Have you updated the recruitment pitch your college is making to prospective students as other options beckon and enrollment continues to slip?
There are an estimated one million fewer students on campus than there were prior to the pandemic, and the latest numbers show another decline. An ever-increasing range of competing interests drawing the attention of prospective students is increasing the pressure of institutions to fill their classrooms and residence halls, says the 2022 National Prospective Student Survey by Hanover Research.
“Prospective students are shrewd consumers, and the factors that influence their choice in postsecondary education have grown more diverse,” says Amir Rasool, Hanover Research’s senior managing director. “Facing economic uncertainty and concerns about job prospects after graduation, students expect value in their education and a strong return on investment.”
Bachelor’s degrees still top students’ wishlists but a substantial number of high school graduates say they don’t feel prepared to start college. Meanwhile, the top five most popular fields of study among prospective students are art, psychology, health and exercise science, business, and music, the survey found. (The bottom five are philosophy and religious studies, anthropology, communications studies, physics, and political science).
Here’s what Hanover’s research says about how prospective students’ wants and needs are shifting in five major areas of higher ed:
1. Degree and program interests:
- What students want: Most still intend to earn bachelor’s degrees but more than 40% will seek an associate degree. About one-third are interested in earning more than one degree, a certificate, no degree or attending part-time.
- What colleges should do: Institutions must thoroughly understand the paths students will follow to a degree or certificate—and how the pandemic will continue to shape career trends.
2. Learning Preferences
- What students want: 50% of prospective students prefer on-campus courses but more than a third are interested in hybrid classes and under 20% said they want to attend completely online.
- What colleges should do: Administrators must consider alternatives to the traditional weekday schedule to recruit the increasing number of prospective students who want more flexibility. Colleges with vibrant urban surroundings or suburban conveniences should market those advantages while rural institutions can promote their strong local communities.
3. Decision-Driving Factors
- What students want: Nine in 10 students say cost is very or extremely important in whether and where they’ll attend college, and price is of greatest concern to first-generation students. Potential career earnings are another significant part of the decision.
- What colleges should do: Administrators should prioritize transparency around billing and financial aid while also demonstrating how their programs will enable students to achieve long-term career and personal goals.
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4. College Preparation and Orientation
- What students want: Just 38% of prospective students say they are very or extremely prepared for college coursework while a third are concerned they lack adequate life and communication skills. More than half worry about balancing schoolwork with non-academic responsibilities. When it comes to recruiting, orientation events focused on tours and social activities (53%) are the most influential.
- What colleges should do: Colleges and universities must identify the “preparation gaps” that disadvantage some applicants while also further personalizing orientation activities. Inclusive messaging, robust support services, and strong orientation and first-year programming assure students they will get the support they need.
5. Communication preferences
- What students want: Websites and search engines are the leading sources of information when students are searching for colleges. Instagram is their favorite social media platform for interacting with institutions.
- What colleges should do: Institutions must maintain vibrant websites and stress search-engine optimization. They must also share visual social media posts and send personalized emails to students.