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Higher Education Enrollment Trends in Canada and the United States


OCTOBER 31, 2014

Higher education enrollment is up slightly in Canada and down slightly in the United States according to recent 2012 figures released by Canadian Trends in Higher Education and the U.S. Census Bureau.  Enrollment continued to grow modestly in Canadawith 1, 027,000 undergraduate and 190,000 graduate students attending colleges and universities in the fall, 2012.  Conversely, the enrollment in American higher education institutions dropped modestly in the fall, 2012.  A total of 10,300,000 students were enrolled in four-year colleges and universities.  Another 3,800,000 were enrolled in graduate schools, and nearly 6,000,000 were enrolled in two-year colleges.  U.S. College enrollment declined by nearly a half million students compared to a year earlier.  These enrollment reports come as no surprise after steady growth in North American higher education for the past two decades.

In the United States, enrollment continued to rise among Hispanic and African American students and was down only slightly among younger students, 18-24 years of age.  The most significant drop came from students over the age of 25, apparently indicating that older students who fled to colleges and universities during tough economic times may be headed back into the workforce.  The biggest demographic challenge that both countries face is the decline in the 18-22 year old population, a smaller pool of students from which to draw.

With this being said, Gary Fretwell, Senior Vice President at Noel-Levitz, suggests there are five strategies that institutions can employ to meet these current challenges, stay competitive, and fulfill their missions:

1)  Research Canadian and U.S. Markets.  It is imperative that institutions know as much as possible about their market, their students, and their competitors.

2)  Devote as much attention to student retention as you do to student retention.  if you institution wanted to grow by five percent next year, how would you do it?  The answer may not be increasing recruitment results but rather improving retention.  It is far more cost effective to retain a current student than to recruit a new one.

3)  Create online connections with prospective students.  Canada and the U.S. have some of the highest social marketing usage rates in the world.  Facebook, twitter, and other social network outlets provide excellent opportunities to connect with prospective and current students.

4)  Look abroad for students.  Cast your recruitment nets outside of North America.  Canada and the United States are attractive destinations for international students.

5)  Be strategic so that you are prepared for tomorrow's challenges today.  Strategic enrollment planning will help you to identify obstacles to the success of your campus, maneuver your institution to avoid those pitfalls, and identify new routes to long-term enrollment success.

Remember, three key words to institutional health and success are Enrollment, Enrollment, Enrollment!

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant

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