November 1 2012

NACCAP Enrollment Research Project

Since 2008 Credo (formerly Performa Higher Education) has conducted ongoing traditional student enrollment research for NACCAP consisting of six funnel reports per year, an annual study of the cost to recruit a student and other key research projects as determined by NACCAP and Credo leadership.  Data is gathered at  Participation in each aspect of the study is strongly encouraged as both a benefit and expectation of membership; participating institutions gain access to all shared data on a member-by-member basis. This report summarizes the fall 2012 NACCAP new student enrollment trends.  It is written to assist members in communicating relevant trend data and put their own fall 2012 new student numbers in an appropriate context. Introduction 135 NACCAP members shared their new student data for fall 2012, a response rate of 73% of the 184 eligible member institutions.  For this final funnel report for the fall 2012 recruitment cycle, institutions were asked to share their application, admit, deposit and matriculant numbers compared to last year and broken down by first-year and transfer students.  Returning stop-outs, part-timers and other special categories of new students are excluded from the data request for this study. The study opened in early September and remained open through mid-October to gather final data from members with later fall start dates.  The intention of the study was to gather final new student data as of the fall semester census date, not the beginning of classes.  For most member institutions census day falls approximately two weeks after classes begin. First-Year Students Since Credo took over this project for NACCAP there has been a marked increase in first-year student application traffic from year to year; this trend slowed this year.   Another change this year was the near match between institutions reporting increased applications and admits; this gap has been narrowing each year.  Analysis of first-year student funnels conducted during the annual Admission Benchmarking Study suggests that as application totals have increased through aggressive, top of the funnel strategies and streamlining of application processes much of the increase in application traffic is “soft,” representing students who are not serious candidates for enrollment.  This, in turn, has led to decreasing application completion rates with completion defined as applicants who turn in everything required (SAT/ACT, high school transcript, recommendation(s), etc.) to be considered for admission. Fall 2012 marked a slight increase in the number of institutions reporting more new students over the previous year.  While this represents success for many of these institutions, in some cases fall 2011 enrollment results were particularly low, making a one year comparison less indicative of enrollment success. The chart that follows tracks the four year trends for first-year applicants.
First-Year Students (% institutions reporting an increase over previous year)
  Fall 2012 Fall 2011 Fall 2010 Fall 2009    
Applications 58.5% 69.9% 76.4% 75.4%    
Admits 57.4% 66.2% 71.5% 68.4%    
Deposits 43.7% 47.1% 62.6% 45.6%    
Matriculants 53.3% 46.3% 62.6% 49.1%    
Comparing fall 2012 to fall 2011 for first-year applicants reveals that nearly 15,000 more applications were received but this increased traffic only resulted in an increase of 30 more students.  This would appear to reinforce earlier comments on soft applications.  Given demographic trends, this is likely indicative of a buyer’s market where students are applying to more institutions, in part because the process of applying has been made markedly easier. For the past few years this study has measured deposit melt defined as those who paid deposits but chose not to enroll.  Based on participant feedback the parameters for melt were clarified to only include those who chose to enroll elsewhere after the May 1st Candidate’s Reply Date which makes year-to-year comparisons less helpful.  Upon further review next year’s study will ask for data using this definition as well as the larger total reflective of anyone who paid a deposit but did not enroll.  The point of asking this question is to help establish a benchmark for deposit melt and then track the trend over time. Using this year’s definition (and assuming those who entered data followed directions), melt averaged 12.9%, a slight decrease from last year’s 13.4% (not defined in the same manner).  This suggests that NACCAP institutions, as a general rule, are not experiencing significant deposit melt despite the multiple application/buyer’s market factors mentioned earlier. Transfers Transfers represent a growing opportunity for many NACCAP campuses.  Estimates are that in the fall of 2011 nearly 58% of all traditional college first-year students in the United States were attending community colleges, a reflection of the economic factors involved in college choice as well as some of the value proposition challenges private colleges of all types face.  Research done for the CCCU in 1986, 2000 and 2010 indicated that the biggest competition for Christian higher education would continue to come from the public sector and this community college enrollment trend is reflective of that prediction. Given the importance of the transfer market, how have NACCAP campuses done in attracting transfer students?  The following chart shows the four year trends:
Transfers (% institutions reporting an increase over previous year)
  Fall 2012 Fall 2011 Fall 2010 Fall 2009  
Applications 51.1% 52.9% 71.5% 72.8%  
Admits 53.3% 47.8% 62.6% 65.8%  
Deposits 43.0% 42.7% 52.0% 57.0%  
Matriculants 46.0% 46.3% 61.8% 56.1%  
In general transfer trends have trailed first-year trends with more modest application and admit gains from year to year.  There was also no rebound in institutions reporting more matriculants as there was with first-year students over 2011.  Despite 1,200 more applications from potential transfers, NACCAP members enrolled 155 fewer new transfers in total. On average transfers make up 25.4% of the total new student population at reporting institutions.  There are a few NACCAP members who meet their enrollment goals each year with first-year students and have chosen not to focus on transfers.  Others have taken an intentional approach to this market and enroll nearly as many transfers as first-year students each year. Actual Versus Goals The last question on the funnel report compares fall 2012 actual new student results with the institution’s new student goal.  Data for the four years of this study is a clear indication of several factors.  First, as the following chart shows, increasing numbers of NACCAP institutions are missing their new student enrollment goals each year.  This could be a reflection of unrealistic goal setting as well as the normal challenges of new student enrollment in this economy and competitive environment.
New Student Goal Versus New Student (Actual) Total
  Fall 2012 Fall 2011 Fall 2010 Fall 2009
Exceeded 24.4% 28.9% 39.0% 38.6%
Met 2.2% 2.2% 2.1% 0.9%
Missed 73.3% 69.1% 57.7% 56.1%
The increasing numbers reporting a missed new student enrollment goal may also reflect the results of the aggressive top of the funnel strategies referred to earlier in this report.  Institutions making heavy investments in marketing and recruiting might naturally expect these investments to pay off in more enrolled students, adjusting enrollment projections accordingly.  The data suggests, though, that more applications do not necessarily lead to more new students, especially if:
  • the institution’s brand is not strong enough to sustain interest
  • a streamlined/simplified application is matched with a complex application process with extraneous requirements
  • the admission team lacks a clear focus on completing applications
The data suggests that NACCAP institutions would be wise to set more conservative new student goals for 2013 and beyond. Implications Several implications emerge from this data such as:
  • More applications will not automatically result in more new students – NACCAP members should carefully measure the return on investment from top of the funnel strategies and also exercise caution in streamlining application forms and processes.  Remember, the point is not to generate more applications but to enroll more students!  Soft applications can be both distracting and discouraging to an admission team, adding opportunity cost to the actual cost of investments intended to generate robust application totals.
  • If your institution is enrolling a relatively small number of transfers, consider how you are organized to recruit transfers (specialists versus generalists) and compare your turnaround time on transcript review to peer institutions.  Develop articulation agreements with potential feeder institutions in your region if you do not have them already.
  • There is great value in participating in this type of research since it provides context, trend data and relevant comparisons against which to compare your own results.
If you have other questions about the fall 2012 funnel data, please contact Tim Fuller

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