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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.
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.
Most institutions collect data. However, few institutions use that data to understand trends or patterns that should be monitored and instead use data to establish annual enrollment strategy. Leaders may look at a particular data element and set a goal to change it, deciding, for instance, to set a goal of increasing the number of inquiries or applicants. Meanwhile, many campus leaders fail to consider aligning both internal and external data with trend data to determine the real issues the institution faces.
A data-informed institution, on the other hand, takes the all-important next step of analyzing its data and drawing a more informed awareness of its situation and environment. The institution uses that awareness to make decisions that align with its mission while allowing it to adapt intentionally to the future instead of simply reacting to it. A data-informed institution asks:
“Does our data allow us to understand our context and draw implications about how we will need to change in order to fulfill our mission and vision in the future? Does our current state align with the future needs, demands, and trends? If not, can our institution sustain itself?”
Such institutions are, in effect, developing a kind of data wisdom that provides an impetus to move forward. This data-informed strategy also drives the Strategic Enrollment Planning process that our campus partners use.
As challenging as this might seem, there is nothing magical about data. They are simply a resource that can be neglected, exploited, or understood. Frequently, a campus will have reams and reams of data with no one purposefully assessing it, considering its implications, or suggesting ways to change institutional behavior based on what it indicates. A campus must charge key personnel with taking the data and drawing conclusions from it, as illustrated in the following figure.
Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2013). 2013 marketing and student recruitment practices benchmark report for four-year and two-year institutions. Coralville, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Download here.
Radford, A.W., Cominole, M., and Skomsvoid, P. (2015) Web tables-demographic and enrollment characteristics of nontraditional undergraduates: 2011-12 (NCES 2015-025). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. Download here.
Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2014). 2014-2024 projections of high school graduates by state and race/ethnicity, based primarily on data from WICHE. Coralville, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Download here.
Is your campus ready for the major changes that are already sweeping across higher education?
Very few colleges and universities are immune: Expected trends and current realities include serving proportionally more adult students, delivering more online classes, and being subject to shifting demographics and attitudes toward higher education that are putting pressures on traditional funding models and enrollments.
Clearly, most institutions need strategic planning, yet research shows few campuses are well-prepared for what lies ahead. Across sectors, only about one-tenth of higher education institutions report having a long-range, strategic enrollment plan that they judge to be “excellent,” while only another 25 to 40 percent rate their plans “good.” The remaining half indicate their plans are “fair,” “poor,” or nonexistent. (See this report for specific breakdowns by sector.)
How effective is your campus enrollment team at managing continuous change and at monitoring the changes in today’s students? Is your enrollment strategy “playbook” in need of updating?
For an overview of the latest keys to enrollment success, I encourage you to attend Noel-Levitz’s upcoming 2015 Enrollment Management Workshop Series. At this workshop, I will be presenting a top-line overview of the ever-changing world of enrollment management, including the complexities of responding to changing demographics and the critical elements of a successful student recruitment and marketing program. My observations will be drawn from over 50 campus visits I’ve made in the last year or so, and from keeping an eye on the latest research.
I won’t share everything here that I’ll share at the workshop, but I will share some key points. In the current environment, understanding and organizing for the “new normal” isn’t an option. To be effective, campus enrollment teams, together with their senior colleagues, must address today’s increasing calls for accountability, affordability, and efficiency, while delivering enrollment and revenue outcomes, relevant academic programs, and improvements to all aspects of the student and prospective student experience. Adding to the pressures are increasing levels of competition and an accelerating use of technology and data to continuously fine-tune strategies and react to changes.
How I see colleges and universities responding to today’s environment
In response to these and other challenges, I observe today’s colleges and universities finding ways to become more strategic, efficient, and effective through initiatives such as:
- Developing longer-term plans
- Identifying and eliminating barriers to enrollment
- Knowing the profile of the persister
- Cultivating current students
- Identifying and responding to the marketplace
- Integrating campus silos
- Conducting meaningful market research
- Mobilizing the campus to assist with recruitment, marketing, and retention
The use of data is growing, too, as more campuses are employing analytics, tracking, and research to drive their decision-making and goal-setting.
I hear two common laments related to data on college campuses, and in some ways they represent the ends of a continuum. At one extreme is the “data-rich-and-information-poor” school: the data-rich institution has tons of data, but has not taken the time to figure out what it means or what anyone should do about it. Sometimes a campus gets stuck in a cycle of “analysis paralysis,” where every review of a data set leads to more questions and the need for more data.
At the other extreme is the campus that claims they have no data and manages by anecdote. In this case, data may be hard to get out of the system, there may be mistrust of the data that is available, or there simply may not be a culture of data-informed decision making. So campus leaders make decisions based on their best guess, or often, based on the most compelling anecdote.
In this space, I’d like to suggest there is a mid-point on this continuum that can lead to productive data use and data-informed decision making: Merge data with anecdote, or more practically, merge data with narrative.
What’s working in 2013 in the areas of student recruitment and college marketing?
At this time of year, most admissions teams at four-year colleges and universities are keeping close, daily counts of their inquiry, applicant, and accepted pools, with yield counts to follow soon on accepts and then on deposits/confirmed students. While all of these totals are important, they can also be misleading. Let me explain. If you follow this explanation carefully, you’ll see how to avoid late surprises by continuously tracking the strengths and weaknesses of your next incoming class—not just the total numbers.
First, let’s look at the way most admissions teams have been using “funnels” to track progress.
For decades, enrollment managers and admissions officers have been monitoring admissions funnels at their institutions and making new student enrollment projections by monitoring such rates as the:
- Response rates to search outreach efforts
- Conversion rates from inquiry to applicant
- Acceptance rates
- Yield rates from acceptance to enrollment