Every few years, new demographic reports describing trends in high school graduation rates ripple through the higher education enrollment management world. For the most part, colleges and universities have benefited from a growth trend over the past decade. According to a report published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), that trend peaked in 2013 and will remain stagnant for the next decade, according to an article in the Washington Post.

Sure, there are regions that will grow, such as in the South, while the Midwest and Northeast show declines, but in aggregate the numbers will remain largely flat for some time. In my experience, this causes many institutions to hit the panic button and become very aggressive with their recruitment strategies. In fact, I’m aware of one small university in the midwest that is already feeling the effects of this demographic trend. Their reaction has been to immediately procure a new recruitment CRM to help stem the enrollment tide. Unfortunately, this university is diverting funds from their student success platform in order to pay for the new recruitment system. This strikes me as shortsighted and exactly the wrong thing to do under the circumstances.

While colleges and universities most certainly need to examine their recruitment strategies, they should not do so to the detriment of their student success programs. It would be far better to examine the problem holistically and consider an increased effort on student success as an insurance policy against waning enrollment. Not only will the effort pay off for the institution’s bottom line, it is really a moral imperative.

Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, said the state’s colleges are increasingly focused on helping students finish their degrees. The push for retention and completion helps with enrollment and is also “the right thing to do,” Blake said. (The Washington Post)

Ultimately, institutions that prioritize their efforts on helping students be more successful, will not need to worry about their recruitment efforts in the long run. Enrollment will naturally offset the demographic trends as fewer students drop out, more graduate on time, and the reputation of the institution that achieves this draws more students through the front door.