Two Ideas to Combat Changes in Enrollment Demand

Thoughtware Article Published: Nov 01, 2021
2022 Higher Education Outlook

The content in this article is pulled from the 2022 Annual Higher Education Outlook. For more insights, download your complimentary copy of the 2022 Annual Higher Education Outlook today!

Spring 2021 enrollment was the lowest it has been in many years for all sectors. Four-year public enrollment was up slightly in the fall of 2020, but from fall 2018 to spring 2021, all sectors in total lost enrollment.

Overall, the annual decline was 3.5 percent (roughly 603,000 students) from spring 2020 to spring 2021. This year’s decline is seven times worse than the decline a year earlier. Undergraduate students accounted for all the decline. In contrast, graduate enrollment jumped by 4.6 percent, adding 124,000 students. Community colleges were hardest hit, losing 476,000 students (-9.5 percent). Among all age groups, traditional students (age 18 to 24) declined the most (-5.0 percent). Adult students (age 25 or older) showed a 2 to 3 percent gain at both public four-year and private nonprofit institutions.

2022 Higher Education Outlook - Figure 2vii

Idea 1

Since graduate and adult enrollments are increasing, launch carefully selected graduate programs and other programs that would educate adults.

If you are working to attract adult students, be mindful of the success rates for students who have had long stop-out periods. See the data in Figures 3 and 4.

2022 Higher Education Outlook - Figure 3viii

Getting these adult students to completion was dependent on the length of the stop-out period as noted in Figure 3. Successful completion also is dependent on the academic progress made prior to the stopout period as noted in Figure 4.

2022 Higher Education Outlook - Figure 4ix

The data above are from a study done in 2013 on students that have some college but no degree. The data in the chart reflect that study. In 2019, the National Student Clearinghouse updated this study with new data showing the progress of those students with some college but no degree. While the absolute values of the three categories do change, reflecting additional progress to a degree for some, the relationships between the percentages remain roughly the same with those with the most education before a stop-out period (at least two years) having the highest completion rates (32.8 percent rather than the 23.8 percent reported in 2013). The relevance of this information is for enrollment officers thinking about whom to attract if going after adults. Those with the most (two or more years) credit hours of college work were and still are most likely to complete their education.

Idea 2

How large is this group of adults with some college, but no degree? 36 million! The 2019 report titled "Some College, No Degree" provides highlights:

  • 36 million Americans in the NSC database today hold some postsecondary education and training, but no completion, and are no longer enrolled—also known as the “Some College, No Degree” population.
  • 10 percent of this population are “potential completers” who have already made at least two years’ worth of academic progress up until their last enrollment. Potential completers were found more likely than other former students to re-enroll and finish college.
  • Completers tend to finish at the institution where they first re-enrolled and complete within two years of re-enrolling, without stopping out.
  • Completers typically re-enrolled and finished in the same state where they last enrolled, with a few exceptions.

This data is good news to those watching the traditional student demographic trends. In order to take advantage of this expanding group of potential students, schools will want to find ways to reach out to this population of prospective students. In a September 2021 survey, Inside Higher Education reported that 80 percent of admissions officers in the 206 schools surveyed said they were very likely to increase recruitment of minority and transfer students, but they report their primary interest being full-time students as only 26 percent say they are likely to recruit part-time undergraduates.

For more insights, download your complimentary copy of the 2022 Annual Higher Education Outlook today!

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