Enrollment teams eyeing ‘defensive tactics’ following change to admissions ethics code

Recent changes to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC’s) Code of Ethics and Professional Practice guidelines have sparked debate within the enrollment community about implications for colleges and their applicants. NACAC members voted earlier this fall to to remove parts of the group’s ethics code that federal officials said could stifle competition and limit students’ opportunities to get the best price for their education. The resulting changes could clear the way for schools to offer incentives for early-decision candidates, recruit students who have committed to other colleges or universities, and recruit students who are already enrolled at other four-year institutions.

Four in five institutions considering ‘defensive’ tactics

To better understand “how many institutions will pursue more aggressive recruitment strategies enabled by suspension of the guidelines or how quickly they will do so,” the higher education research, technology, and services firm EAB recently surveyed enrollment leaders at 159 colleges and universities across the country about their enrollment practices. 

Twenty-two percent of respondents said they are considering intentionally recruiting incoming freshmen who have committed to another school, and less than one-fifth said they are considering changes to their early decision policies. Respondents most frequently said they were considering “defensive tactics” that would counter aggressive recruitment from other schools.

For instance, 80 percent of respondents said they were considering increasing onboarding communications with students over the summer, in an attempt to discourage other schools from poaching already-committed students. Many also said they are considering moving onboarding milestones, like hosting on-campus orientation days and assigning academic advisors, earlier in the year.

In addition, some enrollment leaders are looking at financial levers. One-third said they are seeking scholarship dollars that could be offered to students who are considering withdrawing having received a lower net price offer from another school. Increasing the enrollment deposit is another possible response, considered by 31 percent of respondents, but EAB cautions that the tactic could have unintended negative consequences, including deterring low-income families.

Coordination a concern

Some experts have voiced concern about potential complexities introduced by the new changes. “Given all the different college offices that prospective students interact with, there’s all kinds of opportunity for things to go awry—students being invited to sign up for classes before they’ve deposited, that kind of thing,” Alex Bloom, associate director of research for EAB’s Enrollment Management Forum, said during a panel. “Mistakes like this, even if they might seem trivial to you, can make students doubt your institution’s competence and therefore make them more vulnerable to poaching by competitors.”

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