2014 Noel-Levitz research highlights: 7 things we learned this year about college students and higher education enrollment management

2014 research from Noel-Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes.

2014 research from Noel-Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes.

Noel-Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2014 to further understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student success, student retention, and new student enrollment. We also examined current campus practices for online student recruitment. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:

1. Half of college freshmen want career services upon arriving. In a new study, the desire of incoming freshmen for career services ranked highly among 25 measures of students’ desires for institutional services. There is also some evidence that freshman demand for career services remains high at mid-year. Download the 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report, its Addendum by Race/Ethnicity, and Changes in Freshman Attitudes Following a Semester of Classes and Interventions.

2. White public high school seniors are expected to decline by 4.2 percent; Hispanic public high school seniors are expected to increase by 44.6 percent over the next ten years. A special report projects significant changes in higher education enrollments, based primarily on data from WICHE, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Download the 2014-24 Projections of High School Graduates by State and Race/Ethnicity.

3. Many undergraduates do not feel that the tuition they pay is a worthwhile investment. In our latest national report on college student satisfaction, only approximately half of students at four-year institutions agreed that the tuition they pay is a worthwhile investment. In addition, less than 50 percent of students at those institutions and 42 percent at community colleges were satisfied with the availability of financial aid. See our 2014 National Student Satisfaction Report, its four supplements by sector, and a special companion report, The Relationship of Student Satisfaction to Key Indicators for Colleges and Universities.

4. Students’ levels of financial need continue to rise. In our 2014 Discounting Report, we found that “high need” undergraduates at a sampling of four-year private institutions continued to enroll at these institutions in greater numbers while enrollments of undergraduates with less need continued on a downward trend. The study was based on a comparative sample of institutions that are partnering with Noel-Levitz to strategically award their financial aid.
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Fall 2014 outcomes: New student enrollment stays flat, but retention rises slightly



A forthcoming report from Noel-Levitz, Fall 2014 New Student Enrollment and Retention Outcomes at Four-Year Institutions,  has found that FTIC (first-time-in-college) enrollment essentially held steady in fall 2014 vs. fall 2013 at the median for four-year colleges and universities, with no significant changes. (The report will be released in mid-December.)

Change in fall 2014 enrollment vs. fall 2013 enrollment

New full-time, first-time-in-college, degree-seeking students

Change in enrollment among full-time FTIC students, fall 2014 compared to fall 2013 (click to enlarge).

Although it is not shown here, the report also found that new full-time transfer student enrollment remained flat at the median, similar to the FTIC outcomes.

The forthcoming report also found fall-to-fall retention rates for full-time FTIC students rose slightly at the median, with a 2.5 percent median increase in the first-to-second-year retention rate for private institutions and a marginally significant 1.4 percent median increase in the first-to-second-year retention rate for public institutions.

In addition, graduation rates rose a marginally significant 1.9 percent at the median for public institutions while remaining flat for private institutions.

Watch for the complete report to be released soon.  To receive a copy of the report when it is released, readers may subscribe to receive trend reports and papers at www.noellevitz.com/Subscribe.

Are college students satisfied with faculty?



Faculty interactions are the pivotal point of the college student academic experience. The quality of the instruction students receive from faculty, the way faculty evaluate student work, and the availability of faculty outside of class are three key elements that shape student perceptions about the academic quality of their college experience. So how do the nation’s students feel about their interactions with faculty?

We’ve examined that question in the 2014 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report. This report pulls data from nearly 600,000 students attending more than 700 campuses nationwide. The tables below show the percentage of students who said that an issue was important to them, the percentage of students who were satisfied with a specific issue, and the “gap” score (the difference between importance and satisfaction). Higher gap scores indicate that students are not as satisfied on issues of high importance.

On faculty-related items, four-year institutions had high gap scores on three key issues about faculty bias and feedback.

Data from the 2014 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report (click to enlarge).

The issue of timely feedback could be partly one of managing student expectations. Many students have grown up in a culture of immediate contact, feedback, and information. They may not understand why they cannot get instantaneous feedback from faculty, so it is important to communicate timelines for posting grades and faculty feedback. Timely feedback is also crucial to student retention, both for informing the student of progress and for alerting campuses to students who need assistance to persist. The high importance scores and performance gaps for this issue suggest it is one campuses need to address systematically.
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Using content marketing to support higher education online marketing campaigns



Content marketing gives colleges and universities new ways to engage prospective college students.

I recently presented a webinar on content marketing approaches for paid interactive marketing campaigns in higher education (I have another one coming up in January). The topic is one that I think will grow in importance for colleges as they try to reach prospective students who now expect more than just traditional advertising from campuses. This is the first in a series on this subject.

First, a bit of perspective on the difficulty defining the term “content marketing.” According to the most recent benchmark study of the Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of business-to-consumer marketers use content marketing as a tactic. However, it’s interesting to note that they also find that only 34 percent of those using it feel that they are doing so effectively. I think this low percentage is evidence of a significant lack of clarity within the marketing universe—both outside of higher education  as well as within the higher ed marketing domain.

With that in mind, it makes sense to start this blog series with a very top-line perspective by defining what I mean when I refer to content marketing within the specific context of campus marketing and student recruitment. Since content marketing is a bit of an industry buzz term that means lots of things to lots of people, I find it often can be helpful in my campus consultations to narrow the definition so the teams I work with can really focus on specific tactics to pursue for their own schools.
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How current is your institution’s playbook? An overview of the latest keys to enrollment success



How effective is your campus enrollment team at managing continuous change and at monitoring the changes in today’s students? Is your enrollment strategy “playbook” in need of updating?

Our Enrollment Management Workshop is coming to seven cities across the U.S. and Canada from January-March 2015.

For an overview of the latest keys to enrollment success, I encourage you to attend Noel-Levitz’s upcoming 2015 Enrollment Management Workshop Series. At this workshop, I will be presenting a top-line overview of the ever-changing world of enrollment management, including the complexities of responding to changing demographics and the critical elements of a successful student recruitment and marketing program. My observations will be drawn from over 50 campus visits I’ve made in the last year or so, and from keeping an eye on the latest research.

I won’t share everything here that I’ll share at the workshop, but I will share some key points. In the current environment, understanding and organizing for the “new normal” isn’t an option. To be effective, campus enrollment teams, together with their senior colleagues, must address today’s increasing calls for accountability, affordability, and efficiency, while delivering enrollment and revenue outcomes, relevant academic programs, and improvements to all aspects of the student and prospective student experience. Adding to the pressures are increasing levels of competition and an accelerating use of technology and data to continuously fine-tune strategies and react to changes.

How I see colleges and universities responding to today’s environment

In response to these and other challenges, I observe today’s colleges and universities finding ways to become more strategic, efficient, and effective through initiatives such as:

  • Developing longer-term plans
  • Identifying and eliminating barriers to enrollment
  • Knowing the profile of the persister
  • Cultivating current students
  • Identifying and responding to the marketplace
  • Integrating campus silos
  • Conducting meaningful market research
  • Mobilizing the campus to assist with recruitment, marketing, and retention

The use of data is growing, too, as more campuses are employing analytics, tracking, and research to drive their decision-making and goal-setting.
Continue reading “How current is your institution’s playbook? An overview of the latest keys to enrollment success” »

Four ways to strategically collect and use college student retention data



By managing your college student retention data more strategically, you can guide interventions and retention planning more effectively.

We all know the importance of data-driven student retention planning and action, right? That said, if you are finding it difficult to implement actions based on your data, you are far from alone. I often hear two complaints that I suspect are at the heart of the challenge.

  • Individuals complain they have a hard time getting retention data when they need it.
  • IR or IT departments complain that the data they are asked for rarely leads to action.

So what prevents us from getting the data we need? And what stops us from using the data we are given? Here are some practical ways to collect and use data more effectively in order to reduce frustration and lead to more successful student intervention and strategic planning efforts.

1) Identify student retention data that’s necessary for timely action

When establishing an intervention plan, it’s necessary to gather information that helps you gauge students’ progress. But while some progression metrics are common to all students (the required GPA for good academic standing, for example), not all are.

Identify those milestones that each student needs to accomplish in order to progress. Do they need to earn a certain number of credits in order to gain admission to their chosen major? Are they pursuing a major that requires a higher GPA than what’s required for good academic standing?

Next, map those milestones to intervention points across a term or academic year. For example, let’s say you know that a student majoring in Elementary Education needs to earn at least a 2.75 GPA, pass Praxis I, and complete 30 credits for formal admission to the major. Should your intervention alert rely on more than monitoring that student’s GPA in relation to the required minimum for good academic standing, which is probably a 2.0? What information would indicate that the student may not progress in their desired major?
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Why SEO matters more for colleges than you might think


Co-written with Jennifer Croft. Jennifer is an SEO consultant with 30 years of marketing experience who has worked on more than 500 websites, including 50 higher education websites.

Search engine optimization (SEO) should be woven into every marketing plan for every college and university…not only because SEO can drive new, qualified traffic, but also because it can help protect one of the most important assets on an institution’s balance sheet: its website. Not paying attention to Google and its ever-changing algorithm—as well as to what’s going on in the broader landscape of the Internet—can have costly consequences.

Below are some of the risk scenarios that we’ve helped clients navigate in recent years and some steps you can take now to avoid or mitigate them.

URL redirect snafus during a college website redesign

A private college underwent a full web design. In the process, the campus didn’t place 301 redirects from the primary pages on the old site to the corresponding pages on the new site (301 redirects point search engines from an old page to the URL of the new page that replaces it). As a result of the omission (as well as other coding errors) organic search engine traffic to the site plummeted.

What you can do: Whenever you change URLs–whether it’s for a single page, a section of your website, a subdomain, or your entire site—it’s critical that you implement 301 redirects. These redirects act much like a forwarding address at the post office, signaling to Google and the other search engines that the old content now resides at a new URL. The 301 redirect can help transfer the strength of the original page to the new page, while also creating an unbroken path for links from other websites. Whenever possible, don’t just send these 301 redirects to the home page or an overview page; instead send them to the new page that most closely corresponds to the old page.

Suspicious links profiles coming to your college website

A private university had hundreds of thousands of links for knock-offs of expensive watches coming into its website and was at risk for a Google penalty.

What you can do: For years, Google has used incoming links to a website as part of its criteria for deciding which pages and sites to send to the top. And for years, SEO spammers, hackers, and criminals have been trying to game the system and/or place malware that drives links into or out of a site.

Google’s repeated releases of “Penguin” updates to its algorithm in the past few years have been aimed at detecting bad links and penalizing sites that have participated (wittingly or unwittingly) in links schemes.

To avoid links issues, which can temporarily or permanently harm a domain, check the incoming links to your site at least once a month. You can use Google’s Webmaster Tools to look at your links profile (from the Site Dashboard, go to “Search Traffic” and then click on “Links To Your Site”). This will list the domains that are linking in and the anchor text in the links, as well as your most linked content (if you see a strange page listed here, you’ll know someone has hacked into your site).

If you spot suspicious links, Google spokesman Matt Cutts, advises that you initiate the “disavow links” process. For more information on Google’s disavow process, click here.
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When your college freshman seminar is over, what’s next for your first-year college students?



Data suggest the needs that students have when they enter our institutions continue over time—and new needs emerge.

Many colleges and universities have “first-year” programs, but very often these programs are front-loaded in the first semester. When the “first-year” college freshman seminar is over, and the transition programming in the residence halls has ended, what can campuses do next for their first-year college students? What data and information do first-year program directors have to guide what should be provided to new students for the full year as these students continue to make the transition to being successful college students?

To help identify the continuing support that students require after the first semester is over, the 2014 Report on Changes in Freshman Attitudes Following a Semester of Classes and Interventions provides key insights into how first-year students have changed since they began college, the resources they used during their first semester, and most importantly, their needs now as they turn to the second semester of their initial year in college.

Key findings: What are the greatest changes in college freshman attitudes after the first term?

This study on the attitudes of more than 10,000 college freshmen at two- and four-year public and private institutions found the most substantial growth among freshmen after one semester of classes and interventions came in the areas of academic confidence, the students’ tolerance of other people’s opinions, and in the students’ sociability. Here are examples of these:

  • I am capable of writing a very clear and well-organized paper—18.1 percent increase (4-year private institutions).
  • I find it easy to be friends with people whose political ideas differ sharply from my own—18.1 percent increase (4-year public institutions).
  • I have a very good grasp of the scientific ideas I’ve studied –24.1 percent increase (2-year public institutions).

Continue reading “When your college freshman seminar is over, what’s next for your first-year college students?” »

Half of entering college students aspire to a master’s degree or higher, led by students of color


Degree aspirations of entering freshman


Entering freshmen planning to pursue a master's or professional degree, by race/ethnicity

Above: findings from Noel-Levitz’s 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report indicate that 52.6 percent of today’s entering college freshmen planned to pursue a master’s or a professional degree as they began college, led by Asian freshmen, at 61.5 percent, African-American freshmen, at 59.6 percent, and Hispanic or Latino freshmen, at 49.9 percent.

With some modest fluctuations, these percentages have generally held steady over the past five years for freshmen as a whole, though there are clear differences by sector and by student categories. For example, freshmen at four-year public and private institutions were, on average, twice as likely as freshmen at two-year public institutions to aspire to these advanced degrees. In addition, there is evidence that females are more likely than males to aspire to advanced degrees, traditional-age freshmen are more likely than adult freshmen to aspire to advanced degrees, and non-first-generation freshmen are more likely to aspire to advanced degrees than first-generation freshmen.

While half of all freshmen aspire to master’s or professional degrees, the reality is that less than half of entering freshmen nationally will complete even an undergraduate degree, according to the latest degree completion data from ACT. Many students of color, in particular, face obstacles. This is borne out, for example, in the latest Department of Education completion data for four-year institutions by race/ethnicity.
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Six strategies for launching online distance learning programs for colleges


Improving efficiency in higher education presents significant challenges to a college’s leadership, particularly when considering ways to improve the efficiency of the teaching/learning process. For example, consider online distance learning. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 25.8 percent of students at Title IV colleges and universities were enrolled in at least one online distance learning course in fall 2012. More than one out of every ten were enrolled exclusively in online distance learning programs, with one out of every five graduate students taking online distance courses exclusively.

Six strategies for launching online distance learning programs for colleges

More than one-quarter of college students take at least one online college course. (Click to enlarge.)

Why are so many students taking online courses? Because they offer tremendous convenience and flexibility. They also provide great efficiency and flexibility for administrators and faculty. Online courses require no management of physical classroom space, and faculty who might not be available during a specific day or time for an in-person class can now be scheduled to teach. In addition, adjunct faculty can reside in a different state, providing a broader pool of faculty candidates.

While online distance learning programs will surely grow in the coming years, there are many challenges in moving from on-ground instruction to online learning. These challenges can be intimidating to campuses and prevent them from taking advantage of this significant trend in learning modality.

However, the following six strategies can help your campus ensure a smooth launch of its online efforts, a launch that’s beneficial to your institution, instructors, and students.

1. Establish a clear vision for online distance learning. One of the greatest obstacles to online learning is fear that the culture, mission, and purpose of the institution will change. This fear can be felt from faculty, alumni, staff, students, and board members. By establishing a clear vision for online learning, you reassure constituents that convenience in learning does not automatically lessen the quality of the educational experience or outcomes. Sufficient research on the efficacy of online learning now exists and can be used to assuage fears. Researching other colleges with successful online distance learning programs can also be helpful in demonstrating the many positive benefits of online learning. Continue reading “Six strategies for launching online distance learning programs for colleges” »

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