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Admissions directors at four-year universities and community colleges are facing more pressure than ever, the latest Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors found.1 Controversies over admissions practices and student loan debt are just a few of the numerous challenges admissions directors now have on their plate. While career schools may not face all the same challenges as their peer institutions, there are nonetheless many parallels and valuable insights they can draw from these findings.

Meeting Enrollment Goals

Admissions directors are anxious about meeting their enrollment goals. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they were "very concerned" about meeting their goals for the 2015-2016 year, and 58 percent said they did not meet their goals. To boost enrollment, many colleges are turning toward recruiting out-of-state and international students. However, this is creating backlash in some areas, with some institutions such as the University of Iowa facing state pressure to recruit more in-state students.

Similarly, directors of admissions at career schools face the same pressures to drive enrollments. According to Penn Foster's 2014 Career Schools Industry Report, the number one challenge facing career school executives was how to increase enrollments. Likewise, career schools are contemplating a number of strategies to boost enrollments, be it investing in new course offerings, partnering with local youth organizations or investing in GED and high school programs to attract a broader range of students. It's important that career schools evaluate their current market and assess which strategies make most sense to invest in to drive enrollments.

Student Debt

Seventy-six percent of admissions directors say they are losing some applicants because of concern about debt levels, with this number rising to 87 percent at private institutions and 100 percent at community colleges. While some politicians are proposing debt-free college as a solution, most admissions directors agree that some debt is reasonable. Public and private institutions diverge over where debt should be capped, with private institutions more open to debt exceeding $20,000.

Admissions directors clearly cannot control what their institutions charge, but they should stay abreast of the latest financing options to better serve applicants with debt concerns. For career schools, concerns over student debt pose additional urgency due to the need to comply with new Gainful Employment regulations. Under the new regulations, career school graduates must meet set earnings-to-debt ratios for their schools to remain eligible for federal student aid.

To address this, career schools can implement several strategies. These include:

  • To focus on markets likely to meet Gainful Employment criteria, use analytics to identify predictors of graduation, post-graduation employment and debt repayment. This also helps counselors identify students likely to need additional support.
  • To reduce student debt, colleges can cap debt in proportion to institutional costs and provide more aggressive financial counseling to students more likely to borrow heavily, such as Pell Grant recipients, private student loan borrowers and Parent PLUS loan recipients.
  • To increase graduates' ability to repay loans, colleges can provide career counseling and work with employers on student internship and job placement programs.

Admissions Procedures

Another issue that has crossed admissions directors' desks recently has been new admissions procedures that forgo high school transcripts in favor of non-cognitive criteria. For instance, Goucher College has begun admitting students based on a two-minute video and some graded high school work.

About eight out of 10 admissions directors think this is a bad idea. Most administrators probably concur, so hopefully, relatively few admissions directors should have to deal with this issue. However, for career schools - which generally follow an open enrollment policy - it does raise the question of how to manage admissions procedures and channels in a way that promotes educational quality and not mere quantity of enrollments.

One step career schools can take is to stop accepting ability-to-benefit tests. ATB applicants have been shown to be less likely to graduate and repay loans than high school graduates and GED holders. Shifting recruiting focus to applicants with diplomas and GEDs will help promote both a healthier admissions process and better compliance with Gainful Employment standards.

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Resources: (1) Pressure from All Sides: The 2015 Survey of Admissions Directors