In the realm of public education, a significant shift is underway, and it demands a reevaluation of traditional approaches to enrollment. Historically, public high schools and community colleges have grappled with challenges in student recruitment. Limited budgets and resources have often hindered robust marketing efforts, relying instead on localized recruitment methods. However, this passive approach has resulted in underrepresentation and missed opportunities within communities. In this blog post, we delve into the complexities surrounding enrollment strategies in higher education and the imperative to rethink priorities.

Shrinking Enrollment Concerns 

As of January 2023, statistics showed the first slight increase in enrollment since the pandemic of 1.2%. Yet, long-term trends indicate a decline, particularly in community college enrollment. In 2010, there were around 11 million students enrolled at community colleges, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That shrunk to 6.7 million in the 2022 school year. (Source) Factors such as falling birth rates and rising tuition costs contribute to this decline, alongside broader economic shifts.

Looking ahead, projections indicate a substantial decrease in college-bound students over the next decade. In three years, the number of college-bound students is projected to decrease by 15% due to a sharp decline in the number of births following the Great Recession. This decline, known as the “birth dearth,” was so blunt and significant that it will lead the nation over the edge of an enrollment cliff after 2025. According to Nathan Grawe’s Higher Education Demand Index, between 2025 and 2029, the number of college-bound students will decline by over 400,000 fewer students within four years. This equates to an astounding average loss of 100,000 students per year. (Source) This underscores the urgency for institutions to adopt proactive strategies in anticipation of dwindling enrollment.

College student sitting at desk in library studying with books and a laptop, holding a pen writing in a notebook.

Shifting Strategies to Boost Enrollment

So, what steps can educational institutions take to navigate this impending decline? It begins with a paradigm shift in mindset. Rather than relying solely on traditional recruitment methods, institutions must adopt proactive approaches to attract and retain students. Creative solutions take the forefront, from forging partnerships with local high schools to offering dual enrollment programs and college readiness workshops. Targeted marketing initiatives, open houses, and scholarship programs can also further engage prospective students and their communities. 

One promising avenue is the expansion of dual enrollment programs. Dual enrollment allows students to receive college credit in their high school classroom. Certain courses, if approved by the local community college, can be offered for college credit without the student ever leaving campus. Think of it like an AP class without the AP test – and automatic college credit. Not only does this increase access to higher education, but it also fosters a pipeline of skilled talent for future industries.

Dual enrollment programs can specifically benefit underserved student populations. Keith Curry, president and CEO of Compton College, referred to dual enrollment as “a great equalizer as it relates to college access.” Dual enrollment has more than doubled at Compton College in California since 2016. These students were disproportionately students of color and now make up more than a third of the college’s enrollment. During the 2021–22 academic year, 77% of dual-enrollment students were Latino and 9% were Black. (Source) Largely, these students will continue to pursue higher education after graduating. A study from the National Student Clearinghouse found that 88% of community college dual enrollment students continued in college after graduating from high school. (Source)

Leveraging Grant Funding For Enrollment

To maximize reach and opportunity, institutions can leverage grant funding to support enrollment initiatives. Strategic allocation of resources towards career-readiness programs and workforce development can yield significant returns, both financially and socially. Grant funding can specifically support the development and expansion of dual enrollment programs that could change the lives of students everywhere, and have a positive impact on the community by ultimately placing students in the right jobs. According to the U.S. Travel Organization, the overall economy is suffering from a workforce crisis with 10.7 million job openings and just 5.9 million unemployed Americans – making career pathways initiatives that much more valuable. (Source) But creating these career pathways can be more complicated than expected; the importance of building strong relationships with local K-12 partners cannot be overstated. Investing in developing these relationships between schools creates a more cost-effective solution for community colleges that ultimately lead to increased enrollment by counting dual enrolled students as Full Time Enrollment (FTE). 

Despite the inherent challenges, investing in enrollment strategies yields countless benefits that extend far beyond the confines of educational institutions. By prioritizing initiatives that foster equitable opportunities for all students, schools play a pivotal role in driving economic and social prosperity within their communities. Increased enrollment not only expands access to higher education but also enhances workforce development, cultivates a skilled talent pool, and stimulates local economies. Moreover, by empowering students from diverse backgrounds to pursue educational and career pathways, schools contribute to the overall vitality and inclusivity of their communities. Through strategic investment in enrollment strategies, educational institutions can serve as catalysts for positive change, laying the foundation for a brighter future.

Kandula partners with educational institutions whose mission is to improve their reputation in the community, build stronger partnerships, find new funding sources and increase enrollment. To learn more about our services and how we can help your school, please visit us at https://kandulacommunications.com/for-educators/.

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