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Proving higher education's value.

Higher ed leaders continue to seek ways to prove their institution's value to a shrinking pool of college candidates.

In addition, a huge financial aid cloud hangs over everyone's heads: the one with that odd moniker of "prior-prior." While the hope is that FAFSA modifications will ultimately benefit students and institutions alike, 2016 is the big transitional year when changes go into effect (for the 2017-18 academic year), and it could make for a bumpy road. Or worse: It has the potential to turn admissions and financial aid offices into a land of confusion.

This new sense of urgency will require higher education leaders to start thinking about the 2017 admissions season as soon as possible--even while they're still making decisions for the 2016 incoming class. This big issue and more lies ahead in the world of college access and enrollment.

Getting ahead of prior-prior

Here's a quick crash course: Students will be able to file a 2017-18 FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2016, and they can do so using the family's 2015 tax returns (so instead of the prior year's tax figures, it's the prior-prior year's, hence the name). This could lead college-bound families to expect that an earlier FAFSA filing will result in colleges sending award letters out sooner. Or, at the very least, they'll want to see a school's published tuition price before they apply.

One thing's for sure: Institutions will have to do financial and enrollment planning much earlier than in the past, says Jerry Lucido, executive director for the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice at the University of Southern California. "They'll have to set tuition earlier, understand housing rates earlier, do projections earlier."

While it's uncertain how long it will take for schools to acclimate to the changes, the first year will be the problematic, Lucido predicts. But managing the transition well could present a big opportunity for the colleges that aggressively get out in front of the changes. "Prior-prior can be used as a fulcrum to get out better information about aid, indebtedness and value," he says, adding that the wisest administrators are already beginning to plan.

And as you'll see below, such information campaigns will become an increasingly vital recruitment strategy.

Another big FAFSA change is that colleges will no longer be able to see students' college selection lists, says financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. In the past, having access to this information helped in predicting class size and getting a read on the competition. It even helped admissions offers prioritize which students to contact (applicants who listed their institution first, for instance). "The FAFSA changes will make it more difficult to predict what the yield is going to be," says Kantrowitz, who has written extensively about financial aid policy and has testified before Congress about student aid on several occasions.

As prior-prior rolls out, schools will not only have to plan earlier, but do so without the predictive benefits of students' college selection lists. A bumpy road, indeed.

Targeting students in new ways

The changing demographics of college students means that schools might be forced to handhold more families who haven't experienced the admissions and financial aid processes at all. "The only growing segment in the traditional U.S. college-going market is made up of low-to-modest income students, most of whom are likely to be first-generation students," says Lucido.

With staff already stretched thin, the prospect of having to educate families, too, frightens some administrators. There's even pressure on higher education facilitators to go out to middle-schoolers to talk about curriculum, and how to save money for college, says Luke Schultheis, vice president for admissions and enrollment management at AACRAO. The problem? "There's a real gap in ability, in skill level, and who's available for what," he says, resulting in "lots of talk, but not lots of action."

That's where you'll start to see colleges and universities forming new partnerships to disseminate information. For example, he says, "Some colleges partner with nonprofits like The Posse Foundation that prepare first-generation students with much needed social capital like knowledge about the admission and financial aid process."

College Advising Corps is another like-minded group; its strategy is to send recent college graduates, who are often first-generation students, into high-needs high schools to counsel students on admissions and financial aid.

"Starting earlier than senior year is helpful," says Jaye Fenderson, co-producer of the documentary First Generation and co-founder of the newly launched Go College Now initiative with Wells Fargo. "The more schools can work with community-based mentoring organizations--the boots on the ground--to get that information out there, the better."

Arizona State University has had success with this approach, essentially using ambassadors to spread the word in the local community that the school is affordable and that it offers a quality education. Working with organizations in the metro-Phoenix area, ASU has increased the number of first-generation and low-income students by a large percentage, Fenderson says.

Playing defense

As families grow increasingly price sensitive, they're beginning to ask higher ed institutions about return-on-investment, Kantrowitz says. He predicts administrators will need to talk more about things such as net price, as well as the intangible benefits of a college education such as learning life skills and cultivating relationships, if they want to convince families that a post-secondary education is still a worthy investment.

In other words, says Schultheis of AACRAO, institutions must be proactive about explaining how their pricing will pay off in the long run--almost from a defensive position--to address negative media messages about indebtedness and post-college outcomes.

"We're stuck in the cyclone of noise. Instead of touting the wise investment in higher education, the media really hammers home this linear relationship between owing money and how much you're going to earn on the job," he says. "Many of my colleagues struggle with this."

For the next year or two at least, colleges will have to promote outcomes, says Lucido, as well as be empathetic to families who are facing financial struggles. "It's important for us to continue to make our value proposition."

Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, New York-based writer.


Monica Jacobe

Director, Center for American Language & Culture, The College of New Jersey

Topic: Tuition, financial aid

Trend: Students and parents, increasingly concerned about the costs of higher education in the U.S., will begin looking more carefully at why public institutions are more expensive than they used to be. The root cause is decreasing state funding, which will force those same parents and students to ask where their tax dollars are going to work for higher ed.

What's trending

* Throwback to quality print marketing materials as a way to stand out

* Targeting community college students as potential transfers

* Better transfer orientations

* Providing access to top-tier institutions (via the Coalition for College Access and Success' new application platform, coming in April 2016)

* Marketing robust academic programs to potential students, including more practical and professional studies at liberal arts colleges

What's fading

* Unlimited social media marketing experimentation (some schools are scaling down efforts where there are uncertain results)

* Ramping up amenities or discounting tuition to attract students

* Access to prospective students' college selection lists

* MOOCs as the ultimate solution to college access


Colleen Bielitz Chief business development officer, strategic planning and innovation, Becker College (Mass.)

Topic: Academic affairs

Trend: Nanodegrees will begin to grow as students seek particular skills that will allow them entree into specific industries. Colleges that offer nanodegrees geared toward developing high-demand skills (up-skilling) will gain a competitive advantage over other higher education institutions still offering just traditional degrees, because nanodegrees center solely on providing students with a new skill that employers will value.

Attracting students, making college affordable

Increasing enrollment will be the second highest priority for top campus leadership in 2016. Three-quarters of the approximately 100 chancellors, presidents and provosts surveyed named that goal as one of the four highest priorities among 10 items listed. Increasing selectivity, however, was named by only 4 percent as a priority.

Among the 95 admissions, enrollment and marketing readers responding to a separate survey, almost two-thirds expect enrollment to increase modestly or significantly; about one-third expect no change. First-generation students, non-traditional students (such as older adults) and students from other states are a few populations that schools are focused on growing.

Top admissions and marketing actions for the coming year include focusing more on data to track the entire student lifecycle, as well as creating new articulation agreements to make transfer to or from the institution easier.

In the area of financial literacy, 80 percent of respondents have a formal initiative. Popular actions for the coming year include plans to expand outreach to current students and more actively counsel students about the financial implications of academic decisions such as choice of major and course load. These programs will focus more on student loan debt as well as on broader financial literacy issues.

44% Presidents, chancellors and provosts who believe their institution's student success efforts in 2015 will positively impact access and enrollment

Top campus officials on financial and reputational harm

76% named enrollment declines as the biggest worry in 2016 and beyond, when asked to choose from a list of 15 potential issues that could harm the institution's name or stability

... but schools seem to be meeting the challenge for 2016

71% expect nontraditional enrollment to increase modestly or significantly

63% said traditional student enrollment would increase modestly or significantly

UB Survey; all percentages have been rounded

Sexual assault and reputational harm

22% of top campus officials said reputational issues related to sexual assault are of big concern to the leadership team

7% expect to be in the public eye for complaints students or staff have made about the handling of sexual assault allegations

On the agenda for 2016:

77% will engage in discussions about sexual assault policies and procedures in 2016 to ensure they are what they should be

51% plan to actively solicit feedback from the campus community about these policies and procedures

Yet ...

Fewer than 1 in 5 expect to roll out significant changes

Fewer than 1 in 10 expect to hire a person dedicated to addressing sexual assault allegations

UB Survey; all percentages have been rounded

Financial literacy initiatives in the coming year

More outreach to current students       44%

Financial literacy program
will be mandatory                        9%

More focus on student loan debt, in
recognition of default rate concerns    31%

More focus on broader financial
literacy issues, outside of student
loan debt                               31%

A new related website                    8%

New in-person events aimed at
increasing financial literacy           34%

New online events on
financial literacy                      20%

More active counseling of students
about the financial implications of
their course loads, GPA, choice of
major and debt                          42%

UB Survey; all percentages have been rounded

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Retention and graduation
rate shifts to come in 2016

Overall retention rate

Will increase significantly      6%
Will increase modestly          54%
Will stay the same              31%
Will decrease modestly           9%

Graduation rate

Will increase significantly    6%
Will decrease modestly         2%
Will increase modestly        59%
Will stay the same            33%

UB Survey; all percentages have been rounded

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Student population shifts to come in 2016

Overall student
changes expected

significantly       8%

modestly           56%

unchanged          22%

modestly           13%

significantly       1%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Need-based versus merit aid in 2016

40% of enrollment and financial aid administrators said need-based aid will increase

45% said need-based aid will stay the same

38% said merit aid will increase

49% said merit aid would stay the same

UB Survey; all percentages have been rounded

Published tuition rates

said tuition will
increase in 2016      72%

said it will
stay the same         19%

said it will
decrease               2%

weren't sure           6%

UB Survey; all percentages have been rounded

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Admissions and marketing actions for 2016

Crossing department lines to bolster student success/
completion                                              62%

Focusing more on data to track the entire student
lifecycle                                               62%

Creating new articulation agreements to make
transfer to or from the institution easier              50%

Partnering with high schools and/or community
colleges to improve college readiness                   41%

Taking a significant new approach to
recruitment                                             34%

Launching a re-branding campaign                        28%

Making significant changes
to the application process                              23%

Offering a shorter path to a degree                     20%

Making a significant effort to enroll more
students requiring financial aid                        11%

Stopping the SAT or ACT admissions requirement           2%

UB Survey; all percentages have been rounded

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Title Annotation:OUTLOOK: access and enrollment
Author:Papandrea, Dawn
Publication:University Business
Date:Jan 1, 2016
Previous Article:Outlook 2016: UB's second annual year-ahead issue reveals the latest trends and predictions for higher education in 2016.
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