How Did It Go This Year?

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group, Inc.

We have completed another year in enrollment management. The following questions are designed to make readers evaluate their results this cycle with a critical eye. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list applying equally to all colleges and universities. The intent is to encourage thought and examination of outcomes.

Did you generate significant increases in admission applications this year?

The number of admission applications is so important. More applications present an opportunity to increase new student enrollments if that is part of your strategic objective. More applications provide an opportunity to be more selective if your intent is to increase academic quality. More applications translate into more demand and increased demand allows institutions to meet specific recruitment objectives in a variety of areas.

Make sure that your increase was not a result of aggressive application fee waivers. If you have not realized an increase in applications this year it is time to ask why.

Were at least 80% of your applicants for admission either accepted or denied admission?

No matter how many students applied for admission at your college or university, an efficient recruitment operation would have effectively encouraged students to complete their admission folders so that a determination on eligibility for acceptance could be made. Folder completion rates below this mark are likely an indication of lack of consistent and systematic communication and follow-up with admission applicants. Given the expense of generating admission applicants, one would want to ensure that prospective students were at least notified of their eligibility to enroll before they made a decision on whether or not to attend.

Are you surprised by your recruitment or retention results?

Success in meeting enrollment objectives is gratifying and failure can be difficult. Regardless of outcomes, the worst result is a surprise. If your new student numbers were significantly higher or lower than you expected, then you have a problem. If your retention numbers are not in line with expectations then you have a problem. Enrollment management is a data-driven proposition. Institutions can experience increases or declines in recruitment and retention numbers for a variety of reasons. A surprise is a strong indication that your approach is not data-driven.

Are your numerical recruitment reasonable given your expectations with regard to academic quality?

Bottom line, did you get the numbers at the expense of the type of students you intended to recruit? Did you recruit students with a reasonable expectation of success dependent upon your institutional mission and historical persistence and graduation rates? If not, why not?

Are AR balances within 98% of processed financial aid when one accounts for payment plans?

By this time of year, all of the financial aid offered to both new and returning students should have been applied to student accounts. If any amount of financial aid from any source, including student and parent loans, is still outstanding you need to investigate further.

Did any students, new or returning, attend class without having their financial aid finalized, not cleared by the Financial Aid Office but finalized, before beginning classes?

You have to understand the impact of policies that allow students to enroll and attend classes without their financial obligations being addressed. Some schools think they have no choice but to allow students to attend classes even though financial aid has not been finalized and / or payment plans have not been signed. This approach is not good business for schools but is even worse for students allowed to attend prior to finalization of payment arrangements.

For the college or university, cash flow is inhibited and this can have implications on payroll, debt service, investments in technology and general curricular and co-curricular service to students. It does not serve the institution well to place basic product services in jeopardy for faulty, administrators and the enrolled students they serve.

Allowing students to actually enroll before financial aid arrangements are made is even worse for the students. what are you going to do if you find out after the student has attended class that they cannot afford to be enrolled? What happens when financial expectations at the time of enrollment do not pan out? These questions are critical.

Some students may have been placed in situations where they have incurred costs that they cannot pay. After the fact, it is unlikely that sufficient amounts of financial aid will be available to cover the costs. The institution could be forced to expel the student for non-payment. This action, initially based upon giving the student a chance to finalize their financing after the start of classes, can kick the student out of class for the next term, but also kick the student out of higher education permanently! The host school is not going to release the transcript to other schools due to lack of payment. The host school runs the risk of denying higher education opportunities to the student for the rest of his/her life.

If you are unhappy in any way with your recruitment or retention plans, consider significant changes in the future.

You need to reconsider your strategies and tactics for recruitment, financial aid, and/or retention if you are disappointed with your final numbers. If you are not realizing revenue, recruitment or retention goals, you need to consider new approaches.

It is the time of year when we need to ask if the entire enrollment management plan worked. It is rare that colleges and universities meet all of their objectives every year with regard to cash flow, new student enrollments, overall enrollment, academic quality, total headcount and retention.

There is always room for improvement – that is a given. The key is to set reasonable goals in every aspect of enrollment management and expect reasonable outcomes. Regardless of the objectives, it is good policy to examine the initial goals on all fronts of enrollment. It is also important to understand that improvements are possible and that failure to realize modest goals is not acceptable.

At this time of year, every year, college and university leaders need to ask “how did it go this year?”

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