Most institutions have at their disposal a wealth of tools to track recruitment-related metrics throughout the year. If you checked with your admissions office in the fall it would, most likely, be able to share information about the number of prospects, inquiries, applicants, completed applicants, and admits compared to the prior year.
The office will continue to track those metrics, adding deposits and, ultimately, enrollees, as the cycle progresses. Most would also be able to show you historical conversion rates from inquiry to applicant to enrollee by segment. These might include first source of inquiry, inquiry date, geographic territory, application type (e.g., freshmen versus transfers), and other variables depending on institutional priorities and circumstances. Many institutions also now track the percentage of admits who have visited campus and the percentage who have applied for financial aid. These variables are indicative of a high level of interest in the institution.
All this tracking information is a vital tool to help anticipate how the pool will ultimately convert to the new class. Similarly, most institutions now track retention rates by subpopulation to understand which students are most likely to persist, predict who will return for the upcoming semester, and measure the impact of intervention strategies.
So what is missing? Along with what’s mentioned above, the following is some of the most critical data for an institution to track.
Net tuition revenue
A few institutions are now tracking the overall discount rate for admitted students as well as for those who have deposited or enrolled. Sometimes these institutions even have date-to-date comparisons to the prior year that they can use to estimate where the discount rate for the class may end up.
But because these reports are typically generated by the financial aid office, they may be missing aid that has been offered by other offices. This missing aid (such as merit or athletic aid offers to non-aid applicants) eventually will get recorded for students who enroll, but can cause an unexpected jump in the discount rate if it is not being tracked all along.
In addition, very few institutions include the net tuition revenue that individual students are generating in data files. Consequently, it is difficult for most institutions to easily produce reports showing the average NTR generated by specific subpopulations, such as students from different geographic areas, or those with higher test scores. Such data can be very helpful in understanding the potential “cost” in terms of lost NTR of certain institutional goals, such as improving the quality profile or expanding geographic diversity.
Moreover, the reports mentioned earlier that track applications, admits, and deposits/enrollees throughout the recruitment cycle typically do not include NTR data. As a result, many institutions have their admissions and financial aid teams working at cross purposes. The admissions staff strives to meet a class-size goal (often by offering more money to students who appeal) while financial aid leadership strives to keep to a discount rate target (by denying those appeals). Neither office is tracking the NTR results of their decisions. (The full NTR picture won’t be known until need-based packaging has taken place, but since most institutions now offer merit awards upon admission, the NTR tracking can begin at that point.)
Obviously, data on NTR by student also can enrich retention research. With that information, for example, predictions about the number of students who will return for the fall can be augmented to include information about how much NTR they will likely generate.
Another critical element often missing from enrollment management tracking reports is market share information, which links institutional data with data from secondary sources. While many institutions do study data about the size of the college-bound population by geographic area (from sources such as WICHE, NCES, and state education departments), few then tie that information back to institutional data to understand what share of the market they currently attract and what the impact would be of changes in the population or market share. A simple representative example is provided in the table. (Note: This table is a simulation. Dates and states have been changed to protect client confidentiality.)
Publicly available data from IPEDS can also provide valuable benchmarking data regarding competitor or peer institutions on such critical metrics as average NTR, yield rates, and retention rates. Putting institutional data into a context and tracking how that context has changed over time is critical for senior leadership when assessing institutional performance.
Linking data across the enrollment spectrum
Most institutions do not do a good job of linking the data they capture across the entire enrollment spectrum to enhance strategic decision-making. For example, when deciding how to build the applicant pool (e.g. where to search, where to travel, etc.) few admissions leaders consider how those decisions will ultimately impact the net tuition revenue generated by the class. That’s because they don’t have—or don’t use—data on the average NTR generated by the students who have come from those areas in the past. Similarly, when developing awarding strategies to enroll the desired incoming class, there is often little understanding of whether past large awards have been effective in retaining students.
By expanding enrollment-related tracking reports and year-end analyses to include financial aid data and external information, and by linking data across the entire enrollment stream, enrollment managers can gain a broader perspective. This broader perspective can help the institution better project not only enrollment outcomes but revenue implications. In addition, it can help ensure that recruitment, financial aid, and retention strategies—and staff—will be mutually supportive, rather than working at cross purposes.
Kathy Kurz is vice president of enrollment management firm Scannell & Kurz, a RuffaloCODY company. She can be reached through www.scannellkurz.com.