The Future Of College Enrollment Will Depend On Engagement Not Applications

10/19/2016 08:26 am ET

When a company needs to hire a new employee, they have numerous options for finding the right candidate - recruiters, online services, referrals and so on. The company knows that every candidate they talk to is in fact seeking employment and based on their resume, is at least somewhat qualified.

The same used to be true for universities. Students applied to schools they had a high interest in attending. But as competition became more intense in the higher education space, the application process lost its validity.

Enrollment has become a serious weakness for universities, in large part due to the influx of applications from students who are considering dozens of other alternatives, and a lack of reliable data to decipher which applicants are genuinely interested. A new method of applicant vetting is helping schools better engage with interested students and project the likelihood of enrollment. “College tours and other campus experiences will become one of the most important aspects of the college admissions process, even more so than the application,” says Sujoy Roy, CEO and founder of the campus tour and analysis company VisitDays.

To learn more about the current admissions situation and what the future of college enrollment looks like, I connected with Roy. Here’s what he had to say:

What analytics should admissions / enrollment personnel be monitoring?

Roy: The most important metric is yield - the percentage of admitted students that end up enrolling. Admissions and enrollment leaders need to pinpoint which campus experiences actually influence prospective students to yield. A great majority of institutions in the United States have an admission yield below 20%, so yield can also be a scary metric for institutions if it is not predictable. Missing target yield by a few percentage points might mean the institution shuts down. But by properly managing it, an institution is directly managing the financial viability of its future.

What’s the biggest admissions challenge for universities in this country?

Roy: With the average prospective student submitting 10 to 14 applications, institutions cannot rely on applications as a student's genuine interest anymore. Institutions are left in the dark on who actually wants to enroll.

Prospective students that are most likely to enroll interact with an institution and its community in a predictable manner that can be broken down for admissions and enrollment leaders. But that requires data that admissions departments currently do not have access to. The solution is an obvious one: you have to explore new methods of determining how engaged and applicant actually is.

Everyone is familiar with the student loan crisis facing many graduates, but are there financial pressures on universities as well?

Roy: Yes, institutions have a lot of costs and few revenue channels. More than 98% of institutions cannot rely on their endowment to sustain themselves so all of their focus is on tuition to fill the gap. A campus is very expensive to run, and the administrative costs have climbed exponentially over the last decade, adding to the overall cost.

What was the void in the higher education industry that inspired you to start VisitDays?

Roy: College websites are made for a lot of audiences - current students, alumni, faculty, staff and prospective students, but it was too difficult and complicated for a prospective student to connect with the community of people at an institution. Navigating an institution's website was frustrating and prospective students would give up on trying to meet an academic advisor, professor or current students - a meeting that could influence one of the biggest decision of their lives. That was a problem, and we set out to solve it.

A majority of institutions offer campus tours, why would students use VisitDays as opposed to contacting their school directly?

Roy: The problem of confusing websites and non-intuitive communication channels forces applicants to look for other methods of investigating their college choices. A platform like VisitDays is able to cut through the noise and help students get the tour they want, connect them with the right people, and inform their college choices. The universities benefit from that service because it also supplies that crucial data that they are missing in their admissions process.

Campus experience is a major influence on enrollment decisions. It isn't hard to imagine that students don't want to spend fo
Campus experience is a major influence on enrollment decisions. It isn't hard to imagine that students don't want to spend four years of their lives somewhere that doesn't feel right.

In your eyes, what does the typical college tour experience look like in 5 years?

Roy: Universities will give highly personalized and effective on-campus experiences and prospective students will have the ability to meet anyone on campus they want with a click of a button.

Each visit will be with key players, such as current students, professors, financial aid officers and admission staff. The type of access that was usually available to a only few will become democratized and open to every single prospective student in the world.

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