Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The Case of the Missing Applicants

I’ll preface by saying that I work on the academic side of the college, as opposed to admissions. So there’s a fundamental ignorance underlying this. I hope that commenters who know this stuff better than I do will be kind...

My college’s enrollments, like many others, are coming down slightly from the recession-induced spike of 2009. By itself, that’s easy enough to explain: some folks find jobs, unemployment benefits expire, high school graduation numbers are down a bit. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not mystified, either.

The puzzle, though, is that enrollments -- and even applications for financial aid -- are significantly up. In other words, the “yield” -- or percentage of accepted applicants who actually wind up showing up -- is dropping fast.

In the world of selective colleges, yield management is old news. But for us, it’s new. Over the years, the percentage of applicants who wind up enrolling has been relatively constant. It’s been consistent enough to form the basis for budgeting, for example. Now, abruptly, it isn’t.

Part of me wants to attribute it to more people using the cc as their safety school, but the fact that financial aid applications are also up leads me to discount that theory. People don’t bother jumping through the financial aid hoops unless they’re serious.

Local four-year colleges are obvious suspects, but their numbers don’t indicate any unusual poaching. If anything, the shift in enrollments has been from them to us, rather than the other way around. (They make it up on the back end, taking increasing numbers of our grads as transfers. Fine by me!) It doesn’t appear to be a side effect of increased efforts by local competitors. And as with most cc’s, our enrollment is overwhelmingly local.

It’s a mystery.

I’m wondering a few things, and hoping that some of my wise and worldly readers can shed some light.

First, is this a local quirk, or is it showing up at cc’s elsewhere?

Second, if it isn’t just a quirk, is there a usual cause of a declining yield?

Third, is there a usual playbook for dealing with this sort of thing?

Any light that experienced readers could shed would be appreciated. The budgetary impacts of a declining yield aren’t pretty, and I’d much rather raise revenues than cut costs.

"The puzzle, though, is that enrollments -- and even applications for financial aid -- are significantly up. In other words, the “yield” -- or percentage of accepted applicants who actually wind up showing up -- is dropping fast."

I think you mean that applications are significantly up?
Or admissions to the college overall - both among those who do show up and those who disappear?

I had to double-take on those paragraphs too.
Yes, I meant applications. My bad.
I've graduated this year and still can't find a job. I'm really concerned about it.
Without knowing the specifics of how your CC works, I don't see financial aid as a particularly big hurdle to jump through. If you're applying for financial aid at a CC, you're probably applying for financial aid elsewhere. and the FAFSA is basically the same everywhere, there's little marginal cost to submitting it to the CC as well.

Having absolutely no involvement in the admissions process myself, four general categories seem possible culprits.

First is the possibility of decreased desirability relative to your competitors. You seem skeptical to that possibility, but you must admit you're in a position to be one of the last to acknowledge this reality.

Second is a general increase in students' applications. The norm for how many colleges to apply to has been expanding a lot recently, and it may be starting to expand beyond just the upper end of the distribution to your territory as well. That's why everyone seems to be taking a hit in yield.

Third is the possibility that your target demographic has gotten more competitive at better schools. This both targets a demographic that applies to more schools, and makes you more likely to lose the battle for a given student.

Fourth, there may be more students out there who apply to college, and then decide not to go at all. Tuition hikes could be a likely culprit, and increased opportunity costs from a good job market a considerably less likely one.

The next two questions I would ask: 1)Has most of the change in yield been from traditional or non-traditional students? 2) Does the change in yield seem related to any academic or income metrics?
See if the Admissions Office is casting a wider net. My state has a "common application" for all state schools- R1 to CC. Our Admissions staff "spreads goodwill" by going to all the local high schools and helping every senior complete the college application. The catch is they all have to put our CC's code number in as one of the schools they are applying to.

The same holds for FAFSA- if a student knows your FICE code it costs them nothing to list your school with the other schools they want.
I'd suspect that some prospective students are choosing to apply to the local CC and also job hunt like mad. If they get a job, they don't go to college. If they don't get a job, they at least can get a year's education while living off of loans (and, at least in my state, while getting health insurance through the college). I thought pretty seriously about doing this a time or two (not with a CC in my case but rather for a second bachelor's in a more employable major).
I'll throw another possibility out there. Consumer confidence has been pretty bumpy. The idea of going back to school during a (assumed) short recession is nothing new. But when the downturn drags on and the likelihood of a job at the end seem remote, even with financial aid, it may feel too risky to do anything but hunker down. Hence people go through the process to apply but decide, ultimately, not to attend.
Yeah, that sounds a lot like people not being able to swing the financial details.
Thanks..happy to come here
Sample cv
Military deployments? Are you in a military concentration area? A lot of enlisted soldiers and sailors are attempting to get degrees any way they can, but end up not being able to go after all because the job is so unpredictable. Even working hours when they're home are wildly variable enough to shoot down a three-times-a-week class schedule.
@DD clarification:

The distinction between application and enrollment isn't as significant at a CC than at 4-year institutions. At our school, I think you can apply, take the placement test, go through orientation, register, and start classes on the same day if you are paying cash and have transcripts in hand ... and some transcripts are one click away. The biggest time delay comes from financial aid processing.

I'll second what Rob and Sawyer said. Is your recruitment process more active in the high schools? Does it include getting them to file a FAFSA form? With those variables changing, "yield" is following a moving target.

Perhaps the reason is that you have started educating them about loans before they enroll, and some are making a sensible economic decision.

PS @7:54 -
Looks like you found a job writing essays for students who will have trouble keeping a job after graduation.
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