Three Ways Colleges and Universities Can Increase Enrollment

Because undergraduate enrollment rates have continued to drop over the last two years, higher education leaders must face the reality that institutions won’t recover the way they expected.

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center confirmed that private, for-profit, four-year universities have been hit the hardest, with a 6.8% undergraduate enrollment drop from 2020 to 2022. Graduate enrollment at these institutions fell 12.7% during the same time period. This isn’t solely due to 2020’s unpredictability. In fact, enrollment was already down 11% from 2010 to 2019.

As the NSC Research Center collects more data from the current semester, higher education leaders need to pay special attention to the institutions that have recovered more quickly or never experienced such steep declines in the first place: community colleges, certificate programs, and online degree programs. Their common denominator? Accessibility.

According to a 2022 Jenzabar survey of deans, presidents, provosts, and other institutional leaders, enrollment and accessibility issues are being addressed in three major ways:

  1. Flexible education options so students can pursue non-credit certificates and stackable degrees


Approximately 62% of leaders surveyed said their institution currently offers or plans to offer non-credit courses. The numbers are similar for non-credit certificate programs and stackable degrees. These options enable students to earn nationally-recognized or industry-recognized certifications on the way to their main degree. There are, however, some considerations about how to execute these programs.

Another way for leaders to increase flexibility is to offer more online courses. For many students, having the option for remote or hybrid learning is non-negotiable because they are limited by schedule or location.

  1. Local business partnerships so students can receive hands-on, skills-based workforce training


Vocational-technical (vo-tech) school enrollment is up. And for good reason. While many students deeply benefit from a vo-tech education, others still require a traditional degree. For these students, the institutions must prioritize career readiness. One way to do this is through workforce training at local businesses. In an article for EdSurge, Adrian College President Jeffrey R. Docking urges higher education leaders not to overlook the ultimate goal of any college student: a career. The necessity of job security is more important than ever:

“What unites all students, from the 18-year-old to the working adult, is that they want their education to be future-proofed with opportunities after graduation. They want jobs. The data here is about as conclusive as it gets. From New America to Populace to College Pulse, I’m not sure I’ve seen a study where students don’t rank jobs number one,” said Docking.

  1. More technology spending for automated student support systems, remote learning, etc.


When asked to look ahead to the upcoming school year, the leaders surveyed said they plan to invest in more technology infrastructure. As reported by EdSurge earlier this year, colleges and universities are spending more money on things like cloud-based administration systems, automated student support systems, conferencing software, remote education training, expanded IT teams, and more. President Docking also offers solidarity through his own institution’s technology investment:

“We are seeing the most tech-savvy generation of students navigate different modalities of remote learning . . . So, how do we accommodate? One answer, which I have been fortunate to play a part in on our campus at Adrian College, comes from the Lower Cost Models Consortium (LCMC) in partnership with Rize Education . . . This course-sharing model, with classes taught by professors and adjunct faculty at member institutions, leverages online learning to innovate more quickly and circumnavigate the barriers of upfront investments and fixed costs that typically freeze small colleges in place,” Docking said.

Similar to Adrian College, Misericordia University invested in a tech platform that develops course content and facilitates instruction for fully remote degree programs. Investments like this are a combination of all three Jenzabar survey findings: flexibility, business partnerships, and technology investments.

As you decide which enrollment recovery approaches are right for your college or university, you may also be interested in the following blog posts:

Three Ways Colleges and Universities Can Increase Enrollment

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