How to increase student enrollment: 5 tactics for modern institutions

December 6, 2023
5 mins
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Over the past few decades, higher education institutions have been grappling with a concerning trend: declining student enrollments—even if the most recent studies show a slight uptick. This decline isn't just about numbers; it's a reflection of a broader shift in student expectations and values. 

They're seeking tangible value, real-world experiences, and a clear path to success. In fact, 79% of students believe they should acquire work experience during their postsecondary education.

As institutions strive to accommodate changing demands, it presents opportunities for colleges and universities to explore new approaches.

This article explores five contemporary approaches that institutions might consider to enhance student enrollment. These approaches are not merely about boosting numbers; they represent a broader initiative to reimagine educational experiences in a way that resonates with the aspirations and realities of today's students.


Factors contributing to decreasing enrollments in higher education

In recent years, higher education institutions worldwide have observed fluctuating, often declining, student enrollment numbers. While this phenomenon is multifaceted, several prominent trends and events contribute significantly:

  • Shifts in demographics: As the world's population ages and birth rates slow down, fewer traditional-aged students are entering universities and colleges. On top of that, the past decade has witnessed significant racial and ethnic diversification in the student population, which has required institutions to accommodate a broader spectrum of students.
  • Rise of online education: With advancements in technology and the prevalence of online courses, the number of online learners has soared from 300,000 to 220 million from 2011-2021. These options offer flexibility and can be more affordable, attracting many who might have otherwise considered a traditional college experience.
  • Increased competition among institutions: Modern students have a plethora of options at their fingertips, and they are applying to multiple universities. With many institutions vying for the same pool of potential enrollees, competition has become more intense. 
  • Impact of global events: The COVID-19 pandemic introduced unprecedented challenges to the education sector. Between 2019 and 2022, undergraduate student enrollment sank by 8% nationwide and  international enrollment dropped significantly with travel restrictions.
  • Questioning the degree's value: A rising tide of skepticism surrounds the genuine value of a college degree, with 69% of students believing they don't need a degree to be successful. Many question its worth, particularly in light of prolonged study periods and escalating costs.

Diversifying your enrollment strategy: Tactics to consider

In the face of declining student enrollments and increasing skepticism about the value of higher education, institutions can no longer rely on a singular enrollment strategy. The complexities of today's educational landscape demand a multi-pronged approach to maximize reach and attract students.

Strengthen your institutional storytelling

Every higher education institution has a unique story to tell—a distinctive blend of values, offerings, and achievements. But what exactly sets your institution apart, and how are you telling that story to attract students? Narrating this story compellingly can make all the difference in attracting and retaining students. 

A collaborative approach between educators, administrators, and marketing teams is essential to creating a compelling narrative about how your institution prepares students for the world of work.

By emphasizing your unique selling points, institutions can capture the attention of discerning students looking for a distinctive educational experience.

Additionally, incorporating real student success stories, especially those benefiting from work-based learning (WBL), demonstrates the institution's ability to prepare students for real-world challenges, while also emphasizing the equity of such experiences for prospective students.

Expand your digital reach

An institution's online presence isn't merely a convenience—it's a necessity. A well-designed and user-centric website is often the first impression a prospective student has of an institution. Aside from that, social media channels also play a major role in painting a vivid picture of campus life, student accomplishments, and upcoming events. 

Building a strong online presence helps create thriving online communities that go beyond just communication. However, the potential of the digital realm doesn't end with a website and social media. Online seminars, webinars, and virtual tours can remove geographic barriers to enable a global audience to view institutions' rich offerings. 

Aside from that, experiential learning platforms like Riipen can extend an institution's network and bolster your offerings by providing access to equitable work-based learning opportunities like internships and co-ops. 

Enhance traditional marketing efforts

While the digital domain offers unprecedented reach and immediacy, the potency of traditional marketing methods remains undiminished. In fact, they provide a tangible and memorable connection with prospective students that's hard to replicate.

Open houses and college fairs allow prospective students to immerse themselves in the institution's environment, offering a firsthand feel of the campus life, faculty, and facilities.

Alumni testimonials offer authentic insights into the transformative potential of the institution's education. They are the institution's best ambassadors. Direct mail campaigns can stand out amongst digital noise, providing a tangible reflection of the institution's ethos and offerings.

Additionally, simple gestures like tailored emails or handwritten notes can create a profound connection, showcasing the institution's genuine interest in each student's aspirations.

Collaborative efforts with industry

More and more students seek college and university courses to include real company-led projects, making it increasingly important to bridge the gap between academia and industry.

Teaming up and fostering strong ties with industry partners gives institutions an edge against their competitors. Not only are they able to integrate real-world projects directly into their curriculum, but they also offer students invaluable insights into the practical challenges of professional domains. 

Such collaborations pave the way for real-world project opportunities, internships, and other practical experiences. Platforms like Riipen have emerged as catalysts in this space, streamlining the connection between educators and industry professionals. 

By leveraging such platforms, institutions can diversify and amplify their industry partnerships, ensuring a vast array of work-based learning opportunities for students.

Streamline your internal communication

For institutions to communicate their offerings effectively, strong internal communication is essential. Establishing clear, consistent, and coherent channels ensures that every team, from academic staff to the marketing department, collaborates effectively towards a unified vision.

Interconnected departments enable the institution to create a holistic message that resonates with prospective students more deeply. By fostering an environment of open dialogue and feedback, institutions can ensure that every stakeholder is empowered, heard, and aligned with the overarching goals.

Regular inter-departmental collaborations and embracing centralized communication platforms can enhance this unity, helping teams share resources, insights, and success stories more effectively.

The untapped potential of work-based learning

In today's competitive academic climate, institutions are seeking standout strategies to differentiate themselves. One powerful approach lies in leveraging WBL in recruiting and marketing materials. 

By championing WBL, institutions don't merely offer practical experiences; they demonstrate their commitment to helping students find careers they can thrive in, bolster their professional networks, and grant unprecedented career clarity. Here's a deeper look into the multifaceted advantages of WBL:

  • Professional preparation and career exploration: WBL equips students with essential employable skills that make them more competitive. Also, when introduced early in their coursework (Business 101, Intro to Marketing, etc.), it provides students get a taste of that industry to see if it's really what they want to pursue.
  • Equitable and holistic skill development: Beyond technical abilities, the equitable nature of WBL ensures that every student is able to hone soft and hard skills that set them up for success in the workforce.
  • Academic prowess: Evidence suggests that WBL participants often showcase enhanced academic achievements and consistent attendance, serving as a strong student enrollment motivator.
  • Industry networking: WBL acts as a bridge, connecting students with industry professionals, expanding their professional networks, and amplifying post-graduation employment opportunities.
  • College and career readiness: It ensures students are primed for both higher education and the competitive workforce.

Join the future of academic excellence

WBL isn't just a magnet attracting a new wave of students; it also has a role in retaining students. Through WBL, students gain career clarity, make connections between abstract ideas and real-world applications, and engage more fully with their courses and content. 

In an era where student retention is just as pivotal as recruitment, the power of WBL becomes indispensable. Institutions that are embracing these hands-on experiences are appealing to a broader, more ambitious student base hungry for practical learning.

As a groundbreaking marketplace, Riipen stands at the forefront of this academic revolution, offering solutions designed to make it easier for educators to implement WBL into their coursework. 

In fact, Arizona State University harnessed the power of Riipen and began integrating over 100 

Here are a just a few experiences participants have had. Ali Hammad, a Marketing and Sales Coordinator, had this to say about their experience, “Riipen has been a crucial part of the success of my career. The employers I had the fortune of working with were very flexible with my schedule as a student, and that allowed me to hone my skills and focus on my grades.”

Dawson Bacon, a CEO at Kolbe Inc., said that Riipen has, “made it easy to connect with motivated students who have the ability to produce good work.” 

Madison Sameshinma of Lakehead University said their experiences “provided [them with] opportunities to learn the skills, acquire the experience, and build the network I needed post-graduation to help me clearly define my career path.”

From its user-friendly interface to its world-class support, Riipen has everything educators need to create rich and diverse courses to attract and retain students. 


Jump ahead:

Key takeaways

  • Various factors influence declining student enrollments in higher education, including demographic shifts with an aging population and diversification, a surge in online education, increased competition among institutions, the impact of global events like COVID-19, and rising skepticism about the inherent value of a college degree.
  • To address declining enrollments, institutions need to diversify their enrollment strategies and focus on storytelling to highlight their unique values and offerings.
  • Work-based learning presents a standout strategy for institutions to differentiate themselves in today's competitive academic climate.

If you would like to learn more about Riipen's platform, schedule a free demo.

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