It’s no secret that the expenses associated with higher education extend well beyond semester tuition fees. As an increasing number of reports and articles point to ballooning educational costs and decreasing job opportunities for graduates, universities and private colleges across the country are scrambling to find new methods by which they can convince students to invest in an undergraduate or graduate degree with them. Academic leaders who are committed to finding long-term solutions for admissions-related struggles must first evaluate the various issues surrounding a student’s decision to enroll and how they can better convince students that the money they are willing to invest is well-spent.

Evaluating Current Trends in Matriculation

A quick analysis of current statistics and general sentiment will reveal that public opinion regarding the inherent value of education has changed significantly since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. Whereas certain areas of the country, such as the Midwest, are experiencing an increase in the number of students completing their high school diploma, many of the more densely populated cities and states, such as California, Massachusetts and New York, are experiencing little, if any, current or forecasted rise in matriculation in the upcoming decade.

For those who do graduate high school, the college application process has grown significantly more intensive. On average, students are applying to more higher education institutions than ever before, primarily in an attempt to offset the increased competition amongst those trying to gain admittance to more prestigious colleges.

Changing Public Sentiment

Cynicism regarding the merits of higher education is at an all-time high. Although a variety of financial resources are available for those hoping to enroll in college, such as government-backed and private student loans, the stigma that has been placed upon borrowing has led to many students forsaking enrollment opportunities in order to avoid financial debt.

“Cost-awareness” is becoming increasingly prevalent in both the families of individuals attending college and the students themselves. Studies have shown that the number of students applying for need-based aid is increasing, which could be due to the fact that families are generally choosing to spend less on college-related expenses now than they were in 2009. Additionally, it is important to note that only 57% of students accepted admission offers from their “first-choice” school in 2013, largely due to the fact that they believed the costs of their education would be too high.

Discounts and Funding

Although the number of institutions now offering increased tuition discounts in a bid to lure new students has increased, these tactics have resulted in little, if any, increases in enrollment. In fact, some institutions have experienced significant decreases in enrollment figures following substantive tuition discounts, an observation that has left those in academic leadership roles throughout the country at a loss for what the “correct” step may be to bolster attendance. These circumstances have resulted in both Moody’s and S&P releasing ‘negative’ forecasts for higher education. As a general observation, it could be stated that students are now placing increasing emphasis on what academic and professional resources are available for them at a given college or university rather than just focusing on its reputation alone.

A Data-First Approach To Higher Education Enrollment

Although data analytics professionals may dismiss any information associated with students who opted not to enroll, it is important to take stock of the type of aid offered to them and how these individual decisions are affecting the net total revenue (NTR) of the institution at large. For example, in situations where fewer students opted to enroll and yet were, on average, paying more for their education, the NTR of the academic institution may be higher than in situations where an increased number of students were admitted at markedly reduced tuition rates.

Careful analysis of the relationship between offered tuition discounts, source of the discount (i.e. which department is compensating for the student’s reduced tuition), as well as the final outcome of the offer (whether or not the student decided to enroll), will allow institutions to refine their predictive modeling and develop an accurate yield analysis that will be invaluable when generating future admission strategies.

Additionally, institutions should pay careful attention to situations where an initial aid offered was appealed by either the student or their parents, and what the final fiscal outcome of the appeal was (i.e. if a larger discount was then offered to the student, and what additional funds were needed to convince them to enroll).

Ultimately, predictive modeling strategies such as these will allow institutions to accurately answer some of the most important questions affecting their NTR, including whether or not the discounts they are offering to students are hindering or nurturing the growth of the university and college and, thus, its ability to further maximize “bang-for-buck” potential for future students.


Essentially, the success of an academic institution, particularly in an era such as this where state-funding is dramatically being reduced, is largely dependent upon whether or not institutional leadership adopt the same tactics and strategies used by private business owners today. Data collection and financial planning and analysis can provide a degree of insight that may make the difference between success and failure.