Faced with demographic changes, rising costs and competition from nontraditional providers, many private colleges must overcome significant headwinds to grow enrollment. Navigating these headwinds will require innovation grounded in understanding prospective student preferences.
Looking to the future, the competition for students won’t be won through lavish perks, clever tuition discounting or new amenities. Instead, colleges will grow enrollment by delivering what students actually want most - academic programs that lead to great jobs.
Surveying the literature on student motivation to attend college, it is evident that jobs are the primary factor guiding why students decide to attend college. From Populace to Harvard to College Pulse, poll after poll substantiates the intuitive conclusion that students prioritize financial outcomes when assessing college.
While adult learners are sometimes singled out for being career-focused, a recent Harris Poll found that two-thirds of 14- to 23-year-old students want a degree to provide financial security, ranking it above all else when it comes to their motivation for going to college.
While this motivation is not new, it also would make sense that its relevance is rising. Escalating tuition costs are outpacing both the average household income and the rate of inflation by 171%.
As potential return-on-investment decreases, so too does the demand for college. Mixed with the aforementioned headwinds facing higher ed, from 2010 to 2019, college enrollment nationwide fell by about 11%. Today, one million fewer students are enrolled in college now than before the pandemic.
How can colleges reverse the trend on their campus? By starting with what students want.
According to the Lumina Foundation and Niche, academic programs are the most important decision factor for students choosing which college to attend. Students attend college to earn access to better job prospects and their major is the vehicle to unlock financial opportunity.
Historically, many colleges have struggled to start new, enrollment-driving programs because it can be incredibly costly, time-intensive and risky. This challenge is particularly pronounced for smaller, private colleges that typically offer a fraction of the programs available at larger publics. But colleges that can overcome these traditional obstacles to academic program development will be well-positioned to grow enrollment.
Partnering with the Lower Cost Models Consortium (LCMC), Rize Education has developed an innovative course-sharing model that gives LCMC members access to high-demand majors, minors, and certificates. While no individual college can start the dozens of majors needed to meet student demand in isolation, these programs are built in collaboration with top industry and academic experts and taught by other LCMC institutions.
Collaboration can mitigate a competitive disadvantage for small privates, breadth of curriculum, while preserving core tenets of the small private college experience.
As the pressure to compete for students increases, collaboration will allow colleges to more reliably grow enrollment by quickly and flexibly responding to student preferences.
Want to learn more about offering enrollment-driving programs to students?
Click here to purchase The College of the Future: Lowering Costs for Students by Fixing the Business Model of Higher Education, co-authored by Kevin Harrington, CEO and co-founder of Rize Education and Jeffrey R. Docking, Ph.D., President of Adrian College.
The College of the Future tells the story of Rize Education’s unique founding at Adrian College and lays out a new hybrid model of online and on-ground learning being leveraged by over 125 private non-profit colleges.