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Strengthening recruitment and enrollment strategies for the long haul

Four approaches that can help reverse enrollment slides and prop up recruitment in higher education.

Admissions cycles continue to be incredibly challenging for many higher education institutions as we rapidly approach the “demographic cliff” that is expected to impact enrollment beginning in the 2025-2026 academic year. Last year, undergraduate enrollment declined from 2019 numbers, down 6.6 percent compared to before the pandemic. While it might be the easier path to throw in the proverbial towel, there are strategies and tactics institutions can consider adopting now to meet these recruitment headwinds.

Embrace students and alums as ambassadors for recruitment

In Anthology’s recent admissions and enrollment survey of over 1,000 primarily non-traditional students, it was evident that while selecting a university is driven by numerous factors, location, and personal connection with someone either currently at the institution or who has attended the institution are key reasons why applicants choose to apply and in the end attend. Nearly half of respondents heard of their future institution from a friend or family member or from knowing someone who attended the institution. While not a terribly surprising stat on its own, it presents an opportunity for current students and alumni to become influencers in encouraging prospective students to apply to their institution. Many universities don’t actively encourage either of these groups to help in the recruitment process, and while tour guides and ambassador programs are utilized by most institutions, the reality is that every current student serves as an “ambassador”. Finding ways to encourage them to share their experiences motivates students to become advocates – whether it’s providing a fee waiver code for them to share or sending a token thank you gift.

When it comes to graduates of the institution, admissions can work more closely with alumni offices to encourage alumni to recommend prospective students. A collaborative alumni-admissions communications plan specifically geared toward alumni encouraging student recruitment formalizes an often haphazard approach to alumni-prospect recruitment. Application fee waivers and recognition of alumni assisting in these efforts are other ways to help build participation and encourage prospective students to apply.  If an entire program isn’t feasible, institutions can consider adding periodic email communications highlighting the current student experience and include a way for alums to recommend potential students.

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