More and more we are seeing trends that foretell what is next on the horizon in terms of recruitment practices. The savvy enrollment manager understands that examining today’s trends not only provides a glimpse into the future of enrollment management, but also can help to shape current practices to get a jump start on what can make a difference for his or her institution.
For better or worse, and I believe most of us would agree it is the latter, most schools find it easier to enroll new students, than to change retention rates, a much more complicated, multi-faceted issue to tackle and one which a college usually has less control over (students who are enrolled leave the school for many reasons, not all of which have to do with the school itself). Therefore, while retention also helps with the overall enrollment management picture, it is still more likely that we in the profession see vice presidents of recruitment or enrollment and marketing, than we see vice presidents of retention or enrollment and retention. Having said that, one of the first trends that one might notice is the transition from a Vice President for Student Affairs to a Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs (or in some cases, a Vice President for Enrollment Management in addition to the Vice President for Student Affairs). I believe this trend is in response to the more prominent role tuition revenue plays in balancing the budget, particularly at state institutions where budget cuts continue to decimate institutional finances. As states tighten their belts and restrict the operating revenue appropriated to public institutions of higher education, cash-strapped schools have two choices: (1) cut costs, which may mean limiting the number of new students they enroll, or, (2) raise revenues. If the institution is a private institution that can set its own tuition or if the college’s state funding formula is based on FTE, they can look to student enrollment to help close the budgetary gap. Many states strictly limit tuition raises at their public colleges. Therefore, the only way to increase tuition revenue is through increasing the numbers of students who are enrolled to optimize an economy of scale without over stressing the institutional resources.
A second trend that has been around for some time, although is now becoming even more important in the strategic enrollment plan, is the recruitment of out-of-state and international students. While in some states schools are not individually induced to attract students from outside the state because all tuition dollars collected go back to the state, in many other states the opposite is true. In addition to the state appropriation, public schools hold their tuition revenue individually and can even roll over excess revenue from year to year. Indeed, that is quite an enticement to recruit and attract these students who pay a much higher rate of tuition. For example, at a Florida community college, about ten full-time, out-of-state students who pay roughly $8,000 a year, can produce enough revenue to pay for a full-time staff or faculty position. On the other hand, it would take an unbelievable thirty-two in-state students who generate about $2,500 per year (this assumes that the state in which the school operates subsidizes all FTE without distinguishing between in-state and out-of-state students, such as is the case in Florida and many other states).
A third trend is the increase of students entering community colleges. Many of these students are Associate of Arts students (as opposed to workforce development and vocational students) who are approaching their education with a plan to move on to the university level after two years at a community college. This rise of Associate of Arts students has been heavily influenced by two factors. One of these is the increasing cost of the university tuitions. Private colleges are less attainable for many Americans because of the absorbent cost of tuition. Consequently, there is more competition to get into public universities. To complicate matters, states typically have allowed public universities to increase their tuition rates at a higher level than the community college counterparts in their state. The result? In many cases, Universities are actually closing their doors to first and second year students to relieve the stress on resources and budgets. Bear in mind, that universities do not have a “open access” mission as is the case with community colleges. Therefore, unlike the community colleges, the universities can choose to be more selective as a means of cutting costs.
The other role the community colleges play is in workforce development. With the recession, workforce development and its consequential ties to economic development have become more and more prominent in recruitment efforts. A brief (and non-scientific but anecdotal) review of president jobs at community colleges has revealed that most presidential profiles are stressing the need for a leader who embraces the role of the community college as an institution that can respond to industry trends for workforce and is willing to lead the development of additional workforce programs. It is easy to see how this emphasis has evolved; the bulk of jobs predicted to open are not in high-paying, executive positions – rather growth lies in workforce and vocationally-oriented jobs.
This leads me to a final trend, which is the proliferation of private, for-profit schools, most of which are oriented towards workforce development, e.g. DeVry Technical Institute, New England Technical Institute, Gibbs, and others. These schools practice recruitment techniques in ways that most public schools never have even considered. Their success has led to their growth and, subsequently, their need to hire executives, staff and faculty. While ten years ago it was very rare to see for-profit institutions hold such prominence in the job market, today it is commonplace. This tells us that the growth in that industry is significant. There is no doubt that at least some of the ideas and practices for-profit schools use to recruit will begin to seep into the public arena and shape our future approach to recruitment. For example, student recruitment phone banks have historically been commonplace at for-profit institutions but extremely rare at public institutions. Yet, we now see that telephone banks are being used at public institutions. In some cases these are even outsourced in much the same fashion as most for-profit institutions outsource their marketing callers.
There are many new trends in recruitment and my sense is that even when the economy stabilizes, the trends that are emerging and the practices that are acquired during the next few years are here to stay. While we have already begun to see new federal emphasis on retention and completion, I believe that these critically and ethically important roles, for reasons stated above, have not and will not be addressed as vociferously as the recruitment efforts taking shape.
Dr. Jill Landesberg-Boyle