higher Education Research Institute, which is part of UCLA. The survey, which has a fifty-year history, is administered to incoming first-year students before they start classes, allowing campuses to understand student perceptions about college prior to time on campus and in classrooms. The 2015 CIRP Freshman Survey indicated that the top reason students chose the institution they attended was academic reputation—not surprisingly, this has remained the number one reason for several years. The third and fourth reasons focused on financial aid and cost. The overall amount of financial aid offered was the third reason, and the overall cost of attending the college was the fourth (Cooperative Institutional Research Program, 2016).
In addition, a study by Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that Caucasian and African American students are more likely to have discussions regarding college financing versus parents of Hispanic and Asian American students. Of the parents who are “very involved” in the college selection process, as many as 72 percent have had conversations with their students about college financing (Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2016).
Address the cost conversation earlier—Prior-Prior Year brings new opportunities
There is no doubt that institutional awards and state financial assistance affect students’ choices of postsecondary institutions; unfortunately, students and families often are not informed of their financial aid package or other sources of financial assistance until after students are admitted (Renn & Reason, 2013). This is changing, however. Fall 2016 was the first fall in which campuses were able to begin awarding financial aid to admitted students as early as October 1—which many campuses are referring to as Prior-Prior Year awarding. Because many students and families have an unrealistic understanding of how they will pay for college, the additional time in the process to assess financial aid and determine how much a family can contribute to total cost of attendance is beneficial.
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.
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.
The Pew Research Center recently reported that the number of Hispanic students enrolled in college increased 24 percent in 2010. This shift has made Hispanic students the largest minority group in higher education, comprising 15 percent of all college students. In addition, enrollment from black and Asian students grew by 5 percent and 6 percent respectively, while the enrollment of white (non-Hispanic) students declined by just under 4 percent.
These are significant shifts in the demographics of higher education. These students bring more diversity to campuses, broadening the cultural atmosphere of colleges and universities. They also have their own unique expectations and challenges. Campuses need to adjust to the diverse needs of their incoming students in order to maintain a quality college experience.
Institutions also need to be ready to take advantage of the tremendous enrollment opportunities these changes can bring. In speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Noel-Levitz consultant Jim Hundrieser discussed the positive effect the increase in Hispanic enrollment can have for higher education. “For the fastest-growing population in the U.S. to realize that higher education is important to their goals is great news,” Dr. Hundrieser told the Journal. He also said that Hispanic enrollment would be key to the fiscal health of campuses in the south and west regions of the United States.
For several years, Aurora University in Illinois had been trying to increase its first-year enrollment without reducing its net revenue. “We always had a goal of 200 freshmen,” says Director of Freshman Admission James Lancaster, an Aurora alumnus who assumed that role in 1999. “But our average freshman class from 1990 to 1999 was 148.”
When President Rebecca Sherrick arrived in 1999, Lancaster relates, she asked Noel-Levitz to evaluate the college’s enrollment efforts and provide strategic advice. That year, the admission office began employing the Noel-Levitz Enrollment & Revenue Management System™, which uses an institution’s historical enrollment, tuition, and award data to create an econometric model that guides financial aid awarding to maximize enrollment returns. “This allowed us to take a hard look at price elasticity to make decisions on tuition hikes and merit awards to help us shape and build our class,” Lancaster says. “We hit 204 that year.”
One of the most commonly asked questions I receive when I am working on a Noel-Levitz partner campus is, “How do we compare with other institutions?” For over 20 years, Noel-Levitz has attempted to answer this question through a series of benchmarking studies–the latest is the 2010 Admissions Funnel Benchmarks for Four-Year Public and Private Institutions. Thanks goes to 193 colleges and universities who completed our survey this fall. The data increases in value as participation increases.
What you will see when you review the data is in part the result of what you already know: colleges and universities are making it very easy for prospective students to apply. The result is that fewer students are inquiring before applying, inquiry-to-applicant conversion rates are going up (because of increased applications as the first point of contact), and yield from accepted to enrolled is dropping due to “soft,” less-committed online applicants.
This leads me to observe several patterns that are worthy of note.
Five trends I observed after reading the latest benchmarking study: