Area colleges look in new places for applicants
By Peter Osborne
Delaware State University welcomed 5,054 students – including its largest freshman class ever – for the 2019-20 academic year, marking the eighth time in 10 years that it broke enrollment records and showing growth of 40% over the past decade. Over at the University of Delaware, total enrollment of 17,483 undergraduates is up 4.1% since 2015, with a record 7,480 Delawareans at the school.
Higher enrollment is not the case nationwide, where post-secondary enrollments fell by 231,000 for the current school year, a drop of 1.3%. Perhaps more concerning, the nation’s fall semester’s unduplicated enrollments dipped below 18 million, a decline of more than 2 million students since its peak in 2011, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Thirty-five states saw enrollment decreases, but the growth at DSU and UD put Delaware on the plus side of the ledger with 0.3% growth.
What are schools like DSU, UD, and Goldey-Beacom – the only three to respond to a request for data from the Delaware Business Times – doing to buck the nationwide trend?
DSU officials are somewhat close-lipped about their recruiting and marketing strategies, given the competitiveness of the marketplace, but the approval by the governor and General Assembly of a fourth year of the Inspire Scholarship has increased the school’s ability to attract great students from a range of backgrounds, particularly those who are first-generation college students, said Steven Newton, special assistant to the provost at DSU.
The Inspire Scholarship is a state-sponsored scholarship to DSU for Delaware high school students with a 2.75 GPA and commitment to community service while they are in school. Since 2010, more than 2,200 Delaware students have received the aid.
“We saw a 20% spike in in-state enrollment following the passage of the fourth year of the Inspire Scholarship, and over the previous years the university invested about $3.5 million in scholarships and other aid to insure that no Inspire Scholar failed to complete their degrees because the money ran out,” Newton said. “We are constantly examining the areas outside Delaware where other HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] are recruiting. In addition, we’re consistently prospecting locally for Delaware athletes” who are interested in staying home to play.
The Early College High School at DSU has been a major driver in enrollment growth over the past several years. Among the first two graduating classes, 52% of those seniors have gone on to attend DSU after graduating high school.
“We transport the students from all over the state at no cost to the families,” Newton said. “Over the last six years, we have awarded 11,600 credit hours tuition free to Delaware students, which represents an average savings per family of about $48,000. The real strength of the Early College approach is that it puts hundreds of high-school students on campus, in the labs, with the professors, and immersed directly into the university.
Newton declined to provide much detail on the marketing approaches it’s taking to attract students – DSU uses TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter to reach students – but he did say the admissions area is asking DSU students which platforms they prefer and that DSU does text high-school students as part of its approach.
“Our partnership with Apple is also a big selling point,” Newton said. “We provide an iPad to all incoming freshmen, and certain majors that require a MacBook also get one. We make it a part of the financial package, which results in basically a break-even proposition for students, given the substantial reduction in textbook generated by our ongoing move to digital and open-source instructional materials.”
Record number of applications at UD
The University of Delaware received a record 33,000 applications, a 29% increase for the 2020-21 school year. The school introduced an Early Action option this year, allowing prospective students who applied before Nov. 1 to get a response no later than Jan. 31. About half of UD’s applicant pool applied using that option, with nearly all of them receiving a decision before the school’s winter break.
Early Action is different from Early Decision, which commits the applicant to a school if approved. UD does not offer this option.
“Over time, we’ve been doing a lot of things differently,” UD Director of External Relations Andrea Boyle Tippett said. “We’re developing a lot of long-term strategies, including building more relationships with schools in Delaware and across the country. There are fewer high school students than 10 years ago in the Northeast so over time we’ve adjusted our strategies to reflect that supply.”
Tippett said students are changing the way they’re considering colleges, so UD has focused more attention on the messaging in its marketing materials; the reach of its admissions counselors who have territories to encourage applications; the experience when students visit campus; the follow-up after a visit; and the acceptance packets. The school does text with prospective students, but Tippett did not say what impact that has had on response rates or demonstrated interest in the school.
“It’s difficult to assign motivation [of what drives the decision process], but this generation of students is much more expectant of consistent communications throughout the entire application process,” she said.
New vendor helps GBC attract students
Goldey-Beacom College, which enrolled 732 undergraduates for the fall 2019 semester, has found success using what it describes as a “very well-orchestrated email campaign” that has replaced traditional mail. It’s also using a new third-party vendor from Atlanta whose approach has driven up the number of campus visits, with information sessions growing as much as open houses, according to Director of Admissions Larry Eby.
“I’ve been surprised positively by the reaction to our [increased] email frequency,” Eby said. “I personally get annoyed by email volume, but high school kids are different.”
Eby said the school’s new vendor has been in place since August and is collecting cellphone numbers and getting permission to text students. The plan now is to start testing this summer.
“This new partner has brought a more sophisticated system to personalize the student’s web experience, including a personal URL and, based on what the prospective student shares with us, a web experience tailored to them,” he said.
Eby also said that Goldey-Beacom has also been collecting parent emails for a few years and plans to add direct communications with parents under his signature and focusing on the school’s strengths in the areas of job-placement rates, internships, affordability, and campus safety.
Goldey-Beacom President Colleen Perry Keith summarized her school’s broader strategy in the transmittal letter to the American Council on Education for an award recognizing institutional transformation.
“Recognizing a changing landscape in higher education, Goldey-Beacom College began a transformation in 2014 by making college more affordable for students and families,” Keith wrote. “From there, the college began to address other issues that impact enrollment such as physical facilities and academic programs. The college is now embarking on the third step in its transformation, a college-wide planning process to design its future.”
The school’s application notes that Goldey-Beacom scholarship assistance as a percentage of total revenue has increased to 77.8% in 2019 compared with 51.2% in 2014, and that the school made an “even bolder decision to award scholarships to graduate students”
Contact Peter Osborne at [email protected]