As Ithaca College predicts a drop in its applicant pool by about 1,700 students for the 2015–16 academic year, the Office of Admission is employing new strategies for reaching out to accepted students to encourage them to enroll, while individual schools strengthen their current tactics.
Eric Maguire, vice president of enrollment and communication, said the college is expecting to receive around 16,500 applicants for Fall 2015, which is down from the record-high pool of 18,208 applicants for Fall 2014.
The decrease is coming off two years of significant gains, which Maguire said is to be expected.
“We’re not going to continue that forever, particularly in an environment in which demographics are going down,” he said. “That’s something we had anticipated.”
The changing demographic refers to the numbers of graduating high school seniors in the Northeast decreasing since 2008. Though the college saw a record applicant pool last year, it was also the year the college under-enrolled by about 150 students, which Maguire attributed to the demographic challenges and a higher tier of more competitive students.
He also said the college has done less advertising for this round of prospective students, but he has yet to analyze whether this had a direct relationship to the drop-off in applicants.
Though the applicant pool is down, Maguire indicated the enrollment numbers may be looking up. Maguire said paid interests, meaning students who have placed down payments on tuition, are tracking ahead of past years’ numbers. The number of early decision applicants is also 20 students ahead of expected, he said.
“So hopefully some of the things that we’re putting in place in terms of yielding some of our admitted students is beginning to show signs or glimmers of working, and we’ll hope to have continued success throughout the next several months here,” he said.
In an effort to prevent another shortfall, Maguire said the college is employing a new tactic to improve yield this year: a calling campaign. Through a partnership with RuffaloCODY, a strategic fundraising and enrollment management software firm, the college will pay students to make calls to admitted applicants to their respective schools or programs and talk to them about the college and answer any questions.
Maguire said through this initiative, the college aims to reach about 7,000 more students. There will also be a control group of admitted students set aside to not receive calls so that the college has a basis for comparing the effectiveness of this campaign.
“We take a fairly experimental approach,” he said. “If we’re investing our budget resources into something, we want to know that it works … If it doesn’t, then there’s no sense in us spending what is largely student tuition dollars on initiatives that don’t work.”
In addition, he said the admissions office has created a new position this semester specifically to handle the recruitment of international students. Whereas before these responsibilities were shared among administrators in the office, now Eric Weinhold, associate director of international admission, will be the point person.
Individual schools like the School of Health Science and Human Performance plan to work with admissions on deciding best practices for their recruitment efforts. John Sigg, acting HSHP dean, said the school will not be employing new or different strategies to recruit prospective students.
HSHP plans to continue its practices of fostering faculty and student participation in open houses; reaching out to prospective students through IC Peers, an online forum for student applicants, and e-cards; and communicating the success rates of the school’s programs, Sigg said.
“Our new strategy is just making sure we do our best with our old strategies,” he said. “I really want admissions to take the lead — they’re the professionals, and they need to tell us what they know what works.”
Diane Gayeski, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications, said the Park School plans to continue its current strategies as well.
Rather than changing strategies, the School of Business is expanding a program that began last year. This is the second year of the High School Investment Competition, where the business school invites teams of students from local high schools to invest virtual stocks and compete to gain the most returns on investment, Dawn Kline, assistant dean of the business school, said. This spring, over 500 students from 115 teams in 45 high schools will be coming to the campus for an award ceremony, which is more than double the participation from last year, the pilot year for the program.
Though it attracts students, the initiative was born as a way to highlight the school’s investment track, which Kline said is a part of the bigger picture.
“Business programs are fairly common across colleges, so to get students who maybe have been admitted to five schools to pick the business program at Ithaca, we really have to tell that story about what makes the experience here unique,” she said. “I like to think that we’re not only chasing an enrollment target, but that hitting the enrollment target is a natural part of the process of always trying to make the college better.”