Reveal key factors causing declining enrollment at colleges and universities along with practical ideas to boost enrollment at your institution.
By: Kyle Freelander
With many institutions facing declining enrollment, reversing the trend can feel overwhelming. Especially since there are multiple factors driving it.
For starters, there are fewer college-bound students. From spring 2020 to spring 2022, there were 1.3 million fewer students in post-secondary institutions. Preliminary research from fall 2022 shows undergraduate enrollment is still declining — to the tune of 4.2 percent since 2020 (including a 1.1 percent loss in fall 2022). Overall, this represents a notable 7.5 percent enrollment decline for higher education since 2019.
With fewer students, there’s greater competition. Those pursuing higher education are applying to an increasing number of institutions, meaning yours might be one of many opportunities students are considering.
One study found 40% of undergraduate students planning to graduate in 2025 applied to 6-10 institutions. A different survey of the high school class of 2022 found that 59 percent of college-bound students applied to five or more institutions, and more than a quarter (26%) applied to 10+ institutions.
On top of that, students are getting accepted to more institutions. Notably, almost half (43%) of high school students graduating in 2022 got accepted into 5+ institutions, 12 percent got accepted to 4 institutions, and 14 percent got accepted to 3 institutions. That means over half are directly comparing your institution to at least three other education options. Not to mention the over 40 percent that are choosing between at least five institutions.
These aren’t the only factors impacting enrollment though. In fact, there is a myriad of reasons institutions of all sizes seeing declining enrollment — from application challenges and impersonal communications to inaccessible tours to institutions looking and sounding alike and beyond. Those looking to learn about additional causes should check out this recent infographic that highlights 8 significant factors impacting enrollment rates.
While it can be tempting to think admitting more students can reverse declining enrollment, that isn’t a cure-all to your enrollment woes. Students are already getting accepted to several institutions, meaning yours will continue to be stacked against an increasing number of other education options.
The only way to begin meaningfully reversing the trend is to address the root of the problem. While the number of college-bound students is out of all of our hands, ensuring your institution stands out for all the right reasons can help you get and stay ahead. That way — when it comes time for students to compare your institution to the three or four or ten others they were accepted into — your institution will already be on the top of their minds and lists.
If you’re looking to increase enrollment at your institution, our recent guide The Admission Leader’s Guide to Boosting Enrollment is a must-read. This free resource details seven strategies to help higher education institutions reverse declining enrollment and stay competitive.
Designed to support higher education admissions teams combating declining enrollment, this new guide shares statistics and strategies around how to boost enrollment.
Some key insights include how to:
- Communicate meaningfully with parents (even if you don’t have their contact information)
- Make your institution stands out from other education options
- Increase access to your institution’s tours to enable more students to visit
- Ensure relevant visits for everyone, everywhere, every time
- Communicate effectively with students throughout the enrollment process
- Meaningfully personalize everything — from communications to tours
- Build excitement among accepted students from the very beginning
Plus, it highlights how other institutions are already implementing these strategies and driving impressive results. It’s a free, must-read resource for anyone looking to help their institution get and stay ahead.
Looking to reverse declining enrollment and stand out from other education options?
Full Measure can help. Sign up for a free, no-obligation conversation to learn more.
Kyle Freelander (she/her/hers) is a passionate writer, former educator, and lifelong learner. She has taught English literature and writing courses in higher education, writing workshops in K-12 schools, and English and ESOL courses as a private tutor for students pre-K and up. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University and a BA in English (minor in Linguistics) from the University of Mary Washington. She currently serves as the Head of Content at Full Measure Education.