How One University Extended Its Reach

February 12, 2017

Here is an excerpt from a new, in-depth report on enrollment from The Chronicle. To buy the report, go to:

Saint Louis University’s first-ever strategic enrollment plan, assembled seven years ago, was part of an effort to reposition the Roman Catholic institution as a national research university and to prepare for the changing demographics of its primary recruitment market, which was predicted to experience a steep decline in high-school graduates.

The plan called for the university to have some reach in all 50 states, and global coverage. By analyzing the three previous years of graduating classes, Saint Louis looked for students who finished on time with high satisfaction scores. Admissions officers found that half of the students were Catholic, and that they had the highest satisfaction scores. Nearly 80 percent majored in health care, business, or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. The best students were involved in community service.

Now the university’s goal was to find students just like them in markets where it didn’t recruit heavily already. Officials matched those qualities with high-school students across the country using data from the College Board.

"Looking at the demographic trends is important to see where there is a volume of students, but the psychographics helped us identify the types of students who would succeed and be satisfied," said Jay Goff, vice president for enrollment and retention management.

The result of the effort was a plan that focused on a group of eight primary markets: Dallas, Houston, Southern California, San Francisco, Denver, Boston, expanding the Chicago presence, and adding a "Southern states champion," Mr. Goff said.

In the admissions office, the university added three positions and relocated three others. Those recruiters focused on specific high schools, and Saint Louis invited counselors from those schools to "fly ins" to visit the campus. The university also bought advertising that ran before the previews in movie theaters in key markets and relied heavily on internet advertising.

Since Saint Louis put its enrollment plan into effect, the peer group of institutions with which it competes for students shifted from those like Truman State University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, both within three hours’ driving time, to more regional and national institutions, such as Marquette University, Loyola University Chicago, the University of Dayton, and Creighton University.

In 2000, 50 percent of the students at Saint Louis University were from Missouri. By the fall of 2016, only 33 percent were. In addition, retention and graduation rates improved, as did the university’s overall academic profile.

"We not only moved to new markets," Mr. Goff said, "but we found students who were a stronger fit, a better match."