July 12, 2023

Ethical Strategies for Enrollment Management: A Roadmap for Success

Higher education enrollment declines have become a pressing concern for institutions, prompting many to seek opportunities to quickly diversify their student body and revenue streams. Working with Online Program Management (OPM) companies is a popular way to enter the market, allowing institutions to avoid the upfront costs and risks associated with developing online programs independently. However, as the online market approaches saturation, recruiting students and differentiating programs has become more challenging, leading some to resort to aggressive and unethical recruitment practices.  

The Department of Education has recently emphasized the importance of ethical recruitment strategies in higher education. In this article, we will delve into these topics and explore the concept of strategic enrollment management (SEM) as an ethical approach to addressing enrollment decline. 


Driving Forces Behind Aggressive Enrollment Tactics 

The factors driving aggressive enrollment tactics are multifaceted. In 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) discovered that many traditional restraints on student recruitment were anti-competitive, thereby allowing institutions to adopt more aggressive approaches in pursuing prospects.   

This revelation prompted some universities to push the boundaries further, especially in the wake of the pandemic-induced crash in enrollments. They resorted to tactics such as heavy discounts, incentives, and other practices previously considered unethical. However, these desperate measures have proven ineffective in reversing the overall decline in enrollment. In fact, there are some institutions that have paid a high reputational cost for their reliance on such tactics. 

Moreover, the equity angle must be considered when evaluating these enrollment strategies. While universities strive to attract students by offering various deals and incentives, it is important to recognize that these offerings often benefit those who are already familiar with the college application and enrollment process–the "savvy shoppers", if you like. Lower-income earners and first-generation students, on the other hand, are generally less familiar with these processes, and thus less likely to be aware of the incentives that are available for their chosen institution or program. As a result, initiatives that are planned to attract students from diverse backgrounds are often unsuccessful, or even counterproductive. 

This highlights the importance of fair enrollment practices that go beyond discounts and rewards. Institutions should consider implementing outreach and support programs specifically designed to assist first-generation students and individuals from lower-income backgrounds. By providing comprehensive information, guidance, and resources, universities can help level the playing field and ensure that all students, regardless of their background, have an equal chance to benefit from the opportunities available to them. This approach fosters inclusivity and promotes fairness in the enrollment process, contributing to a more equitable higher education landscape.  


Impact of Aggressive Enrollment Tactics on Students 

The costs borne by students because of aggressive or unethical enrollment practices are significant. Learners who make their enrollment decisions based on a false pretense or misunderstanding often stop out at higher rates, particularly when their confusion relates to costs and financial aid. Stop out, which refers to students leaving or taking a break from their studies, can have profound and long-lasting effects on their educational journey.  

The costs incurred by students who stop out extend beyond the immediate consequences. One significant consequence is the accumulation of student debt that they are unable to pay off due to their interrupted education, with research suggesting they are about three times more likely to default on student loans 

Furthermore, the emotional and psychological impact of stopping out should not be underestimated. Students who discontinue their studies may experience a loss of self-confidence and a sense of disconnection from their academic aspirations. This can create doubts about their abilities and hinder their motivation to reengage in education further down the line.  

The longer the interruption, the more difficult it may become for these students to find the necessary motivation and support to return to their educational pursuits. 


Putting Students First: The Power of Strategic Enrollment Management 

To address enrollment declines, schools should follow a strategic enrollment management (SEM) approach. SEM focuses on students and their journey from recruitment to graduation and beyond, considering their needs and goals. Universities should think beyond one semester and focus on multiple years, understanding that student success needs continuous support and guidance. 

Institutions benefit by adopting proactive approaches that support students throughout the enrollment process. One such methodology gaining traction is proactive executive enrollment coaching. This innovative approach focuses on empowering students to navigate the complexities of enrollment and maximize their potential for success. 

Proactive executive enrollment coaching is a personalized and comprehensive methodology that goes beyond traditional recruitment practices. It involves the collaboration between enrollment coaches and students, where the coach serves as a trusted guide, mentor, and advocate throughout the enrollment process. This methodology prioritizes a holistic view of the student's needs, aspirations, and challenges, aiming to provide tailored support that addresses their unique circumstances. 

The primary goal of proactive executive enrollment coaching is to empower students to make informed educational decisions. Coaches work closely with students, assisting them in discovering their academic interests, aligning their objectives with appropriate programs, and navigating the complexities of the enrollment process. Students gain a better understanding of the available options, admission requirements, and financial considerations through personalized guidance.  

Furthermore, proactive executive enrollment coaching emphasizes the development of critical skills and competencies that contribute to student success. Coaches help students with time management, study skills, goal setting, and self-advocacy, giving them the tools they need to succeed academically and personally. Students are better prepared to face challenges and overcome obstacles throughout their educational journey if these skills are developed early on. 

This methodology also recognizes the importance of ongoing support. Enrollment coaches maintain regular communication with students, offering continuous guidance and mentorship even after the enrollment process is completed. They serve as a reliable resource for students, assisting with academic planning, connecting them to support services, and offering encouragement to help them stay motivated and engaged. 

Institutions implementing this methodology often observe increased retention rates, improved student satisfaction, and enhanced academic outcomes. By putting the student at the forefront and providing comprehensive support, institutions can create an environment where students feel valued, supported, and empowered to achieve their full potential. 

In summary, addressing enrollment decline necessitates an ethical and strategic approach. The temptation to engage in aggressive and unethical recruitment practices may provide short-term gains, but it will harm an institution's reputation and jeopardize students' educational experiences. 

Universities can foster student success and equity in higher education by implementing a strategic enrollment management approach that prioritizes student-centricity, long-term planning, and proactive recruitment strategies. Only through such ethical practices will institutions be able to navigate the challenges of declining enrollment while remaining committed to the students they serve.

For a detailed guide on implementing strategic enrollment management at your institution, check out our recent white paper, Strategic Enrollment Management in the Post-Pandemic Era. We will also be hosting an event on this theme in Washington, D.C., on September 21. Registrations are strictly limited, so act now and reserve your place today! 

Ben Burrett headshot

Ben Burrett

Senior Product Marketing Manager

Ben has more than a decade of marketing and advertising experience spanning Australia, Europe, North America, and Latin America. Based in Bogotá, Colombia, Ben is passionate about the role of technology in advancing education and works closely with Anthology’s product management team and subject matter experts to support the positioning and promotion of our Student Success services and Blackboard Learn.