Shifting Gears: The Accelerated College Application of Predictive Enrollment Management

This is the third and final installment of the three-part series discussing how big data algorithms and predictive analytics are driving college admissions and merit aid decisions in the digital age.

Part 1 - What Moneyball Can Teach Us About College Admissions and Merit Aid

Part 2 - Big Data and Predictive Analytics Enroll in College

This article cites real examples of how colleges are actively managing their admissions protocols to the bottom line via enrollment management. This includes ways to limit the number of students they accept based on historical data, incenting college presidents to manage to the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings via compensation packages, and using merit aid as a tool to induce interested qualified students to enroll at their institutions.

Colleges today are not looking for students with the highest grades and test scores. They are looking for students with the highest grades (and perhaps test scores) who are likely to enroll and thrive at their institutions.

The Tufts Syndrome - Is Safety the New Reach?

Yield protection (commonly referred to as Tufts syndrome) is an admissions practice where a university or academic institution rejects or wait-lists highly qualified students on the grounds that such students are bound to be accepted by more prestigious universities or programs.”

Stories involving yield protection date back to the early part of this century when the importance of the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings began to really take hold. In 2001, the Wall Street Journal reported how the admissions director at Franklin and Marshall College, Gregory Goldsmith, “spurned 140 of its smartest applicants.” Goldsmith’s decision was based on historical data showing that only a half-dozen or so of these highly qualified students actually enrolled at Franklin & Marshall. Because these applicants positioned Franklin and Marshall as one of their safety schools and demonstrated no other form of interest in attending, Goldsmith concluded that issuing acceptances only served to increase the school’s acceptance rates (bad) and lower the school’s yield (also bad).

They think they’re Ivy League material and we’re not Harvard!
— Gregory Goldsmith, Franklin & Marshall College

This episode was an early indicator of proactive enrollment management principles at work. Pressured to accept the lowest number of students needed to fill an incoming class, colleges learned how to use data to assess enrollment probabilities. The biggest impact is arguably at the safety school level where colleges know they are sitting behind an applicant’s reach and target schools. “As the admissions process becomes more digital, it makes sense that data analytics would play an increasing role in the admissions office determining the depth of a student’s interest,” says Peter Zimmermann, a past Stanford admissions officer.

Students who simply click a box on the Common Application to apply to their safest college choices without doing anything else to trigger enrollment interest are finding it increasingly difficult to get into their safety schools.

NYIT’s Presidential Pay Proves Point

Let’s take a look at how predictive enrollment management was institutionalized at the New York Institute of Technology (“NYIT”).

NYIT is a small, private, non-profit, comprehensive senior institution of higher education, chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York in 1955. NYIT offers approximately 90 degree programs, including undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, in more than 50 fields of study.

Edward Guiliano was the president of NYIT from 2000 - 2017.

In 2016, Mr. Guiliano ranked as the fifth most highly compensated college president in the country.

That’s right, the president of little old NYIT was the fifth most highly compensated college president in the country in 2016.

In 2016, Guiliano’s $2,733,651 of total compensation included a base salary of $766,712, a performance bonus of $1,655,021, and other pay of $311,918. Let’s take a look at what President Guiliano did to earn his bonus and why the trustees of NYIT would agree to such a large compensation package.

In 2013-14, NYIT management decided to proactively increase enrollment by implementing more aggressive recruitment and targeted financial aid strategies. NYIT launched an algorithmic based website as part of this campaign. NYIT also engaged the consulting firm, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, to more aggressively market NYIT’s degree offerings to high school students and to better target institutional scholarships to particular students.

NYIT also used big data to increase retention and graduation rates. At NYIT, data showed that successful students who exhibited a strong interest in design, problem-solving and using their hands are likely a better fit for the highly technical programs than are those who leaned toward liberal arts.

“That information can’t easily be gleaned from a GPA or SAT score,” stated Mark Hampton in 2017, when the vice president for enrollment and enterprise analytics at NYIT. “What we’re looking for is that aptitude, that interest—which can be deduced by social media profiles, and from activities in high school and outside of the classroom. It’s why someone who identifies as a gamer and who loves science fiction and enters math competitions would likely be a better fit at NYIT than someone who’s an Emily Dickinson buff.”

Like all things digital, the use of data in college recruiting and admissions has only just begun. “We’ve moved from traditional institutional research to business intelligence to data science departments,” says Hampton. “Most universities realize this is how you need to play the game. And if not, you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage.”

As a result of the increased focus on enrollment and retention, NYIT’s undergraduate applications and acceptances increased by 47% and 36%, respectively, by the academic year 2015-16. NYIT’s graduation rates also improved and these successes boosted NYIT’s USNWR ranking.

This all led to President Guiliano meeting his performance-based bonus objectives and earning his $1.6 million incentive bonus in 2016. College planners cannot underestimate how powerful the incentivized dollar is at driving the analytical approach into college admissions. College admissions, once a pastoral calling, is now a science.

Rollins College and Automated Student Targeting

Rollins College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college, founded in 1885 and located in Winter Park, Florida. Rollins has about 30 undergraduate majors and several graduate programs. In 2017 it was ranked #2 Regional Universities, South by U.S. News & World Report.

In 2015, Rollins College appointed Faye Tydlaska as the College’s new vice president for enrollment management. The vice president for enrollment management oversees the admission, financial aid, and marketing and communications teams at Rollins College. There is a growing trend among colleges to place enrollment management above admissions, financial aid, and marketing.

This is a study of how one student who positioned Rollins College as a safety school was able to leverage enrollment management to maximize her value to the school. Rollins College uses Slate as its CRM enrollment management tool.

After registering on the school’s website, this student followed Rollins College from her LinkedIn account.

 
 

Within 12 hours after following Rollins College on LinkedIn, she received a system-generated email triggered by Rollins’ enrollment management system.

 
 

This type of email is not at all unusual. Applicants who show a modicum of interest in a school should expect to receive these teasers. Last month on Reddit, a high school senior analyzed all the 2,374 emails and notices he received from colleges during his college application process. While many of these emails were unsolicited (thanks to the College Board for selling student information collected at PSAT/SAT sessions to colleges), the most intriguing messages were from schools this applicant was interested in attending.

The average number of emails for colleges I applied to was only 9.7, though that includes colleges that didn’t send me any emails at all. If you exclude colleges that didn’t send any emails to me, then it goes up to 14.5, still lower than the average of all the colleges that sent me emails. (As a reminder, the average number of emails sent for all colleges that sent me mail was 18.9.)
— Reddit user Popopopper123

Now, getting back to our student and Rollins College. Rollins was not her first choice school but it was the school she positioned for maximized merit aid. She knew the school had a highly rated program for the field of study she wanted to pursue so she took Rollins up on their offer and applied to the college using her special link. This student was recently accepted to Rollins College and received a merit offer of $30k per year for a 3.0 and above for 4 years = $120k total tuition savings.

Whether your student is seeking acceptance into a highly selective college or looking to properly position themselves for a max merit package, learning how to use social media to tally interest and to showcase fit has become an indispensable college prep tool.

Today – before a single human eye glances at a test score or the opening line of an essay – admission decisions are being pre-sifted by machine, using AI-driven “predictive analytics” fueled by data reaped from the Internet. Colleges rely on these “enrollment management systems” to accurately predict things like an applicant’s intention to enroll, their likelihood to succeed, and their ability to pay. And applicants ignore this new reality at their peril.