Recruiting Undergraduate Students: New Strategies Result in Exceeded Goals
In fall 2008, as the Office of Admission launched its campaign to recruit the next year’s undergraduate class, it faced a marketplace characterized by economic uncertainty.
Across the nation, Americans saw their home equity shrinking, the value of their College 529 plans declining and, in many cases, their jobs vanishing. As a result, enrollment professionals expected that longstanding patterns associated with the college search would shift. In fact, research from Royall & Co., a higher education marketing firm, suggested that students were more likely than previously to select colleges in their home state, if only to relieve their families of the financial burden associated with attending out-of-state schools. In addition, a greater number of students reported they would apply to more colleges than previously, and a significant number said that financial considerations would determine their decisions.
“In my 35 years in this business, I have been through several recessions,” Tom Willoughby, vice chancellor for enrollment, recalled. “They each brought their own set of challenges, not one of them quite like this.”
To contend with the challenges, Willoughby and his staff devised several strategies to meet enrollment and net revenue goals. These included:
- maximizing the size of the applicant pool
- increasing campus visitation
- increasing application-completion rates
- developing a competitive financial-aid leveraging model
- addressing affordability issues with prospective students early and often
- drawing upon the most reliable data available to determine how many students should be admitted
The results of this strategy exceeded Willoughby’s expectations, with the University experiencing impressive growth in applications and deposits, even as other Colorado institutions were seeing declines. DU received a total of 10,881 applications, compared to 8,394 the previous year and 6,365 two years ago. That represented a 30 percent increase in applications from the year before and a 71 percent increase from two years ago.
Just as important, the University recorded an increase for all the cohorts it monitors closely. Multicultural applications rose by 108 percent, international applications were up 99 percent, and out-of-state applications increased 31 percent from 2008 to 2009.
The success of this strategy was apparent as early as the November 2008 deadline for Early Action applications. “Both the quantity and quality of the Early Action applicant pool were stronger this year, making admission to DU more competitive once again,” Willoughby said. In fact, the admission staff reviewed 3,370 early action applications, compared to 1,965 the previous year, a 72 percent increase. Of the 3,370 applicants, 2,353 were accepted, for an admit rate of 70 percent, and 603 applicants were deferred to the Regular Decision applicant pool. In addition, the academic profile of the admitted pool was stronger than in the previous year, with slight increases in the average GPA and in ACT and SAT scores.
By the May 1 deposit deadline, the Office of Admission had received more than 1,300 deposits. In early August, Willoughby was expecting 1,230 students to enroll in fall 2009, almost 100 more students than the budgeted goal of 1,145.
Willoughby attributes the University’s success to the strategies implemented early in the recruitment cycle and to the institution’s credibility among prospective students and their parents. “DU continues to be an attractive option for students on its own merits and rising reputation,” he said.