Scannell & Kurz Enrollment Management Blog

While Scannell & Kurz continues to provide the expert consulting and high level of service by which we define ourselves, as a division of Ruffalo Noel Levitz we also offer the benefits of our collaboration with a larger team of talented consultants.

Part of that collaboration involves our enrollment blog. Each week on this site, we have posted relevant research, insights, and recommendations to help you make the most of your strategies. We will now post to the Ruffalo Noel Levitz blog along with a good number of our colleagues—increasing the frequency and diversity of posts you’ll find on all manner of topics.

The Ruffalo Noel Levitz blog covers the key topics we have addressed: enrollment management, student retention, student recruitment, financial aid, and marketing. We are looking forward to not only continuing to share our insights with you, but to connect you with the additional strategies and recommendations of our new colleagues.

There’s also an option to subscribe for synopses of recent blog posts. You will continue to find, and be able to search, our archived blog posts here on this site.

We invite you to explore this resource—and to let us know if you’re looking for specific advice.


Distance from Home & Catholic Colleges - Monday Musings
I have written previous blogs about the distance from home that students travel to attend college. I find the statistics on the topic quite intriguing, in part because it seems that some institutions ignore the information in recruitment planning. I spent more than two decades working at a Catholic university in financial aid and enrollment. Here at S&K we work with many small, Catholic colleges, so that combination of previous and current work experience prompted me to dig a little deeper into distance from home stats for students attending Catholic colleges. The CIRP Freshman Survey (TFS) that Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) has been conducting for 50 years collects information about how far students venture from home to attend…Read more

Faith-Based Outcomes - Monday Musings
Scannell & Kurz client Cedarville University recently published an excellent article highlighting the results of a survey of their graduates showing they are doing an exceptional job of both preparing students for careers and graduate school and then in assisting them with placement after graduation. As I read the article, it brought to mind the shifting priorities of students enrolling at CCCU schools that were outlined in the CCCU/Noel Levitz market research study released in February 2010. Five years later seems an excellent time to review the results because the relevance continues to increase as faith-based institutions continue to face new enrollment challenges. If you are not familiar with the study, among other things, in 2000 and then…Read more

Planning & Borrowing for College - Monday Musings
When it comes to paying for college, we know that American families vary widely in their planning. Sallie Mae’s 2014 report, How America Pays For College, provides some interesting insights. The report is based on a survey Ipsos conducted for Sallie Mae of 1600 undergraduates and their parents in April 2014. The study found that 38% of families reported that they had a plan to pay for their student’s entire college education before the student enrolled. Responses differed significantly, though, by family income. The percentage of families reporting they had a plan decreased from the previous year for all but high-income families. In related research, RuffaloCODY repeated its Perceptions of Financial Aid survey of college-bound seniors and…Read more

Use Google Analytics to Measure Your Website's Effectiveness - Monday Musings
Today we would like to highlight a blog post that appeared on the Noel-Levitz website last week co-written by Stephanie Geyer, Jennifer Croft, and Alan Etkin. Stephanie directs website development and e-communications projects for Noel-Levitz; Jennifer is an SEO consultant; and Alan has extensive experience using web analytics to manage large transactional websites. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the single most cost-effective way to drive qualified traffic from prospective students to your campus website. Yet many campuses do not track key search metrics effectively, and either have an incomplete assessment of their search performance or are completely in the dark about it. Skeptical about how important this is? Try using these tips…Read more

Defining the Tuition Discount Rate - Monday Musings
Here at S&K, when asked by clients how we calculate the tuition discount rate, we have for many years said we view the NACUBO calculation – defined as institutional grant dollars as a share of gross tuition and fee revenue – as the industry standard (see, for example, publications on the NACUBO website here and here.) However, a client recently pointed out an exception noted at the bottom of a NACUBO report published in 2012, saying “[Total grant aid] does not include grant dollars that cover room and board or books.” (See the last paragraph of Study Essentials at the end of this report.) NACUBO has said they make this exception to allow them to maintain comparable discount rates among different types of institutions. Unfortunately,…Read more

Collaboration: Athletics and Admissions - Monday Musings
At institutions where student athletes comprise a significant percentage of new student enrollment, the partnership between the admissions office and athletic department is more important than ever. All too often, even in cases where there is a strong working relationship between the departments, data that are critical to ensure both recruitment and enrollment success are not flowing as freely as necessary between the two offices. The athletic recruiting process is high touch and labor intensive. Coaches must find time for multiple contacts with each recruit, by phone, text, email and in person. Just as admissions offices have turned to CRMs and other technologies to manage their recruitment processes, these increasing demands on coaches have…Read more

Right-Sizing Your Institution - Monday Musings
‘Right-sizing’ is a term that has long been in use in business, but in recent years has moved into common usage in higher education. Though sometimes used as a euphemism for ‘downsizing,’ it more rightly refers to an effort to optimize enrollment with existing human resources, programs and facilities – namely, fixed costs. There are a host of factors that should go into this analysis, where an institution is essentially attempting to match demand with the school’s capacity to meet that demand. The list that follows begins with several internal factors to consider – most of which the institution has some ability to control – and then continues with external factors, over which the institution has limited or no control. [Note:…Read more

The CRM Implementation Cycle - Monday Musings
The Economist recently published this graphic in its #dailychart feature. It’s a graphic representation of Gartner's emerging technologies ‘hype cycle,’ and shows where selected technologies stand in a 10+ year cycle of adoption. Looking at this curve, I was reminded of the number of our clients who are in the midst of their own technology adoptions as they implement new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software in the admissions office. The descriptions of the different segments of the curve seemed to coincide pretty well with many users’ experiences with CRM implementation. If you’ve been through this process recently, you'll remember the sequence of events. You went through the process of reviewing several alternative products,…Read more

Students’ Perceptions of Financial Aid: A Follow Up - Monday Musings
In June, we had a post in this blog that talked about a RuffaloCODY/Scannell & Kurz survey that found that many rising high school seniors relied heavily on their school counselors for information on college financial aid. When students were asked where they had gotten information on financial aid, only college websites (with 40% of students citing them as a source) ranked higher than high school counselors (33%) as a source of information. We conducted a follow-up to this survey in late spring, reaching out to 850 of these same seniors who had agreed to be contacted again at the end of their college search process. Of all of the findings, perhaps the most surprising was the change in responses to the question of the importance students assigned…Read more

Distance From Home - Monday Musings
Distance from home. It’s an important part of the college decision-making process for many families. I was reminded of the importance recently when dear friends were visiting campuses with their second oldest. Her older brother attended a college about 7 hours from home. Their third, much younger child named Colin, missed his brother in a big way while he was away at college. When Colin accompanied his sister and family on the college visit circuit, he was worried his sister would also choose a college far from home. He was known to regularly remark after a visit: “Too far, Meg, pick another.” It remains a secret whether or not Meg’s younger brother influenced her college choice, however, she did attend a college less than an hour away. Distance…Read more

Understand Where Your Non-Matriculants Enrolled - Monday Musings
At the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute in early January, S&K's Jim Scannell and Bob Sevier (Sr. VP, Strategy - Stamats) heard a number of presidents mention a need for a greater understanding of not only their ability to set their price, but also the factors that should be considered when setting their price. In response, Bob and Jim decided to write a series of short blog posts on tuition pricing and related topics. Their goal - “to provide a bit more clarity on key issues related to pricing, so college and university leaders can have more confidence as they set their pricing strategy.” This series of observations is appearing here as well on the Stamats website: In revising your pricing strategy,…Read more

Average vs. Total Net Tuition Revenue & Why You Have To Look At Both - Monday Musings
I recently read a paper in which a set of institutions were extolled for having held their freshman discount rates constant over the last few years since the economic recovery. And because those same institutions had increased their charges, the average net tuition revenue (NTR) generated by each enrolling student had also increased, which was also extolled. However, what was missing from the paper was any discussion of what had happened to enrollments and the total NTR generated by the incoming classes at those institutions. Without that additional information, it is possible that total NTR could have declined sharply even if average NTR increased—and it is total NTR that drives the economic engine of the institution. Certainly, if all of…Read more

Athletic Spending, Part 2 - Monday Musings
My colleague Kathy Kurz’s recent post on athletic expenditures inspired me to look at the issue on a local level. Not long ago, the sports section of my hometown newspaper included an article about expenditures on athletics at the local university, which happens to be my alma mater. The article pointed out that my school consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the conference in dollars spent on athletics. (To be fair, the writer pointed out how competitive some of the teams have been, even with smaller budgets.) But more importantly, in comparing athletic expenditures, the article failed to take into account differences in enrollment among the institutions. Wondering how different the ranking of expenditures might look if based on cost…Read more

Reading the Tea Leaves - Monday Musings
This is the annual hand wringing season. Admissions, financial aid, and enrollment leadership have (or will have shortly) made the offer of admissions to the class of 2018 applicants and now it is time to wait, watch, and worry whether enough or too many of the chosen ones will enroll. What are the most helpful metrics right now for trying to estimate how many will eventually make that decision to enroll? Certainly, understanding whether the profile of the admit pool mirrors that of last year, or is different, is a good place to start. Is it bigger or smaller? Are the need distribution and quality profile comparable or different in significant ways? Has the geographic profile changed? Does the admit pool show a higher proportion of out-of-state…Read more

Aligning Price & Prestige - Monday Musings
At the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute in early January, S&K's Jim Scannell and Bob Sevier (Sr. VP, Strategy - Stamats) heard a number of presidents mention a need for a greater understanding of not only their ability to set their price, but also the factors that should be considered when setting their price. In response, Bob and Jim decided to write a series of short blog posts on tuition pricing and related topics. Their goal - “to provide a bit more clarity on key issues related to pricing, so college and university leaders can have more confidence as they set their pricing strategy.” These observations will appear here over the next several weeks, as well on the Stamats website: Aligning Price…Read more

“If you build it...” - Monday Musings
[Note: This post is provided by Mike Williams, President of the Austen Group, which recently became part of RuffaloCODY. The Austen Group provides institutional research and analysis to private colleges and universities in the areas of curriculum and cost, inquiry to enrollment modeling, and retention.] The story of the National Labor College (Inside Higher Ed, November 14, 2013) is a sad and unfortunate one. The closing of any college, regardless of size, diminishes the diversity of American higher education. The current, and presumably last, president of National Labor, Paula Peinovich, offers a heartfelt warning to her presidential peers: “Don’t build fancy buildings without a business model that works. Don’t build a lot of buildings.…Read more

It’s Not Just About the Money (But It Will Be If You Let It), Part 2 - Monday Musings
[Note: This week’s post is the conclusion to Kathy Kurz’ entry from last week, talking about how to make the case for your institution’s value proposition.] In addition to knowing yourself and knowing your graduates: Third, know your competition. How do they talk about their programs? Can you provide compelling evidence that the attributes of your programs that are distinctive compared to your competition add value for your graduates? Previous S&K posts have highlighted the importance of collecting data from the National Student Clearinghouse on where admits who did not enroll at your institution ultimately matriculated.Use this information to determine if there are specific academic majors where you “lose” to a particular institution…Read more

Saving Non-Enrolled Student Aid Data - Monday Musings
Why keep data on institutional aid awards in your student information system after admitted students tell you they won’t be enrolling in the fall? After all, you’ll probably never see these students again. Why take a chance that these dollars might find their way into internal and external reports of enrolled student aid? A surprising number of institutions still feel this way about aid data for non-enrolling students. The reason for keeping a record of those awards is simple and compelling – you can’t understand the role institutional merit and need-based aid play in prospective students’ enrollment decisions without data from enrolling and non-enrolling students. The best methods used to analyze the impact of scholarship and grant…Read more

When Bigger May Not Be Better - Monday Musings
Do you spend a lot of time thinking about ways to increase your applicant pool? Be sure you’re considering the consequences. Admissions statistics from the Integrated Postsecondary Educations Data System (IPEDS) show that schools that experienced a decrease in applications from 2011 to 2012 had mixed results in terms of changes in yield. On the other hand, institutions that increased applications were three times more likely to see a decline in yield than an increase in yield. In addition, if you factor in all of the added expenses associated with a larger applicant pool, then more may not really be better. The IPEDS data are shown below, based on 775 public and private four-year institutions with 1,000 or more enrolled undergraduates and…Read more

Standing Out From the Crowd (Pt 2): Savvy Use of Outcomes Data - Monday Musings
In my previous post, I mentioned that my nephew had been to visit a campus, and he and his parents were quite taken with it. Why did this institution stand out? One reason is that the Director of Admission remembered talking with him at his high school, but the biggest influencer was that they had provided solid information about graduate outcomes. My brother-in-law is an engineer, and had been grappling with understanding the value of liberal arts. In doing his homework, he noticed that many liberal arts institutions have been addressing this issue head-on. We talked about how STEM graduates tend to have higher starting salaries, hence a more immediate return on investment, however it’s been shown that in the longer-term, salaries of those…Read more

Student Views on the Difficulty of Paying For College - Monday Musings
Recent improvements in the economy haven’t alleviated families’ concerns about paying for college. RuffaloCODY recently conducted a telephone survey of 1600 current high school sophomores, juniors and seniors and found that 22% felt that paying for their college education was going to be “Quite difficult”, while 62% felt it would be “Somewhat difficult.” The results were nearly identical to those of a similar survey conducted last year. Perhaps not surprisingly, the proportion expecting that paying for college would be “Quite difficult” increased as students got older and the prospect of college got closer. Students in the south are more sanguine about their prospects. Finally, the results also differ somewhat as a function…Read more

Getting the Data Right - Monday Musings
When it comes to supplying data for IPEDS, Common Data Set, surveys, etc., colleges and universities take a variety of approaches. A number of institutions have sufficiently-staffed Institutional Research offices that have the time and expertise to produce the requisite data, and have protocols in place to ensure its accuracy. But frankly, there are many institutions that don’t have that luxury. Often, completion of federal and state reporting requirements turns out to be a team effort because either there is no full-time IR person or the data for a particular office is deemed “too complicated” for anyone but a staff member from that office to gather (e.g., financial aid). Consequently, the point person responsible for ensuring that data…Read more

Institutional Health Metrics - Monday Musings
I was recently asked by a firm that invests in student housing, "How would an institution's long term enrollment health and sustainability be measured?" After a discussion with the S&K team, here's a first pass at a list of metrics: Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s ratings, especially any recent changes Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) high school graduate projections for the school’s primary market area Recent trend in number of applications and completion rates (freshmen, transfers) Recent trend in accept rate of completed applications (freshmen, transfers) Recent trend in yield rate (freshmen, transfers) Recent trend in discount rate (freshmen, transfers, all undergraduates) Recent trend in freshman-to-sophomore…Read more

Conducting an Effective Pilot Study - Monday Musings
In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Becky Supiano described the results of an experiment that shed light on the question of why high-achieving, low-income students don’t enroll as often in the selective colleges that high-achieving, wealthier students attend. The great value of the study stems from the fact that it was an experiment – not in the sense we often use the word (“I’m going to try this as an experiment.”), but in the scientific sense, where two similar groups are subjected to different “treatments” of some kind to assess whether they have a differential impact. This is just one example of the sort of questions enrollment managers routinely face when wondering what kinds of policy changes might affect…Read more

Data Sharers and Data Hoarders - Monday Musings
Have you read Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? The first thing on his list is “share everything.” There are many people on college campuses whose professional positions require that they provide reports and data analysis. These professionals can often be categorized into two groups – data sharers and data hoarders. As their “types” would indicate, data sharers are quick to provide charts, tables, and reports to their colleagues to keep them informed about topics of common interest. Many of them are genuinely excited to share data and presentation techniques. Then there are the data hoarders. At times, they may get hung up on the power of information and tend to hold data close to the vest.…Read more

Ask What Your Data Can Do For You - Monday Musings
Institutions collect all sorts of data... some because they have to (IPEDS reporting, for example), some because they want to (say, for institutional research). They look at financial aid expenditures, socio-economic trends, enrollment behavior… you’ve seen the reports. But not everyone fully appreciates the value of their own data. With the rapid onset of data warehouses, CRM’s, etc., most institutions aren’t suffering from a shortage of data. But many are having trouble matching the increasing volume of data with the capability to put the data to use in improving institutional policies, decision making, and resource allocation. With the highly competitive marketplace that exists in higher education, institutions can’t afford not…Read more

Adding Web Metrics To Your Key Performance Indicators - Monday Musings
It’s become essential for enrollment managers to use a collection of critical metrics – a dashboard, key performance indicators (KPIs) or some other set of measures – to monitor their institution’s progress throughout the recruitment cycle. These commonly include statistics like the number of inquiries, applicants, admits, deposits, campus visitors and FAFSA filers, as well as ratios like acceptance rate, yield, net tuition revenue per student and discount rate. Back in the days of the horse and buggy (when I got my start in admissions) the original dashboards prevented unpleasant surprises from hitting you in the face and they helped you to clearly see the road ahead – pretty much the same thing we’re using these statistical dashboards…Read more

Update on Student Debt Stats - Monday Musings
In early summer Kathy Kurz wrote a blog about the media frenzy surrounding student loan debt reaching $1 trillion. Now that fall has arrived and new statistics are available, I thought I would share a few. According to the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), here are some interesting statistics on student debt for the Class of 2011, those who graduated from four-year public and not-for-profit colleges and universities: 1 in 3 students graduated with no student loan debt. That’s $0 debt. For the two-thirds who did borrow, average debt compared to the class of 2010 increased 5.3%, from $25,250 to $26,600. Unemployment for college graduates, a contributing factor to the concern…Read more

National Trends of Note - Monday Musings
The Chronicle’s annual Almanac came out this year at the same time as NACUBO’s 1962-2012 retrospective. In looking at the trends reported in these two publications, I took note of a few that I wanted to highlight in this week’s blog. From the Chronicle of Higher Education 2012 Almanac: For students who started college in fall 2006, the most common transfer destination for students who started at a four-year institution was a two-year institution. Looking specifically at students who started at private non-profit schools, slightly more than 40% of those who transferred went to two-year publics. Slightly less than 40% went to four-year publics and only about 20% went to other four-year private not-for-profits. These statistics surprised…Read more

National Student Clearinghouse - Monday Musings
If you are already using the National Student Clearinghouse’s (NSC) many services, you can stop reading this blog now. However, I continue to be surprised by the number of institutions that are not taking advantage of this valuable source of information. First, a brief primer about the NSC: They were originally founded in 1993 to serve as a clearinghouse for verifying enrollment, initially primarily for loan deferment purposes – a function that previously was handled by individual registrar’s offices. Since that time, they have expanded to offering many other services including degree verification, the StudentTracker service which is discussed more below, electronic transcript exchange, and now student self-service options. Per the NSC…Read more

Not All Applications Are Created Equal - Monday Musings
Tracking yield rates by various subpopulations is a standard procedure for most admissions offices. In-state and out-of-state; male and female; minority and non-minority; aid filers and non-filers; early action and regular decision; high school GPA levels; SAT/ACT levels. You get the picture. Yields vary by subpopulation, therefore as the application cycle progresses and admissions/enrollment is being asked for projections, it is important to understand how changes in the admit pool in certain categories may affect yield. When an institution embarks on a new application-generating approach, such as a pre-populated application from the search pool, membership in the Common Application, or other methods, it is with the expectation that the number…Read more

Auto-packaging vs. Predictive Modeling: A Tale of Two Approaches - Monday Musings
Financial aid offices experience very tangible benefits from automated award packaging. Staff members spend less time manually calculating and entering award amounts and have more time to spend counseling students. Improving students’ (and parents’) understanding of their financial aid packages improves their ability to make informed decisions about college. There is also the benefit to the financial aid operation of reducing the errors that inevitably result from manual processes. These are significant tactical improvements in a critical enrollment function. In addition, many institutions use auto-packaging as a test exercise to estimate the impact of changes in awarding policies on the aid budget, or to understand potential losses in…Read more

Elastic or Inelastic, That is the Question - Monday Musings
If you work in the Admissions or Financial Aid office of your institution you’ve probably heard a hundred different students say, “If you could just find a way to give me a couple thousand extra dollars in scholarships, then I’d enroll.” Or perhaps something like this, “University X is offering me $16,000 in grants and you’re only offering me $15,000? Isn’t there anything you can do to match their offer?” Students and their families have become savvy consumers. Some are facing financial hardships, others are just looking to get the best deal possible, and most aren’t afraid to ask for more money. The big questions for college administrators are, “Should we offer these students a little more money?” “Will it increase our…Read more

Limits of Modeling - Monday Musings
When I was part of an admissions office, every day in April at 10:00 AM, you could have mistaken the tension and excitement in the office for an episode of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, brought on by the arrival of the mail bin. Enrollment deposits that arrived via phone were harkened by the ringing of a bell, and we each took guesses at what the final tally for the day would be once the web payments were counted. If we had a particularly good day, the news traveled like wildfire across campus. Wherever I went, on campus or off, if I ran into someone I knew, I would invariably be asked how the numbers looked. Anticipation was in the air, even with sophisticated data tracking and aid strategies developed through predictive modeling in…Read more

Measuring, Moving, & Markets - Monday Musings
Last week was office moving day for a few folks at S&K. We are hiring another research analyst, the second time in three years that the research team has expanded in order keep up with the demand for our core services, which require significant data analysis and predictive modeling. The move into “new territory” for some S&K staffers made me think of what should happen when an admissions office decides to expand into new markets/geographic territories. In preparation for our office move, there was measuring, measuring, and more measuring, all in an effort to make the move very efficient once the professional movers arrived to begin the heavy lifting. There was none of the “how does this look here?” or “do you think this will fit there?”…Read more

Thoughts on Reading the 2011 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study Report - Monday Musings
The recently released NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study for 2011 starts off with the following quote: "Many four‐year private nonprofit (independent) colleges and universities use tuition discounting strategies in order to increase their undergraduate enrollments. Unfortunately, data from the 2011 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study (TDS) suggests that this strategy is no longer working effectively at a large number of colleges and universities." From our perspective, this view of the data gathered in the study is overly simplistic, and points out limitations in the analysis. For many institutions across the country, discount rates have increased over the last few years NOT because those institutions have introduced more generous packaging policies…Read more

Cleaning Up Data Messes - Monday Musings
Have you ever been responsible for cleaning up a big mess? I’m talking about a mess so big that you don’t even know where to begin. Maybe some of your attics, garages, or basements fit that description. I know my garage does for certain: tools piling up all over the place, boxes full of various things, rakes, shovels, a chipper/shredder, and a wheelbarrow round out the mess. Most of the items in my garage are actually useful for my home improvements projects; however in their current state of disorganization, it’s a challenge to find the item I need in a timely manner. Looking at my messy garage or maybe your messy attic we can all have a bit of a laugh; when it comes to your data at work though, no one is laughing. So what do you do?…Read more

Is Distorted Data Driving You Down? - Monday Musings
A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Don Gray discussed how to get the most value out of your data. He stressed the importance of preserving both enrolled and non-enrolled data to facilitate future data analysis. But there is more to it than just storing your data to perform meaningful analysis. Data needs to be captured, transferred, and recorded accurately; otherwise you will quickly be looking at a "garbage in, garbage out" situation. In order to avoid putting yourself in this "trashy" state, I have listed several common data errors that I have found in my experiences as a researcher: Deleting non-enrolled aid: The only way to do proper analysis on how financial aid impacts enrollment is to look at the money offered to all admitted students,…Read more

Getting the Most Value Out of Your Data - Monday Musings
I’ve spent the past six and a half years analyzing higher education data for more than sixty institutions, from large public universities to small private liberal arts colleges. The most common data challenge I find is institutions deleting data on students who were admitted, but ultimately decided not to enroll. I’ve found many institutions do well at recording any data they can get their hands on, but then preserve only the data for enrolled students. One common example is need-based aid, which often gets cancelled, without being archived, for non-enrolled students. In the aggregate, your final enrollment, discount rate, diversity and SAT/ACT numbers don’t tell the whole story. It’s often important to dig deeper, analyzing results…Read more