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Can Marketing Save Falling University Enrollment Rates?

Hal Conick

Experts predict that university enrollment numbers will stagnate. Here’s how marketers are coming to the rescue.

Each new school year, the same boastful platitude rings out across American universities: “The largest class ever!” The campus cliché may be warranted. In fall 2017, 20.4 million people enrolled in colleges or universities, per the National Center for Education Statistics, which is equivalent to 6.2% of the American population. This was an increase of 5.1 million students from the fall of 2000.

However, the safety in numbers and clichés may be in danger. Public and private high school class sizes are stagnating, leaving university enrollment poised to drop. 

Amir Rasool, managing content director of higher education at Hanover Research, says enrollment numbers are predicted to be flat or decreasing over the next 15 years, save for an uptick in 2023. And universities can’t only worry about the future: Estimates from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show that enrollment was down 1.5% from spring 2016 to spring 2017 at U.S. institutions. When pulling back to 2015, nationwide enrollment is down 2.9%—a loss of more than 500,000 students.   

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Hal Conick is a freelance writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at halconick@gmail.com or on Twitter at @HalConick.