Skip Navigation
Skip Navigation

Back to Ask A REL Archived Responses

REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Postsecondary

January 2019

Question:

What is the available research on measuring the return on investment for recruitment, enrollment, and retention strategies among higher education institutions?



Response:

Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on measuring the return on investment for recruitment, enrollment, and retention strategies among higher education institutions. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to strategic enrollment management at community colleges. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. (2009). Enrollment management revisited. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED510571

From the ERIC abstract: “The 1999 Academic Senate for California Community Colleges paper, ‘The Role of Academic Senates in Enrollment Management,’ presented principles for effective faculty participation in developing policies and making decisions that affect course offerings. In 2007, an Academic Senate resolution called for an update to that paper, to provide senates with information that reflects various changes in the colleges and their operations since the earlier paper. This paper responds to that resolution by highlighting what has changed in the colleges in the last decade and providing guidance to local senates and faculty in general about issues and options when they participate in the development and implementation of enrollment management policies and procedures. This paper is not intended to replace the earlier paper, but rather to supplement it.”

American Association of Community Colleges. (2019). Voluntary Framework of Accountability metrics manual (Version 7). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://vfa.aacc.nche.edu/Documents/VFAMetricsManual.pdf

From the introduction: “The Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) is designed as a set of appropriate measures to determine how well community colleges are serving students. Lack of commonly accepted, appropriate performance measures has often led to misperceptions and frequently an underestimation of community college effectiveness and contributions. It has also limited the ability of institutions to identify areas for institutional challenges and to set goals for the improvement of outcomes. Thus, the VFA is designed to give community colleges sector-appropriate reporting formats and share them publicly.”

Bahr, P. R., Gross, J. L., Slay, K. E., & Christensen, R. D. (2015). First in line: Student registration priority in community colleges. Educational Policy, 29(2), 342–374. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1054287

From the ERIC abstract: “Across the United States, community colleges are facing severe funding reductions and surging enrollment, resulting in a condition of impaction in which demand for coursework exceeds financial or physical capacity. In turn, impaction is necessitating changes in enrollment management policies, including rapid evolution in registration priority policies, which ration access to coursework by granting preferential course enrollment timing to students who meet specified criteria. During times of impaction, such policies effectively preclude some groups of students from making progress toward their goals or, under the worst circumstances, from attending college at all. Given the importance of community colleges for providing access to postsecondary education, these policies have significant, long-term implications. Here, we situate the discourse on registration priority policies in a larger context and body of literature, document the variation in policies across the colleges in one state, and develop a set of recommendations for policy and future research.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Bambhrolia, B., & Phelan, S. E. (2017). Entrepreneurship at community colleges: Linking orientation to practice. Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, 5(2), 50–66. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1176668

From the ERIC abstract: “The current study uses a sample of community colleges to explore the specific organizational practices that mediate the link between entrepreneurial orientation and performance. The study focuses on a set of practices known as strategic enrollment management and finds that a college’s entrepreneurial orientation predicts its enrollment management orientation and the effectiveness of specific enrollment management practices for recruitment and retention. However, none of the constructs were associated with higher admission, graduation, or retention rates. The implications of these findings for theory, practice, and future research are then discussed.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Bontrager, B., & Clemetsen, B. (2009). Applying SEM at the community college. Washington, DC: AACRAO. Retrieved from http://www4.aacrao.org/publications/catalog.php?item=0124#.XDyrFvx7lBw

From the abstract: “Community colleges are increasingly utilizing Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) to meet the enrollment and financial challenges brought on by the recent economic downturn. Applying SEM at the Community College identifies the vital and unique enrollment issues confronting two-year colleges and suggests effective strategies for resolving them. This 204-page resource helps administrators set enrollment goals for their diverse student populations, redefine and improve student academic success, and achieve institutional success through financial planning. It also proposes methods for gathering and using data to inform strategies, for strengthening marketing plans, and for fostering interdepartmental collaboration.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Clagett, C. A. (2012). Using data to optimize community college marketing. New Directions for Institutional Research, 153, 49–62. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ978635

From the ERIC abstract: “Marketing is an essential component of an effective enrollment management plan. The broad mission of a comprehensive community college requires multiple, targeted communications campaigns. Institutional research can contribute to marketing success at all phases of decision making.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Kalsbeek, D. H. (2006). Some reflections on SEM structures and strategies (Part One). College and University, 81(3), 3–10. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ745885

From the ERIC abstract: “This article is a pre-conference paper prepared for participants at AACRAO’s Fifteenth Annual Strategic Enrollment Management Conference (SEM XV), held November 13-16, 2005, in Chicago, Illinois. This is the first of a three-part series. In this series of papers, David Kalsbeek introduces a four-fold construct for differentiating and comparing institutional approaches to SEM, four broad but distinct orientations that characterize how SEM structures and strategies are designed in colleges and universities. The four orientations that characterize EM structures include: (1) Administrative orientation; (2) Student-focused orientation; (3) Academic orientation; and (4) Market-centered orientation.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Kerlin, C. (2008). A community college roadmap for the enrollment management journey. College and University, 83(4), 10–14. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ794572

From the ERIC abstract: “Institutions across the nation have strengthened their enrollments through such strategies and tactics as coordination of recruitment activities, enhancement of financial aid processing, implementation of effective retention strategies, development of new instructional programs, a focus on intensive marketing activities, creation of one-stop service centers, and numerous other efforts. There is no shortage of best practices and good ideas in enrollment management techniques. Nevertheless, experienced enrollment professionals agree that each institution should develop its own approach, strategies, and tactics, reflecting its own institutional culture and challenges. This is particularly true for community colleges, where certain strategies utilized in the baccalaureate sector may not be applicable given the unique characteristics of the community and technical colleges (CTC)—e.g., open door, non-residential, less well-funded, and largely focused on the local or regional community. As the twenty-first century continues to unveil new challenges for higher education, enrollment planning and management strategies offer a pathway for community and technical colleges to sharpen their focus, optimize their resources, and achieve enrollment goals that support the health and viability of their enterprise. While there is no strict formula for enrollment management, several of the steps suggested in this article may help college leadership get started on their own unique journey.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

LoBasso, T. (2006). An evaluation of enrollment management models of the 28 Florida community colleges. College and University, 81(4), 31–38. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ745906

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which enrollment management models have been successfully implemented within the 28 Florida community colleges. The study also sought to determine when enrollment management structures began and whether expected benefits were achieved. Analysis of the data collected in this study indicated the following five major findings. First, enrollment management concepts and practices have been implemented at some level within the 23 Florida community colleges surveyed. Second, enrollment management models reported were determined to be relatively new in comparison to four-year institutions. Third, some enrollment management divisions appeared to have key enrollment offices displaced. Fourth, increasing enrollment was the strongest reason for implementing the enrollment structure and subsequently was the strongest benefit realized. The fifth finding was that moving key enrollment offices such as financial aid into the enrollment management organizations would be an improvement to existing models.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Pirius, L. K. (2014). A data-driven approach to SEM development at a two-year college. Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, 1(4), 251–262. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1109804

From the ERIC abstract: “This article explores implementation of strategic enrollment management (SEM) at a two-year college and why SEM is critical to the long-term viability of an institution. This article also outlines the five initial steps needed to implement SEM, including identifying SEM leadership, building a SEM committee, developing a common understanding of SEM, building SEM goals that recognize the institution’s strengths and weaknesses, and dedicating resources for SEM. Additionally, the article delves into data collection and data analysis methods to form goals, strategies, measures, and key performance indicators (KPIs) as part of a well-developed SEM plan. Finally, the article concludes with a focus on six project goals other institutions can adopt as they pursue their own SEM initiative.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Sigler, W. (2017). SEM core concepts: Building blocks for institutional and student success. Washington, DC: AACRAO. Retrieved from http://www4.aacrao.org/publications/catalog.php?item=0149#.XDyudPx7lBx

From the abstract:SEM Core Concepts is designed to provide busy professionals with an overview of SEM. The guide is organized around the following topics: definitions of SEM and examples of what it is not; the evolution of SEM, including its developmental stages that provided the building blocks for the current best practices of the profession; an overview of the essential SEM concepts; and a planning model and road map for transforming an institution into a SEM organization.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Tennessee Higher Education Commission. (2010). Productivity, performance and return on investment: A baseline analysis of Tennessee public institutions of higher education. Nashville, TN: Author. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED512240

From the ERIC abstract: “Tennessee needs to continuously increase its degree productivity by four percent every year from now until 2025. In the midst of this need for increased degree production, the state’s current economic realities indicate public institutions will receive little to no new state appropriated revenues for the foreseeable future. The Master Plan Annual Progress Report measures state and system progress, an accountability tool designed to monitor student success, efficiency and quality. The present report supplements the Progress Report by profiling institutional productivity, performance and return on investment. As the current fiscal environment requires that institutions provide services at a lower cost, campuses and systems must consider the relationship between funding and outcomes. This report analyzes that relationship through widely used indicators: (1) the level of investment, measured by unrestricted state appropriations and tuition and fees per full-time equivalent (FTE) student; (2) the return on that investment, measured by annual awards produced per dollar invested; and (3) and awards produced per 100 FTE. Instead of using first-time freshman cohort graduation rates, which exclude part-time students, those who start in spring semester, and those who begin as transfers, this analysis looks at the number of all degrees, certificates and diplomas awarded relative to student enrollment, adjusted to account for full time attendance. Still, this measure of productivity does not differentiate between one-year certificates or doctoral degrees, nor does it take into consideration programmatic expense. Over the past five years, Tennessee institutions of higher education have become more productive, not only relative to the SREB median but also in the count of awards produced. According to the 2003-2004 survey, Tennessee produced approximately 35,400 degrees and certificates while five years later the same institutions produced 39,500 degrees and awards, an increase of 12 percent. Furthermore, these awards were produced with no real increase in revenues per FTE. When adjusted for inflation to 2008 dollars, revenues available to institutions in 2003-2004 were exactly the same as in 2008-2009 ($10,100 per FTE).”

Additional Organizations to Consult

American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions – https://www.aacrao.org/who-we-are

From the website: “AACRAO is a non-profit, voluntary, professional association of more than 11,000 higher education professionals who represent approximately 2,600 institutions in more than 40 countries. Its mission is to provide professional development, guidelines, and voluntary standards to be used by higher education officials regarding the best practices in records management, admissions, enrollment management, administrative information technology, and student services. AACRAO represents institutions in every part of the higher education community, from large public institutions to small, private liberal arts colleges.”

Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) Readiness Review & Planning – https://www.aacrao.org/consulting/resources/white-papers-documents/strategic-enrollment-management-sem-readiness-review-planning

From the website: “Increasing numbers of universities and colleges are embracing a more strategic approach to aligning enrollment targets with the institutional mission and vision. Find out how.”

Methods

Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “enrollment management” “community colleges”

  • “key performance indicator” “two year college”

  • “return on investment” “higher education”

  • SEM “two year colleges”

  • “strategic enrollment management” “higher education”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.