Data on enrolment trends also help universities target their messages
to the right audiences – the ones with growth potential. Out-of-province
students now make up more than half of the incoming class at Dalhousie,
so Dal isn’t pitching exclusively to the home market any more, says
Ms. Kachan. To reach the parents of international students, it translated
a question-and-answer page for parents into multiple languages.
The University of Windsor relied on data to change its whole recruitment focus, says Clayton Smith, the mid-sized university’s vice-provost,
students and international. When it saw that it was already drawing 60 to
70 percent of the region’s high school graduates who go on to an Ontario
university, and knowing it had a limited geographic pool in Essex County, it determined to recruit more American students, particularly from
the nearby states of Michigan and Ohio. It started to offer Americans a
special tuition rate and to recruit like a U.S. university – at high schools,
for example. U of Windsor now treats Detroit, rather than Toronto, as its
nearest “big city,” says Dr. Smith.
The University of Saskatchewan undertook a SEM project over the
last two years to look at its capacity and where to expand or cut back. The
study focused on growing demographic groups, including Aboriginal and
international students, and determined the university should increase
enrolment by about 400 students to 18,466 by the fall of 2015. That represents an increase of less than 2. 5 percent over two years. But, for the
2012-13 academic year, qualified applications grew more than 25 percent
from the year earlier, says Dan Seneker, the U of S manager of student
recruitment, so this means more rejection letters and longer waiting lists.
At the graduate student level, enrolment management is becoming
a concern, too, says Shari Sekel, director of graduate programs at Brock
University’s Goodman School of Business and vice-president of the
Canadian Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals. “In the
last five years, graduate enrolment management has become extremely
important,” she says, “because getting graduate students has become ex-
Enrolment management is especially important for course-based
graduate programs like MBA programs; these, unlike research-based
graduate programs, tend to make money for universities. But even that is
changing. In Ontario, a one-time funding envelope from the province to
help meet domestic graduate enrolment targets put pressure on research
programs to learn how to “manage customers” too, says Ms. Sekel.
For Mr. Duguay at Bishop’s, this all boils down “to a value question
for students.” Enrolment management works best, in his view, when
students perceive that what they get out of their university experience
is greater than the intellectual and financial effort they put into getting
“I define enrolment management as not just about retaining students, but also about increasing the experience for those who would stay
anyway.” For a university to develop a good enrolment management
strategy, “you have to take a deep look at yourself and your institution,”
he says. “We take the time to analyze what we’re doing and whether we’re
answering student needs.”
Daniel Drolet lives in Ottawa and writes often for University Affairs.
goals and reviews a range of data, including surveys of applicants and
current students; retention and graduation information; and ways that
the university communicates with students. The committee then works to
align approaches so that recruitment is evidence-based and coordinated,
explains the university registrar, Mr. Levin.
“We also bring these sorts of issues to broader committees, including
deans, so that the university is fully engaged with enrolment management strategies and evidence,” adds Mr. Levin.
As enrolment management moves beyond recruitment, it is crucial
to get all parts of the university involved in creating a sense of student
engagement, says Jody Gordon, vice-president, students, at the University
of the Fraser Valley. She says it’s easier to get buy-in from faculty about
their role in the process if they can be shown how their behaviour influences enrolment. “If it’s data-rich and evidence-based, the faculty is more
likely to get involved,” she says.
Parents are a bigger part of the picture these days as well, and that
affects the way universities handle recruitment and retention. “
Prospective students and their parents want authenticity,” explains Ms. Kachan
of Dalhousie. Parents talk to other parents and “word of mouth is golden,” so they have to be satisfied with their children’s experience, too.
A very large piece in the enrolment puzzle is the quality of the data.
Universities have always relied on data to plan enrolment, but the ways
they collect, use and process data have changed. Data collection and the
ability to analyze information have improved markedly over the last
decade, says Bruce Winer, assistant vice-president, institutional research
and planning, at Carleton University. It’s now easier to categorize applicants and registrants by a variety of demographic details, and that gives
universities feedback on their recruitment successes as well as failures. In
the past, this kind of data crunching was too expensive, he explains, but
costs have fallen as business tools have improved.
And universities need more data today because recruitment has become very competitive, says Mr. Duguay of Bishop’s. “We now need to
understand our students like a business would understand its customers.” Bishop’s is no longer satisfied with data that shows how it ranks
compared to other schools; it wants data it can use to improve the student experience at Bishop’s. A recent example: when surveys showed
that students were dissatisfied with the dining hall, the university
completely renovated it.
Mr. Levin of U of T says that refined data can also be used to fine-tune
recruitment strategy by determining, for example, whether students who
visit the school are more likely to apply than students who don’t visit.
Two newer sources of data are website analytics and social media.
Recruitment professionals watch to see which parts of the site prospec-
tive students are visiting and then “tweak it accordingly,” says Mr. Levin.
He says that with the help of customized applicant information as well
as social media, “we personalize the application process much more.”
The data that universities collect to manage enrolment can help ad-
ministrators decide whether to recruit more students – or close programs.
Susan Gottheil, vice-provost, students, at the University of Manitoba, says
predictive modelling helps universities understand enrolment trends,
and what will happen if the trends continue.