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Enrollment Matters

A higher ed transfer strategy can ease enrollment pressures

Strategies for attracting students who have been through the application process before
University Business, October 2017
Jennifer Wick is vice president for consulting services at Ruffalo Noel Levitz.
Jennifer Wick is vice president for consulting services at Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

It has become increasingly difficult for some four-year institutions to meet enrollment goals for first-year students. The good news is that enrolling transfers has advantages.

Transfer students generate higher average net tuition revenue than first-year students but don’t create large pressures on housing. They also enroll in upper-level courses that typically have capacity. These benefits should motivate campuses to shift the balance of enrollment to include a larger portion of transfers.

Typically, transfer students consider fewer options during the application process. While first-year students may apply to many different colleges, transfers typically apply to just one or two. This means that transfer yield rates can be as much as double that of first-years at the same institution.

But with yield rates already high, using financial aid to increase them further can be a slippery slope—the end result typically is just lower net tuition revenue.

Transfers make enrollment decisions based on credit they can transfer in, time to degree, the quality of the major and location. Institutions that successfully enroll transfers know what they must do to make transfers feel a sense of belonging.

Make enrollment easy

Given the challenges institutions face in meeting transfer student enrollment goals, specific strategies geared toward this population are called for. Below are examples of best practices.

Although not a comprehensive list, if your institution isn’t following these practices, a review of strategies is in order. Effective recruitment/yield strategies for college transfer students include:

• Dedicated admissions staffing. Transfers should account for 15 to 20 percent of students. Admissions office resources should be aligned similarly.

• Reflecting the “transfer voice.” Transfers are looking for specialized information, and have more familiarity with the enrollment process. Communications that “speak to transfers” will be more productive than more general freshman-targeted messages.

• Timely credit evaluations. Before they start the application process, transfers appreciate an online, searchable database of course equivalencies.

• Campus tours geared to transfers. Include events where students can apply, be admitted, receive a financial aid award and register all in one day. Students who have been through the process before appreciate this efficiency.

• Tie financial aid strategy to data analysis. Although transfers are typically less price sensitive than freshmen, institutions should use historical data to understand which aid strategies will produce the best enrollment results.

Institutions team up

Forming relationships with “feeder institutions” is another way to build a robust transfer pipeline.

Clark Atlanta University—in an effort to strengthen academic rigor and increase student success—is forming bonds with its two-year college partners, beginning with Georgia Piedmont Technical College. The program, Access 4 Achievement, includes collaboration at all levels: faculty, student and administration.

The collaboration covers guaranteed admissions, program-specific articulations, joint credentialing, co-curricular involvement, reverse transfer agreements, a faculty pipeline program and shared scholarship fundraising.

“We’ll see increased enrollment and improved student success as a result of relevant, meaningful support services and flexibility in program design,” says Michael Marshall, Clark’s associate vice president of enrollment services.

“This partnership expands the pipeline of well-qualified, highly skilled college graduates and invigorates industry-academic relationships,” Marshall adds.

Finally, we often see institutions that execute strong transfer recruitment strategies, yet the campus does not have a transfer-friendly culture. When transfers find it difficult to assimilate academically and socially, recruitment efforts will be seen as lacking authenticity and will work against an institution’s enrollment goals as word of mouth travels.


Jennifer Wick is vice president for consulting services at Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

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