Student Demographic Shifts Demand Response
The following commentary is part three of a six-part series featuring updates, national trends and personal perspectives from the University’s leadership team regarding the future of higher education and Michigan Tech. All questions or comments may be directed to the author of the article, (email@example.com).
At the risk of dancing in yesterday’s confetti, this fall’s incoming graduate and undergraduate class rose considerably over the previous year’s total, by virtue of no small effort expended by a variety of involved entities on campus. In fact, early reports suggest that only three of Michigan’s 15 public, four-year institutions saw incoming undergraduate classes increase over the previous year (ours was about 4.2%). However, when looking at enrollment in Michigan’s public, four-year universities in totality, these early indicators suggest incoming undergraduate enrollment actually fell by more than 2%.
Unfortunately, the contraction of college-going students in the state is expected to continue. In Nathan Grawe’s book Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, the economist paints a sobering picture of demand for higher education in Michigan between now and 2029. Across all sectors by institution type and students’ socio-economic class, Grawe predicts demand for higher education in Michigan will fall between 15% to upwards of 30% by 2029.
In response to the effects of this market contraction, we can expect to see more institutions, especially in the Midwest, engaging in more aggressive forms of student recruitment. On top of that, the Department of Justice recently mandated the National Association for College Admission Counseling eliminate a series of self-governing behaviors meant to reduce colleges utilizing high-pressure sales tactics. While we’ve heard this new recruitment landscape described as everything from the modern Wild West to Welcome to Thunderdome, there will surely be market forces at play in the next few years that will catch those not paying attention by surprise.
To mitigate these potentially threatening trends, Michigan Tech continues to vigorously retool its marketing, recruitment and educational outreach functions to expand market share and penetrate new market segments. Our goal of enrolling a larger, more academically prepared and more diverse student body that represents all corners of the state — as well as the nation and globe — is unchanged. It is critical to the long term health of the institution to maintain robust enrollment and our goal this coming year is to realize a 5% increase in incoming undergraduate students.
Investments in digital marketing allow the institution to craft messaging in a surgical and precise manner. Enhancements in mail and email outreach, as well as a more sophisticated communication management system, have realized a significant increase in applications over previous years.
Adjustments to both merit- and need-based financial aid continue to provide access for those who can benefit the most from a Michigan Tech education. And most importantly, the great work of our faculty, department chairs, deans, alums and in-the-field recruiters continues to show our prospective students the most distinguishing factors of a Michigan Tech degree.
One of those distinguishing factors, and perhaps our most significant pride point, is the unique mix of a world-class education with an “icing on the cake” sense of community. In 2018, the Chronicle of Higher Education released a research report titled, “The New Generation of Students: How colleges can recruit, teach, and serve Gen Z.” Within it, they explain that “services are the new campus amenities,” suggesting that a sense of community and services (academic support, social support, student activities) rise to the top of the search checklist rather than facilities.
Communicating this advantage is done best when it comes directly from faculty, staff and students. These conversations allow us to capitalize on our well-positioned, outcome-driven education, and move us into the pole position on prospective students’ ever-growing list of college choices.
For example, a 2018 research report by enrollment consulting firm EAB stated, “Effective yield communication involves a broad cross-section of the campus community in outreach to admitted students.” EAB highlights that “one group that is of particular interest in this regard is faculty.” The translation: when our students, staff and faculty come together to talk to prospective students about our unique mix of world-class academics and life-changing community, Michigan Tech becomes incredibly hard to ignore.
Thank you for what you’ve done to bring us this far in our recruitment efforts, and for the work ahead of us to ensure more students are made aware of the value of Michigan Tech.