Editor’s note: This story is part of a series examining the aspects of recruitment, enrollment, and retention on U.S. campuses.
- Institutions will soon be faced with steep declines in college-going students
- Ensuring flexible learning options and focusing on retention are valuable strategies to meet this challenge
- See related article: Student retention is the critical element for the nation’s success
Higher-ed analysts, institution leaders, and college and university stakeholders are looking to 2025 with nervous anticipation as the higher-ed industry is predicted to experience a steep enrollment drop, resulting in a massive enrollment cliff.
This forecasted 15 percent drop is due in part to fewer children who will reach college age thanks to a lower birth rate during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, along with a decline in high school graduates and more students opting to pursue non-degree training pathways.
Here are a handful of insights into how that enrollment cliff will impact higher education:
1. In 2025 and for the following four years, the number of 18-year-olds will decrease by 15 percent, according to an analysis by BestColleges. That’s more than half a million lost students–approximately 576,000 students, in fact. During COVID, undergrad enrollment dropped by 7 percent. Enrollments have been on a decline since 2012.
2. Also in the BestColleges analysis is the growing number of students seeking postsecondary credentials but opting for non-college routes. “There are plenty of cheaper and faster options than the traditional college route,” the analysis notes. “Google itself offers six-month certificate programs leading to in-demand jobs. So do IBM and Meta. Coding bootcamps also have emerged as a viable alternative to college.”
3. While recruitment and enrollment are important, student retention is an equally important factor, according to research from Mongoose. Many institutions tend to focus more on enrolling high school graduates when grappling with falling enrollment. “It will always be important to have a strong number of incoming freshmen, but retaining the current students you already have is just as important,” the analysis notes. “It costs less to keep current students engaged and enrolled at your institution than it does to recruit prospective students. The students attending your institution are already connected. Engaging current students and making sure they’re supported will increase retention, which can only improve your institution’s net-revenue.”
4. An Ellucian analysis notes that lack of early and personalized engagement may be a contributing factor to a drop in enrollments. “As many students consider more affordable options or delay higher education, underserved students with limited college prep resources are abandoning the prospect of attending college at much higher rates,” according to Ellucian’s insight. “However, research shows that students who experience early engagement as early as 9th and 10th grade are twice as likely to apply to college.”
5. Ensuring flexibility and different learning modalities may be one way to sustain enrollment and retention even as the number of college-going students falls. Students are more and more used to online learning options, and offering this flexibility can help institutions remain competitive, Synario notes.
- Students say their biggest obstacle is being unprepared for courses - November 30, 2023
- New report reveals persistent gender disparities in college, career readiness - November 28, 2023
- Wellness centers grow as institutions focus on mental health - November 27, 2023