Enrollment-Decline Cures: Focus on Recruitment, Engagement, and Retention

Hint: Empower Academic Advisors To Connect With Students

Academic Advisors

With more employers than ever requiring new hires to have an advanced degree, you’d think colleges would be fending off students. Wrong.

The drop in enrollment at American colleges has been called an existential crisis for the affected institutions, and schools of all stripes are scrambling to stop financial losses. Dr. Sue Ohrablo, one of the nation’s top academic advisor and student service specialists, suggests that one solution to the problem is to better empower academic advisors to bring in—and keep—your students.

Ohrablo addresses institutional needs and concerns, and explores smart strategies for engaging student advisors in your enrollment objectives, in a live webinar for Eli Education, “Why Advisors Resist Metrics: Emphasizing Methods over Numbers to Meet Institutional Goals.”

A Decline In Enrollment: How Bad Is It?

The decline in enrollment at American colleges is now in its sixth year, reports Inside Higher Ed. In 2017, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment fell 1 percent, or by nearly 224,000 students. Actual graduate and professional school programs saw a modest increase, of 1 percent, while undergraduate numbers fell by 1.4 percent. The drop for associate degree seekers was 2.3 percent, and the drop for those pursing non-degree certificates was 10.7 percent. Enrollment was down for first-time college students.

The numbers “suggest[] further declines to come over all in the years ahead, which will continue to present planning challenges for institutions and policy makers seeking to adapt to new economic and demographic realities,” Doug Shapiro, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s executive research director, said.

That predicted trend means the battle will go on at higher ed institutions, in regents’ meetings, and in state legislatures.

Stop the Slide: Options Include New Programs, Overseas Recruitment

An end may be in sight, however. A federal report from 2017 predicts college enrollment will grow by 15 percent by 2025, with most of the expansion coming from non-traditional students, women, graduates, and minorities.

Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed says forecasting enrollment will be hard. There are some dependable facts, however: International students bring in more revenue per person than domestic students, and federal aid and scholarships mean a lot.

Schools can also go on the offensive, the site said, by doing the following:

  • Actively recruit students to apply with simple, well-timed messages
  • Be persistent with messaging—if students aren’t interested, they’ll let you know
  • Engage parents

“I believe higher education is in a better spot now,” said Peter Farrell, director of Royall & Company, in the Inside Higher Ed article. “But today there are thousands of institutions coping with ambiguities we’ve not seen, nor could anticipate, before.”

Of course, good enrollment also means high retention among existing students, notes institutional tech provider Ellucian. One way to boost retention is to support students academically—by offering study help, writing centers, first-year seminars, peer tutoring, and the like.

Help can also come in the form of student advisors who are fluent in student engagement practices. “Academic advisors can play a critical role in promoting students success and, as a result, help to retain them,” Ohrablo wrote in higher education reporting site EvoLLLution. “Students who feel connected to an institution, feel cared about, understand their purpose, and have clear academic and career goals are more apt to persist in their academic endeavors. Academic advisors can assist students in the areas of engagement, academic planning, decision making, and problem resolution.”

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Jeff Schmerker
About Jeff Schmerker
Jeff has extensive professional experience writing on a variety of topics, from pharmaceutical research to environmental history. He has published more than a half-dozen books, and he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and restaurant reviewer. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife and son.