- Nearly one-quarter of more than 150 college enrollment leaders surveyed by consulting firm EAB say they will consider going after students who have already committed to another institution after a key admissions counseling group loosened its guidelines for recruiting students.
- Slightly more than one-third of respondents say they plan to recruit students who currently attend other four-year institutions.
- The findings suggest colleges will have to work harder to keep both incoming freshmen and enrolled students engaged so other institutions don't poach them.
In September, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) changed its recruiting guidelines under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal agency's antitrust division contended several provisions of NACAC's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices limited competition among colleges and that removing them could lower students' costs.
Three provisions were ultimately struck from the code. The organization now allows colleges to recruit students who have already committed to other institutions, offer incentives for early decision and market to students enrolled at other four-year colleges.
EAB's report suggests the changes will likely result in "rapid and widespread uptake of more aggressive recruitment tactics." That means colleges may need to hone "defensive" measures to bat back other institutions trying to recruit their students, the authors wrote.
Competition may be more intense among smaller schools, many of which have been squeezed by shrinking enrollment. Fifty-four percent of "very small" schools said they're considering recruiting already-committed students, compared to 16% of "small" institutions and 15% of "large" institutions.
EAB defines "very small" schools as having fewer than 1,000 students. "Small" schools have between 1,000 and 2,999 students, and "large" schools enroll more than 10,000 students.
"Very small schools, in general, would be the most at risk in a challenging enrollment market," Madeleine Rhyneer, EAB's vice president of consulting services and dean of enrollment management, said in an interview with Education Dive. "Schools that are bigger just have larger cushions to fall back on and often … have greater name recognition and market demand."
Enrolling fewer than 1,000 students and being dependent on tuition for more than 85% of revenue are among the factors that make institutions more susceptible to closing, according to a 2016 report from EY-Parthenon.
Last year, several liberal arts colleges shut down in part due to falling enrollment. Similarly, some regional public universities have been or are considering merging or consolidating administrative functions to counter lower headcounts.
The NACAC changes could make it harder for all types of colleges to determine their yields. To keep incoming students, some colleges plan to increase summer onboarding communications. Others plan to bump up events such as on-campus orientation, academic advising and housing assignments to earlier in the year.
Automated services also could help keep students engaged. Georgia State University found that incoming students who received reminders in 2016 about key deadlines from a chatbot were more likely to enroll on time. Creating social groups online or hosting meetups can help students strengthen their institutional connection as well, Rhyneer said.
Institutions will also have to carefully weigh where they should add resources to meet their enrollment goals. "You're going to have to be better than you were 10 years ago to be successful in this market," she said. "But there isn't any reason that schools can't continue to, in many cases, do well."