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Nationally, college enrollment among freshmen was down 13% compared to 2019. Direct from high school enrollment is down 21.7% year over year. Over the long run, that may actually be good for colleges, even though it is not great right now.
Still, even during this deep and wide enrollment downturn among undergraduates, a few schools actually beat those trends, bringing in more students and more freshmen than last year.
Florida Institute of Technology, known as Florida Tech, and the University of Findlay recruited and enrolled more students this year than last. Both are private, non-profit institutions without significant national profiles and total undergraduate enrollments they count in the thousands – the very models of schools you may expect to struggle most heavily, especially when facing such strong national headwinds.
Nationwide, colleges in their category, the private non-profit, four year schools, saw a drop in freshmen enrollment of 8.5%. Better than national averages, but still down significantly.
But at Findlay, the freshman class actually increased by 93 students this fall – that’s an uptick of about 15%. At Florida Tech, overall enrollment is up a bit over 3%, representing a jump of more than 250 students over last year.
Enrollment leaders there are understandably happy about their successes.
“We are thrilled that our enrollment is growing and we continue to strive for an optimal enrollment to best serve our campus community,” said Shawn Jordan, Director of Undergraduate and Transfer Admissions at Findlay.
“We’re extremely happy that we not only saw a good increase in overall enrollment and retention, but we also realized an increase in net tuition revenue per student,” said Michael Perry, Executive Director of Admission at Florida Tech. Citing the Covid-19 pandemic challenges specifically, Perry said, “we couldn’t be more pleased to be able to exceed our previous year’s enrollments.”
That last part, the increased net tuition per student, is very significant because if a school can do it, it can grow revenue even while facing a downturn in student population. Doing both, in this climate, is pretty remarkable. It’s worth asking how those schools pulled it off.
Leaders at both schools cited their fall recruitment “communications plans.” One said it was “reimagined,” the other said it was “adjusted.”
Perry of Florida Teach also said his school added attendance and grade flexibility for their existing students, increasing their retention and setting the stage for an increase driven by new students. “In addition,” Perry said, “we took advantage of data science … to identify the students that would most likely be impacted by increased communication and those most likely to be impacted positively, or negatively, by changes in their financial situation because of the pandemic.”
Florida Tech said they use the Othot data insight platform. And based on a report the company released this week, Florida Tech’s success may not be an outlier. The company says that schools that used advanced data analytics and AI to guide their enrollment communications — schools such as Florida Tech — did several times better in their enrollments than national averages.
At Findlay, Jordan said that they, “enhanced our collaboration with other offices within the enrollment management division. These changes allowed us to be very nimble and meet the needs of our prospective student with great expediency.”
Part of that, said Rebecca Jenkins, Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing at Findlay, was their mobile presence. “The app is becoming more and more a critical part of our engagement platform and how we communicate with all of our stakeholders,” she said.
Findlay uses the Modo Labs app, probably the leading mobile solution for colleges that choose not to build their own. It’s likely that schools that make the most of their mobile platforms and integrate them aggressively into their recruiting plans will continue to realize advantages — especially now that college is less and less of a physical place.
Florida Tech and Findlay aren’t big names or in big places. Findlay, Ohio has a population of just 42,000. Melbourne, Florida, where Florida Tech is, has 83,000. One focuses on engineering and STEM, the other on fine arts and animal and equestrian science. That both are growing while so many other schools are not, is both a warning and a road map. Schools that are not rethinking their recruitment and enrollment plans and using every technology available, should be. You have to wonder why they aren’t.
It’s true that demographics and other trends may soon favor colleges from coast to coast – for a few years at least. But since college recruitment is, for most schools, a zero-sum game, schools that are just hunkering down may be ceding a major long-term advantage to schools that are using every tool available to be aggressive right now.Back to News and Events