Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The Case of the Missing Applicants
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.
I think you mean that applications are significantly up?
I had to double-take on those paragraphs too.
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?
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.
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.