February 11, 2022 by Anne Peasley
Enrollment strategy matters. Warnings about the impending enrollment decline have gathered like dark clouds on the horizon. And the rain has started to fall.
Fall 2021 enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse shows continued enrollment declines in higher education (down 2.7% year over year across all HE sectors, concentrated in public 2-year institutions).
In addition to predicting the coming enrollment decline, Nathan Grawe pointed out recently that many of the issues facing higher education are an inevitable outgrowth of the changing nature of education and work, not simply a one-off reaction to the pandemic. That indicates these problems are here to stay.
Rather than waiting for the storm to break over our heads, higher education professionals know they must work to build viable enrollment strategies. Much of this work is guided by data. Data from the labor market can be a valuable asset in this work.
Let’s explore some ways to incorporate labor market data into your enrollment strategies.
How to incorporate labor market data: Use insights from the labor market to find hot jobs — and build programs around them.
These days, students aren’t just going to college for the four-year undergraduate experience. They’re also starting to ask more pragmatic, outcome-oriented questions. It’s not just “get a college degree,” but “how will this degree position me for success in my life?”
By positioning your programs to fit with trends (and old faithfuls) of the job market, you align your programs with your learners’ goals. This can contribute to effective enrollment and retention strategies.
And, the good news is, the same data used to develop these programs in the first place can (and should!) also be used to communicate their value to prospective students.
How to incorporate labor market data: By conducting market research to triangulate unreached markets, such as adult learners.
As the high school graduate pipeline dries up and a rapidly evolving economy amplifies the need for life-long learning, many educators are turning their focus to the adult learner market. Real-time market research can help you assess employer demand, and the state of the workforce to better attract, enroll, and serve working learners.
Market research can also be used to locate “education deserts” — regions with high demand for grads from a particular program, but no institutions currently supplying that need — where you can target marketing campaigns and engage local employers in partnerships.
How to incorporate labor market data: Incorporate real-life career outcomes data into your recruitment and marketing efforts.
With questions swirling around the value of higher education, it’s more important than ever to show prospective students how the education you provide can lead to their career goals. This might look like embedding real-time career outlooks on program web pages, conducting an analysis of alumni employment patterns, or featuring case studies of successful alumni.
Using labor market data to calculate an expected return-on-investment of learner time and money can go a long way to show the value your institution provides.
However you capture it, evidence of career success gives prospective learners information to make a confident decision to enroll.
How to incorporate labor market data: Avoid stop-outs and transfers by providing data-backed student support.
When starting out on a degree pathway, learners may not be aware of the job opportunities that exist in the labor market. Or they may struggle to make sense of their options when faced with swaths of information online. As a result, future plans feel confusing or intimidating.
Instead of making it difficult for a student to change majors (and risk losing them via stop-out or transfer), support them as they explore and find an education and/or career path that works for them.That’s where data (and career services) can help.
At a high level, labor market information makes it possible to understand overarching, long-term tendencies of a regional job market. From there, that data can be brought down to the level of emerging trends and immediate-term changes, which can then be connected to curriculum and training programs — giving learners actionable information to make the best choice for their goals.
Just as a forecast for stormy weather is a signal to bring an umbrella or wear a raincoat, the first wave of enrollment decline calls for strategic thinking about recruitment and retention. No matter what enrollment strategy your institution pursues, make sure it includes labor market data.