National high school graduation rates are on the rise, according to the 2015 report on Building a Grad Nation, jointly issued by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.1 After dropping below 75 percent in 2006, the average graduation rate has climbed each year, reaching 80 percent in 2012 and 81.4 percent in 2013. If graduation levels continue to rise at this rate, the GradNation coalition expects it can achieve its goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020.
This is great news both for students and career colleges - and yet at the same time, it presents colleges with a challenge. How do we attract this increase of potential students in an educational environment made more competitive by the rise of online education, the growing cost of schooling and limited scholarship funding? To compete in this changing educational marketplace, career colleges will need to refocus their recruitment efforts on offerings that will appeal to the emerging student population.
Serving a New Generation of Graduates
Recruiters must adapt their strategies to meet the needs of a changing marketplace driven by several key trends which have been identified by the National Center for Education Statistics.2 One major trend is an anticipated racial shift in the student demographic, with the latest data projecting a 27 percent increase in Hispanic students enrolled in postsecondary education, 26 percent more Black students, and 7 percent more Asian/Pacific Islanders by 2022 (as compared to 2011 levels). These changes will increase the number of students speaking English as a second language.
Meanwhile, the number of women enrolled will increase 17.7 percent, compared to an 8.9 percent increase in men. The number of students aged 25 to 34 will increase 20 percent, correlating with an increase in the percentage of part-time students and graduate students. The number of associate's degrees conferred will increase 49 percent, while the number of master's degrees will grow 36 percent and the number of doctor's degrees will grow 24 percent, compared to a 17 percent increase in bachelor's degrees.
Increasing College Enrollments
Recruitment efforts must adapt to include these emerging demographic segments while retaining the demographics that comprise the current student base. Outreach to Hispanic, Black, and Asian individuals as well as women must increase. This will require support from staffs with highly-qualified bilingual and English as a Second Language teachers, along with financing programs to support the needs of people of color, single parents and working parents. Mobile and local Internet marketing must form a major part of this promotional outreach, in light of Google research showing that 83 percent of all education-related queries begin with non-branded keyword searches (not related to a particular educational institution) and one out of four researchers never consult non-Internet sources.3
Reaching out to Noncompleters
Meanwhile, recruiters should not lose sight of the potential represented by the nearly 19 percent of high school students who do not graduate. Strong evidence by researchers such as Eleanor Harvill show that college access programs can increase the rate of college enrollment.4 Colleges can attract noncompleters by supporting such programs along with non-traditional opportunities to complete high school. Penn Foster's High School Completion Program illustrates how today's technology can be adapted to recruit students who would have not been prospects for college in a traditional structure.
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