Earlier this week, Inside Higher Ed released its 2017 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors in the U.S. (available for download), and according to the headline from IHE‘s own analysis of the survey results, admissions officers face “pressure all around” to meet enrollment goals, recruit the right mix of students and bring in the money to pay the institution’s bills. Only 34 percent of admissions officers surveyed reported that they met their institution’s enrollment targets. That’s down from 37 percent a year ago and 42 percent two years ago.
But there’s much more to glean from the survey results. Here are five key takeaways from the report:
- A quest for more students who will pay their own way. Among private institutions especially, there is a desire to recruit more students with non-need-based scholarships and out-of-state students, who typically pay more in tuition.
- International recruiting challenges. Nearly half (45 percent) of admissions leaders surveyed said they think institutions have become too reliant on full-pay international students, while 53 percent from private colleges and 39 percent from publics believe higher education has become too dependent “on international students from a few countries, such as China and India.” Interestingly, few admissions officers thought these trends applied to their own campuses — only to others.
- The Trump effect. Admissions officers believe the 2016 presidential elections affected international recruitment. “Eighty-six percent agreed or strongly agreed that ‘the statements and policies of President Trump make it more difficult to recruit international students,'” IHE reports. But the Trump effect extends beyond international students, according to the survey results. It can be seen in a new focus on recruiting low-income white students from rural areas.
- Concerns about debt. Fully 71 percent in public higher education and 89 percent in private higher education believe they are losing applicants due to concerns over debt. “The finding is significant,” IHE writes, “because the question is about applicants. Many colleges are generous, some exceptionally so, on student aid that minimizes the need to borrow. But if applicants don’t apply, they won’t know what they could have received.”
- Concerns about image. Most admissions officers agree that higher education’s image and reputation have taken a hit in recent years. According to the report, “Higher education has come under increased scrutiny amid questions of whether the rapidly increasing price of college is worth the payoff after graduation. Admissions directors appear concerned about the image of higher education these days and the implications of the image concerns on enrollment numbers. And their attitudes are significantly more pessimistic than a year ago.” For instance, “Fully 95 percent of admissions directors strongly agree (59 percent) or agree (36 percent) that higher education needs to do a better job of explaining the value of a college education, up from 87 percent a year ago. Roughly two-thirds of admissions directors now strongly agree or agree that media reports of unemployed or underemployed college graduates (67 percent, up from 56 percent a year ago) and public discussion of student debt (64 percent, up from 54 percent) discourage students from considering higher education.” Admissions officers also express concerns about a lack of understanding of the value of higher education, particularly the value of a liberal arts education. But that’s a topic that deserves its own blog post.