4 Essential Higher Education Enrollment Trends You Should Be Aware Of

4 min read
February 15, 2018

Higher Education Trends

Higher Education has always been big business. However, the formula for success was rather simple: enroll the most great students and keep alumni engaged so they give back. As the marketplace has diversified and technology has disrupted traditional teaching models, new trends are emerging as colleges and universities compete. Here are four essential Higher Education enrollment trends you should be aware of.

Increased emphasis in building brands

For older institutions to stay relevant and newer institutions to carve out marketshare, colleges and universities have turned their attentions to brand building strategies.  For many of our college stalwarts this has meant they've doubled down on their storied traditions, while using capital dollars to invest in new technology that attracts today's best prospective students.  For newer colleges, they've learned to embrace their roles as the new kids and have positioned themselves as student-focused and accommodating.  Flexible learning environments, alternative programs and non-traditional instruction have all been huge selling points.  As schools seek to navigate new terrain, they've had to do an audit of what their brand says about them and the culture of the institution.  For many, they've discovered its not aspiration and have turned to branding professionals to help them sculpt an image they're proud to portray.

Admissions Departments are Shaking It Up

Admissions Departments are no longer looking to recycle enrollment management professionals and have instead been pouching marketing talent from corporate America.  Historically the "marketing function" of most colleges and universities has been the job of admissions or enrollment management.  Being the most prospective-student-facing of any department, their job historically has been that of attracting new leads and thus converting them into enrollment.   However, we have worked with many colleges and have very rarely seen this work successfully for a number of reasons.  

  1. Enrollment is a sales function of the institution, not a marketing one.  Your marketing team should be focused on attracting new leads at the highest levels and qualifying them as sales or enrollement ready, as outlined by your admissions department.  
  2. Marketing departments are often seen as in-house advertising agencies.  Again, this is because most schools don't fully understand the role of marketing and thus devalue its importance in the new student sales process.  Instead, college marketers talents are often wasted by simply consulting on ad campaign creative and promotional support for admissions.  
  3. Ideally your marketing department should function as in the role of lead development and buyer qualification.  Conversely, admissions should be converting marketing's qualified leads into students.  In other words, they need to work together, not in conflict of one another.  Admissions must be communicating what the preferred qualified lead should look like to marketing.  Marketing should be working to nurture their leads so that they're sales ready for admissions, thus making their process of closing much easier.  

An increased Focus on the Lead Funnel in Maximizing Yield

You would be crazy to think that technology doesn't play a major factor in college enrollement and thus a digital approach is not a luxury but rather a necessity.  What we're hearing in the marketplace however, is a lack of understanding of how it can positively impact yield.  One simple fact we can point to is that, consumers of any kind on average engage more with brands digitally, than they do physically.  It comes down to the value proposition.  For schools, they can educate and provide more valuable data via digital channels with each engagement.


Without a better solution, colleges and universities looking to increase enrollment would traditionally look to develop more leads by buying lists,  doing more expensive outreach, some schools sadly even lower admissions standards.  However, in enrollment the most essential metric for measuring success is yield, not volume.  From experience, the problems generally arise in a leaky funnel not lead generation. Digital engagement and marketing automation allows you to focus on the funnel and more effectively nurturing the precious leads you've developed.   

Discovering The Stealth Applicant

A few years back, one of the growing trends we saw was the rise of the stealth applicant. These are student's who's first recorded interaction with an institution is an application.  They've never "officially" asked for information or scheduled a visit.  These are prospects who have been afforded enough information and conducted significant research without official request.  


Today, we see a higher volume of such applicants in challenged enrollment environments that lack effective prospect tracking mechanisms.  Leads don't always walk up and introduce themselves, often times they're simply IP addresses without a name or email attributed.  This doesn't make them any less valuable.  However, encouraging them to officially interact is important. 


You can do this by gating essential admissions content behind a form.  Consider creating a content offer like a digital viewbook or virtual campus tour.  By creating simple call-to-actions at key points of your admissions pages, you'll encourage stealth applicants to say hello.  Its important to remember, they're often stealth for a reason.  So don't overdo it.  Your form length should be consistent with the quality of the offer.  Understand stealth applicants are empowered to do research on their own, prior to making their selection.  Make them feel like they're still able to do that while encouraging them along the way.


Here are a few ideas of content offers you can consider early on the processes:

  • 5 Things You Must Know Before Making a College Decision
  • 10 Reasons You Must Visit a College Prior to Enrolling
  • 7 Helpful Hints to Securing 25% More Financial Aid



Trends are always changing just like the way in which we educate students does as well.  College decision making is often the most important choice a person will make in their lifetime.  With the decision making process being so arduous and yet important for the student, don't leave it to chance by not keeping up with the latest trends impacting enrollment.  


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