Changing demographics, student debt concerns, competition among schools, and skepticism about the value of a college degree are making enrollment management more challenging than ever. Understanding prospective students and their parents’ needs — and being ready to meet them — will be vital for student recruitment now and in the future.
Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) recently released their 2022 Prospective Family Engagement Report (a survey of 6,400 families of prospective college students) that reveals key insights for colleges and universities. Similarly, Hanover Research conducted a 2022 National Prospective Student Survey with more than 1,000 U.S. high school sophomores and juniors who are considering undergraduate programs in the next two years. Here is a look at some of the key findings that colleges and universities must take into account:
Be clear about affordability and financial aid options in every stage of the recruitment process. Not surprisingly, affordability was a concern among both sets of survey respondents, with 89% of students in Hanover Research’s survey listing affordability as a very or extremely important factor when making their final decision on which program to attend. First-generation students, in particular, considered price to attend an important factor. Meanwhile, 45% percent of families polled by RNL thought it would be difficult or very difficult to pay for their student’s college, 58% said they were likely to rule out a college based on the sticker price, and 66% said they had concerns about borrowing. Those fears were higher among Black and Hispanic families, families with income less than $100,000, families in the Southwest, families considering in-state institutions, families who ruled out institutions based on the sticker price, and families who have not taken part in an in-person campus tour or visit. Information on costs, scholarships, and financial aid needs to be not only accessible, but easy to understand. Don’t bury it under layers of pages on your website, and try to avoid jargon that parents may not understand. The RNL report recommends tools such as personalized financial aid award videos, saying they “can go a long way toward making financial aid easy to understand.”
Choose your communication channels wisely. Despite widespread social media use, few prospective students and families want to be contacted through those channels. Email remains the preferred communication method, but preferences vary based on demographics. Text messaging was another popular choice (50% from Hanover Research’s survey and 36% from RNL’s). RNL found that text messaging was more likely to be preferred by Black, Hispanic, and Asian families; families with incomes less than $60,000; first-generation families; and families of students in 12th grade. Segmentation and targeting may be helpful, but as a general rule of thumb, communicating often and across a variety of channels can ensure you’re reaching all your families and students.
Learning preferences are changing. Interestingly, both surveys found that only 19% of students were interested in fully online classes. Even fewer parents (10%) said they would allow their students to attend college fully online, according to the RNL survey. The Hanover Research report shares that fully on-campus experiences have continued to decline in popularity since the pandemic, with only 49% of students seeking fully on-campus options. Many students are interested in a hybrid option (36%). According to the Hanover Research report, “most prospective students still want to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree on campus. But pandemic-related shifts exposed students to remote and hybrid learning, ultimately boosting their comfort and confidence in digital tools along with a growing interest in flexible scheduling and degree types.” Offering flexibility — and communicating that to prospective students and families — will be critical.
The pandemic exacerbated gaps in college preparedness. Many prospective students (nearly 1 in 4) admitted to feeling academically unprepared after the learning shifts they experienced in high school amid COVID-19, according to the Hanover Research report. Self-discipline and motivation to complete schoolwork and independent living skills were listed as top concerns among prospective students. The report concludes that institutions “must provide and promote robust support services, success skills coaching, and transitional guidance.” Colleges that highlight and market these valuable resources may come out on top, especially with students concerned about “catching up.” However, colleges and universities must be prepared to deliver on these promises if they want to establish a foundation for long-term success.
For more detailed reporting, recommendations, and breakdowns by demographics, you can download your copies of the reports here:
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