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.