Your students are your top priority, your bread and butter. Or are
they? What if you could harness the power of your graduate data to
strengthen and personalize your marketing and recruitment strategies….
perform benchmark research that drives improved academic programs and
student outcomes… and build higher-yield fundraising campaigns?
In this ground-breaking, three-part series, we examine how
higher education institutions can use a specialized type of data
known as ‘graduate outcome’ data to optimize and enhance these and
other core mission-critical functions by better simply understanding
their graduate profiles. This article, the first in the series,
explores the recent dip in college enrollment rates and how a
data-driven recruitment strategy can help reframe the college value
prop and reverse that trend.
Earning a college degree is part of the American Dream,
right up there with homeownership. Except lately, that dream seems
to be dimming.
Year-over-year since 2020, fewer students are enrolling in
college immediately after high school. While the drop was expected
during the COVID-19 pandemic, most believed it would rebound in
2021. But it didn’t.
This means that higher education could have a big problem on
its hands. The “dream” is no longer selling itself. Schools must
figure out how to reignite interest if they want to return to or
exceed pre-pandemic numbers.
Here, we explore this issue and share a unique, data-driven
strategy to help colleges and universities boost recruitment and enrollment.
Fewer students are enrolling, for the third straight year.
Let’s start with the COVID-19 pandemic. It sucked the life
out of high school and college experiences around the country. The
pandemic robbed students of precious face-to-face engagement with
peers and teachers. Celebrated milestones canceled, like proms and
graduation ceremonies. Daily online classes dragged on like a scene
from Groundhog Day.
For many students, it was too much. Instead of heading off
to college after high school, they opted out. And they’re still
According to an October
2022 report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), Fall
2021 college enrollment rates immediately following high school
declined by 0.9 percentage points to 2.2 percentage points. The
decrease affected schools regardless of income and poverty levels. It
came at a time when most experts thought enrollment rates would
recover from the sharp 4 to 10 percentage point drops in 2020.
Further, a preliminary
look at Fall 2022 enrollment rates reveals continued declines.
Institutions losing 1.1 percent of undergraduates this fall for a
total two-year decline of 4.2 percent since 2020.
Enrollment can trigger things like potential revenue
declines and workforce cut-backs. This trend is raising concern
among schools for another reason. Many worry that shortsighted
decisions to skip college may dampen the employment outlook for
those students who opt out. And, as a result, this can negatively
impact the larger economy over the long term.
Traditional college ‘value prop’ isn’t resonating.
The NSC report blames the protracted decline on “a continued
pandemic effect.” However, a September 2022 study supported by the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation digs deeper to learn why more
people aren’t enrolling in higher education.
It suggests that students have far more education options
than ever before. These include two and four-year schools plus
coursework for a variety of professional licenses, certificates,
and certifications. Many, up to 70
percent believe on-the-job training is the best path to career advancement.
The study goes on to suggest that the traditional college
value prop where students can “explore and find a passion” is no
longer resonating. Instead, prospective students are focusing on the
ROI of a college degree. According to the report:
This audience makes its decisions about education based on value,
investment, and opportunity cost. Yes, affordability matters, but
return on investment matters more—to these young adults it is not
about overcoming a financial barrier. In fact, 62% agree that they
“would be willing to take on college debt if guaranteed a good job
after graduation.” They want to be assured of the results that would
make college worth their time and money. – Exploring
the Exodus from Higher Education
In short, they’re concerned about outcomes. They want to
know what they can expect in return for sticking it out through
But, here’s the good news. This is a message
colleges and universities can easily create, share, and even
personalize to help boost recruitment and enrollment rates. Here’s how.
Win more students by proving the value of a college degree.
It’s one thing to promote the ROI of a college degree. It’s
another thing if you can prove it. So, how do you do that? Like most
things today, it begins with the data.
Colleges and universities maintain straightforward databases
of information on their students and graduates. This data includes
things like demographic data and contact information. Yet, imagine
being able to marry that data with detailed insights pertaining to
affluence, wealth, income, credit, employment, assets, debt,
property and more, to create more holistic views of graduates. This
includes their ability to achieve sought-after outcomes such as:
- Getting recruited by top employers, Fortune 500
companies and more
- Landing and retaining high-profile
- Maintaining a degree-focused career track
- Earning higher salaries
Colleges and universities can prove their ability to deliver
what matters most by using what’s known as “graduate outcome” data.
Unlike other data sources—think: survey data that’s self-provided by
graduates—graduate outcome data from Equifax is 100 percent
verified and comes from trusted sources of income, financial, wealth
and lifestyle data.
Three steps to a data-driven recruitment strategy.
The concept of using graduate outcome data is simple.
Graduate outcome data helps schools differentiate the value of
their degrees based on real-life proof points. Yet, there are
practical steps schools can take to integrate graduate outcome data
into their recruiting strategy. Here are three ideas.
1. Identify desirable outcomes. Append
as much or as little graduate outcome data as needed to your
existing student and graduate information. This will create robust
graduate profiles. You can then gain clear visibility into your
graduates’ current lifestyle and achievements—as well as specific
areas where your school can improve—and begin answering important
questions, such as: What percentage of our graduates are
homeowners? How many of our graduates have paid off their student
loans? What percent of our female graduates hold executive-level
positions? What’s the average salary of our graduates five years
after graduation? The possibilities are practically endless.
2. Strengthen marketing promotions.
Research the outcomes that matter most to your school. Then, use
those statistics in your marketing promotions as proof points. For
example, a university might sprinkle its top graduate outcome
statistics throughout its website, things like above-average
graduate salaries, high student-athlete graduation rates, or
top-ranked internship opportunities. The same goes for mailers,
brochures, and social media messaging.
3. Personalize your message. A recent
survey of college students offers a valuable recruitment tip. “Of
students who received personalized communications, 87
percent said that those communications were an important factor in
their enrollment decision,” according to higher education tech firm
Ellucian. Knowing this, use your resulting graduate profiles to create
an “ideal student profile” that helps you identify and target
prospective students who align with that profile. Once you’ve
segmented your audience, personalize your messaging with the unique
information and differentiated outcomes that matter most to them.
College enrollment may be trending down, but schools can
slow that slide—if not completely turn it around. It is all about
taking the time to reframe their value prop. Creating a
data-driven recruitment strategy powered by graduate outcome data
can help colleges and universities shine a spotlight on the unique
value of their degree programs, at a time when students have more
higher education options than ever before. The dream of earning a
college degree is still alive among today’s prospective students,
only it’s far more compelling to them when it’s backed by a solid