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With Dropping College Enrollments, Students and Parents Have Real Buying Power

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College student trends show dropping enrollments at universities and colleges around the country. Parents, use these trends to find schools that will enroll students like yours—and give you more free money for college. 


If you follow college student trends, you’re aware that most universities and colleges in the United States are anticipating an admissions crisis. As outlined in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, Demographic Changes as Destiny in College Admissions? It’s Complicated, Carleton College professor of economics Nathan D. Grawe says several trends will put pressure on colleges in the coming years, particularly second-tier/less selective institutions.

The College Landscape:  College Student Trends

  • Based on demographic changes, most U.S. colleges and universities will see reduced enrollment by the late 2020s
  • Colleges that try to increase enrollment in the short term may find this strategy unsustainable
  • As applications drop and student populations shrink, student retention will become increasingly important
  • Ivy League and highly selective colleges will be mostly immune to these trends, and will remain ultra-competitive

Because of changing demographics, Grawe also notes that impacted colleges may have to cast wider nets when it comes to recruiting. With the exception of elite colleges and highly selective universities, which already build their student population from applicants the world over, second-tier and regional colleges may have to start looking to new markets for incoming and transfer students, instead of their local regions per usual. This shift in admissions strategy may be especially pronounced in regions like the Northeast, where a glut of small colleges typically draw their student population from local communities. So as the applicant pool decreases, colleges in certain regions may have to change their recruiting strategies to go farther afield.


Use Your Buying Power

So, what does this mean for you? In sum: As parents of high school students, it gives you real bargaining power, especially if you’re considering second tier colleges (e.g., a regional college that is eager to attract and retain students). Look at this higher ed trend like a consumer, and see how you can leverage economic factors (especially regional ones) to make college more affordable for you.


Simply put: Find the schools that want students like you—and want to keep you for all four years—and focus your college application and financial aid negotiations on those specific colleges.


So, how do you know which colleges want students like you—and are willing to pay to get you? When determining where to apply to college, use online college research tools to determine which colleges and universities best align with your education and career goals. Speak to guidance counselors for recommendations if online searches get overwhelming. Among the top matches, drill down further to see which colleges are a good financial fit. Ideally, you’ll find several that overlap in both personal and financial fit categories--those are the schools you’ll want to apply to.


As your acceptance letters come in, keep that consumer mindset front and center, and be willing to appeal your financial aid package.    


“There are a lot of parents who are increasingly asking that we make the value proposition clear, and that’s a healthy thing,” says Grawe.


Reading between the lines, one can infer from Grawe’s statement that, as demographics change, college counselors may be anticipating increased negotiations before a student commits to enrolling. And it makes sense—as informed consumers, we know not only about changing market trends, but also about the perils of taking on too much student loan debt.

So feel emboldened: Ask financial aid and admissions counselors about the value of the college’s four-year degree programs; ask about opportunities for more free money, such as grants and scholarships. Once you know your options, compare your final offers from your top-choice colleges, and enroll with confidence, knowing that you’ve made the best decision for both your goals and your finances.

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