Five College Admissions Strategies to Overcome Birth Dearth

During the 2008–2009 economic recession, the already declining birthrate took an even bigger hit. This decline, known as “birth dearth,” has been affecting colleges for years; fewer babies means fewer high school graduates and, ergo, fewer college freshmen. And now that those 2008-2009 babies are approaching the end of their high school careers, the birth dearth is about to have an even more significant impact on college enrollment.

Here are five college recruitment strategies to help you overcome birth dearth:

  1. Set expectations with key players.
    College leaders need to be prepared for the upcoming slump in potential applications, particularly the board, trustees, and financial advisors. Actions will need to be taken internally (e.g., cutting certain programs, expanding others) as well as externally (e.g., relying on different recruiting techniques) to mitigate this imminent challenge.

    Therefore, it’s important for admissions officers and HR executives to have regular conversations with senior leaders so that everyone is on the same page regarding the details and nuances around enrollment decline. Through these discussions, you can help generate and influence college-wide discussions about finances, curriculum programming, and data mining—all factors that implicate the recruitment process.
  1. Assess what programs are (and will be) in demand.
    Knowing what programs are of most interest to incoming students can help a college better brand itself and reprioritize and reallocate resources to support the programs with the greatest demand. For example, Whitworth University has taken steps to expand their engineering program and add other in-demand undergraduate degrees and graduate programs.

    Similarly, the University of Tulsa has shifted its focus to a STEM-heavy curriculum, with increased emphasis on practical and professional training, all of which helps the university promote career readiness of the students it graduates. By identifying and optimizing your university’s strongest and most in-demand programs, you can then focus your marketing materials on these selling points.
  1. Target recruitment efforts.
    The more targeted you can make your college recruitment strategies, the better. One way to improve your targeting is to look at data from high schools of “feeder states”—the states that are most likely to funnel students into your college. Do applicants from particular high schools tend to come in with a specific major or group of majors in mind? What does your institution do best?

    If you are a recruiter from a STEM-based college like RIT or MIT, for example, it is likely more worthwhile to focus your efforts on technical high schools than performing arts high schools with your college recruitment strategies.
    New tools are also available to help you target students better than ever before. For example, College Matchmaking™ offers a flat-priced, student-driven solution that eliminates the need to blindly guess which students will be most interested in your school—a necessary evil when purchasing names through the SAT/ACT.

    Here’s how it works: when students register for a virtual or in-person college fair with GoToCollegeFairs, they select the attributes of the college experience they find desirable, and this data is pushed to the College Matchmaking™ database. Colleges who subscribe can then pay a flat price for the names of students who have already declared their institution to be a good fit, providing a hugely more qualified list of student candidates.
  1. Remove obstacles (even slight ones) from the admissions process.
    With the present landscape in flux, now is the time to review your college admissions process and consider progressive reforms. Removing certain obstacles, like standardized testing requirements, or even offering fast-tracked ways to apply—like direct admissions—may encourage more students to apply to your institution.

  2. Increase support for first-generation college students.
    If a student is the first one in their family to apply to college, they may be unsure how to navigate the process. For these students, a little support can go a long way in finding colleges for first-generation students. Show you value them (and stand out from the competition) by hosting first-generation student information seminars and creating a separate webpage with answers to questions they are likely to have. Make sure you continue to provide support once they arrive at your college, as well, to ensure the success of this student population.

Even though high school senior classes are expected to decline in the coming years, these five college recruitment strategies can help you focus your recruitment efforts and attract qualified applicants. You may not be able to implement them all at once, but even a slight tweak to your admissions process can provide a valuable edge.