Admissions Directors 2018… Inside Higher Ed Survey Private Sector Results

Yes, private sector admissions directors are stressed.

Inside Higher Ed Admissions Director SurveyWith the start of the NACAC 2018 conference this week, arrival of the new Inside Higher Ed/Gallup survey of admissions directors was especially timely. Curiosity, of course, took me off to download a copy and read through the findings.  With special attention to the results from admissions directors in the private sector.

Inside Higher Ed on Twitter introduced the survey report with the not astounding note that admissions directors face “continued pressure… to enroll a class that meets goals.” Probably safe to predict that for most people at most colleges and universities that pressure isn’t going away anytime soon. In the private sector, it is more than likely going to increase.

Here are the points I found most interesting in the 2018 results.

“This year at my institution, I am very likely to increase my recruitment efforts for the following populations of undergraduate applicants to my institution:” (On scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high)

Merit scholarships are alive and well in the private sector… and strong in the public sector as well. That’s despite the periodic stories about how colleges really should not be doing this and should focus instead on need-based aid. For many students, of course, a “merit” scholarship just meets a “need” for assistance. And sounds much better. Merit scholarship competition is not about to disappear.

Students recruited with merit scholarships

  • At private sector bachelors degree colleges, 73 percent of directors answered with a 4 or 5. At masters/doctoral privates, that’s a lower 52 percent. Is it safe to conclude that bachelor’s level colleges are more dependent on merit awards for enrollment success?
  • Merit was also strong in the public sector… 67 percent at “doctoral” schools and 67 percent at “master’s/bachelor’s planned to increase “merit” recruitment efforts. That’s not going to help the privates.

Full-pay students (AKA, the unicorn hunt)

You have to think that admissions directors know that success in this area is a special challenge that might not be worth the effort. Is this inspired by the wishes of presidents and trustees? Just not enough proverbial “full pay” freshmen exist to win success at this many schools. And of the few who can afford “full pay” private sector tuition, even fewer will be “willing to pay” that amount.

  • 43 percent at bachelor’s colleges in private sector will very likely try to increase this.
  • 57 percent at master’s/bachelors in private sector are going to do the same.

The difference within private sector schools flips the importance each group places on “merit” scholarships.

International students remain important for many privates

International student recruitment might not be as prominent in this survey as in past ones, but the interest remains strong. Results show the caveat… international students at almost every college and university were once expected to pay full tuition. Increasing internationals was a contribution to increasing that unicorn goal of more full-pay students. But check the percent of admissions directors that believe maintaining international enrollment will require an increase in scholarhsip money. Life just isn’t getting easier.

International student recruitment activity

  • 52 percent at bachelor’s colleges very likely will increase recruitment here.
  • 50 percent at doctoral/masters schools will do the same.

“I am concerned about maintaining the same number of international students in the years ahead that my college has attracted in recent years.”

  • 60 percent at bachelors colleges
  • 62 percent at doctoral/masters

“My college will need to increase scholarships to international students to maintain enrollment levels”

  • 53 percent at bachelors colleges believe they need more scholarship money just to maintain current enrollment.
  • 46 percent at doctoral/masters feel the same way.

Cost, value of “liberal arts,” acceptable debt levels

This is a real sticking point. A remarkably tiny number of admissions directors believe that either parents or students “understand the value of a liberal arts education.” Many “liberal arts” colleges continue to make that an integral part of their brand effort. And thus we have a marketing dilemma, especially when cost concerns exist.

“Do you think that your institution is losing potential applicants due to concerns about accumulating student loan debt?”

Calvin CollegeMy bewilderment here is how poorly most colleges and universities are at creating content that makes the loan debt level easy to find. When parents and students are so concerned about this element, why don’t more schools do what Calvin College has done to address the issue? Beats me. Hiding it doesn’t solve the problem.

  • 96 percent at bachelor’s colleges: “Yes,” we lose students to loan debt fears.
  • 93 percent at doctoral/masters: “Yes,” we lose also lose them for this reason

Public discussion of student debt has discouraged students from considering my college.

  • 79 percent 4 & 5 at bachelor’s colleges
  • 74 percent 4 & 5 at doctoral/masters

Parents of prospective students understand the value of a liberal arts education.

  • 4 percent 4 & 5 at bachelor’s colleges
  • 6 percent 4 & 5 at doctoral/masters

Prospective students understand the value of a liberal arts education.

  • 3 percent 4 + 5 at bachelor’s colleges
  • 9 percent 4 + 5 at doctoral/masters

“In your opinion, what is a reasonable amount of load debt from all sources for an undergraduate student to accumulate over a four-year period?”

Survey results tell us what admissions directors think is a reasonable debt level. What the website needs to tell people is what the actual debt level is…and not hide it away where people are not likely to see it. The average debt level at Calvin, for instance. for “people who borrow” is about $30,000. That might be too high for some people, OK for others. But it needs to appear. Calvin also notes that 40 percent of student graduate with “No debt at all!”

  • $20K to less than $30K is OK: 44% (bachelor’s) and 46% (doctoral/masters)
  • $30K to less than $40K is OK: 25% (bachelor’s) and 16% (doctoral/masters)

That’s All for Now

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