Ep. 262: Embedding Analytics into your Enrollment Growth Strategy

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There’s a decrease in first-year student enrollment coming to universities across the nation, and unfortunately, it’s inevitable.

Waves of aftereffects from the 2008 recession and COVID are rolling in, as higher education is beginning to feel the pains of decreasing enrollment and increased competition. From here, it’s going to get tougher. 

Andrew Hannah, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Analytics at the University of Pittsburgh and Co-Founder and President of Othot, joins the podcast to discuss the demographic cliff coming for higher education in 2025 and how big data modeling might be the pathway for institutions to help circumvent it.

The impending cliff of student enrollment

Whether student enrollment will drop in the coming years is no question. The decline is inevitable, and universities are already beginning to feel waves of onset. Long lasting effects of the 2008 recession will pair with the societal impact of COVID, influencing every aspect of higher education and the workforce for years to come.

Enrollment will shift, and universities will compete for a smaller percentage of prospective students. Unless an institution has a very strong brand and significant resources to commit to enrollment efforts, the effect of this decline is likely to be substantial.

While institutions cannot avoid the enrollment drop-off, there are things that higher education institutions can do to improve their odds of survival.

Adapting programs and curricula to fit the needs of modern students and the workforce

Traditional students enter into higher education just after high school graduation. However, following the 2008 recession, many 18-year-olds chose to bypass higher education and entered directly into the workforce.

This means that a large percentage of the population has not received a college education. With the growing demands within the workforce, these individuals will likely either need to upskill or pursue a program to remain competitive in an increasingly competitive market.

By understanding non-traditional student populations that exist in modern society, universities can better target prospective students that align with their vision.

Likewise, many other populations are open as potential prospects. For example, many higher education institutions have not explored options for international students, varied modalities, or students looking for upskilling compared to degree programs.

Another critical step to creating programs in demand is honing in on the students you want to attract. 

Increasing your competitiveness by narrowing down the student pool to those most likely to enroll at your institution is powerful, as it allows marketing and efforts to be more concentrated. Clearly defining the populations for target can streamline the process of attracting prospective students and guiding them through the enrollment funnel.

Luckily, several tools and technologies exist to help aid this process.

Improving precision with data analytics and more

One way to better understand the population of potential students to target is to analyze existing students. Information can be drawn from existing and past students. 

When universities understand what draws students to choose their program over another institution’s, whether it be modality, staffing, athletics, or otherwise, populations for future targeting can be determined. Fortunately, systems that gather and analyze this information are already available. They are being used by companies such as Amazon to assess the likelihood of item purchase and push a calculated prescription to each buyer. 

Higher-ed leaders can adapt data gathering and analysis systems used by these businesses for university use. By understanding what type of student is attracted to the university, which assets they are drawn in by, and the likelihood of their enrollment and successful completion of a program, higher education can tailor a prescription to meeting that prospective student and giving them what they need. 

So, while the number of new enrollments will decrease, universities can help minimize the effect on their institution by targeting and personalizing outreach and recruitment. By listening to the market and public needs and providing programs to meet those needs, universities can maintain a competitive advantage and minimize the effect of the enrollment cliff that’s approaching. 


This post is based on a podcast interview with Andrew Hannah, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Analytics at University of Pittsburgh, and Co-Founder and President of Othot. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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