The End of Admissions as We Know It?

The sky is always falling somewhere, and right now it’s crashing down on the world of admissions. At least that’s how some of the field’s long-term observers describe the impact of looming demographic changes on college enrollments.

In short, the number of high-school graduates is expected to decline gradually until 2015, when the growing Hispanic and Asian populations will start pushing it to new highs, according to estimates from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Although this is not news to anyone in admissions, the implications of this shift continue to spark  discussion–and worry–among those who recruit and evaluate college applicants.

A new white paper, “The End of Higher Education Enrollment as We Know It,” offers a glimpse of future enrollment challenges. It was written by Greg Perfetto, vice president for research and development at Admissions Lab (formerly 422 Group), a higher-education consulting firm. Mr. Perfetto, a former associate provost for institutional research at Vanderbilt University, writes that the numbers of affluent, “second generation” high-school graduates will very likely decline in most parts of the country: “The well-prepared, affluent college student that has helped fuel the expansion of higher education over the past 20 years will not disappear but will not spur additional growth either.”

As a result, Mr. Perfetto predicts that even colleges in states with expected enrollment increases will face new challenges; that tomorrow’s students will be more “employment oriented” than before; and that near-term financial considerations (as opposed to the perceived long-term value of an education) will probably shape colleges choices more than they do today.

What does this mean for recruitment? For one thing, the traditional “funnel” model will change, if it hasn’t already. Filling that funnel with an ever-larger number of prospects, and then bombarding them with communications, will not work as well as it did in the past, Mr. Perfetto concludes: “The future college prospect … will have a very different orientation toward technology, information, and, most of all, creditability.”

In case you missed it the first time around, I recommend reading my colleague Elyse Ashburn’s excellent overview of how admissions offices are bracing for demographic changes.

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