Skip to main content
Best practices

Strategies to Increase Enrollment in Private Colleges

by Sirley Carballo · Jul 18, 2022

In 2022, many colleges and universities are still rebounding from the challenges faced during a global pandemic. Both public and private institutions have weathered dips in student enrollment while attempting to deliver strong academic programs in new and tech-savvy environments.

Private schools, which are often more expensive and exclusive than state or public schools, face a unique set of challenges to increase student enrollment. Although the popularity of private schools is still high, campus leaders must be ready to think outside the box in order to recruit more students in the years to come.

A group of students studying.

In this article, we’ll take a close look at the current trends in college enrollment and discuss effective and practical strategies for increasing private school enrollment. We’ll also share how a student engagement CRM can help a school stand strong in light of changing trends.

Current State of Private School College Enrollment

Private institutions aren’t alone in addressing the challenges of declining enrollment for new students. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that while there was a 1.2% decline in private school enrollment from 2019-2021, that percentage was higher in public schools, which faced a 3.1% decline. According to the same data, community colleges weathered the most substantial decrease in the number of enrolled students.

Private undergraduate enrollment is often dependent on many different factors, some of which can be predicted, while others cannot. Enrollment in these schools often varies by:

  • State of residence
  • Student population near a particular school
  • Level of competition or exclusivity of admissions
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Acceptance rates each school year
  • Online of hybrid programming availability

Private colleges and schools also receive funding from different sources than state or public institutions do. At any given time, they may have access to greater (or less) private funding sources, and current endowments may have an effect on the number of new or continuing enrollments allowed in a certain semester.

Higher Education Institutions vs. Primary Private Schools 

In discussing private school enrollment, it’s important to note the obvious difference between private institutions of higher education and private primary or K-12 schools. 

Primary schools (typically K-12 or college preparatory) experience different trends when it comes to enrollment. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic fostered an actual increase in the number of private primary school requests nationwide, despite the higher costs of admissions and attendance. Many private schools take care of their own costs and operating expenses, which can drive up the price of admissions. 

Some of the factors that draw parents and families to private school education during primary years (things like small class sizes, low student-teacher ratios, and personalized academic experiences) may also attract future college students to private universities in the future.

Factors to Consider—Public vs. Private

When it comes to choosing between public and private education, there are many factors that go into that decision. Recruiters and admissions team members must be aware of the following circumstances in order to successfully attract students to private colleges and universities. 

In particular, families and prospective students want to know about:

  • Average student debt incurred at private schools
  • Graduate and degree completion rates
  • Post-college career opportunities
  • Student life and cultural experiences

Private schools that offer benefits in these areas may also be able to leverage other perks of attending. Personalized marketing should revolve around unique opportunities, including specialized academic programs, low faculty-student ratios, cultural experiences, and professional connections.

6 Strategies to Increase Enrollment at Private Institutions

Increasing student enrollment at private colleges and universities requires practice and experimentation. Private schools may experience seasons of increased demand and periods when enrollment dips. This is normal, and often due to factors that are outside the realm of higher education. 

It is possible, however, to be prepared for these seasons with strategies that work to boost enrollment. We’ve chosen six strategies that you can use at any point to strengthen and increase enrollment.

1. Be Active on Social Media Platforms

Private schools and universities must be prepared to hop on board the social media bandwagon. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat are valuable for showcasing a behind-the-scenes view of your school.

Leverage these marketing channels to discuss student life, campus events, and academic opportunities. Regularly engage with students and help connect them to the appropriate school outlets whenever they express interest or have questions.

2. Recruit Beyond the Student

Many schools have found success in “recruiting beyond the student.” What does this mean? When private schools think about enrollment, admissions teams must also consider the important individuals in a student’s life. 

Targeted recruitment messages for prospective families, parents, guardians, or even high school educators can go a long way in showing value. Many potential students rely on help and guidance from trusted individuals, so it’s important that private schools remember more families when delivering marketing materials.

Get Our Engagement Insights Paper

Learn how to connect with today's students amidst one of the largest shifts in the history of higher ed.

Download the White Paper

3. Build an Enticing Private School Brand 

Private colleges and universities should devote time, resources, and attention to building a cohesive brand. Although this is often characteristic of larger public institutions, even smaller private schools can benefit from having an updated and modern look.

A school’s brand may include everything from its logo, communication style, digital marketing, or position in the broader community. When these elements are positive and attractive, students are more likely to consider the school a top choice.

4. Be Aware of the Competition

It’s no secret that the higher education market is crowded with many valuable, key players. Not only do schools need an in-depth understanding of direct competition (other private schools), but recruiters must also acknowledge the pull of large state institutions and public colleges. 

In today’s higher ed environment, private schools must realize and capitalize on their unique selling proposition (USP). A USP clearly spells out the value that students stand to gain from attending. 

Whether this involves a prestigious sports program, highly rated internship opportunities, or access to world-renowned faculty, private school recruiters must make these competitive advantages more prominent as a way to meet enrollment goals.

5. Leverage Personalization Techniques in the Enrollment Strategy

Nurturing each prospective student with personalized messages is another way that private colleges can stand out from the pack. Future students are bound to receive numerous messages, emails, calls, and texts from possible schools. A personalized approach incorporates known data to deliver targeted messages based on what a student needs and wants.

A modern student engagement CRM can also help private schools store student data and use it to better personalize messages later on. 

6. Provide Relevant Resources

To increase enrollment, private schools need to be able to deliver exceptional information and resources. This helps reduce confusion and make the enrollment process easier and more valuable. Connect students to resources that can help them learn more about:

  • Financial aid options or scholarship programs
  • Extracurricular activities, student life, and exciting events
  • Academic support (outside of classroom resources)
  • Online flexibility 
  • Mental health support and counseling resources
  • Professional or job-related opportunities

To successfully increase enrollment, all schools must deliver proven value. By reminding students what you have to offer, you can better accomplish this crucial goal.

Design a Better Enrollment Process

For private colleges and universities looking to increase school enrollment and recruitment processes, personalization matters. Making the student the focal point of the journey can help schools find, attract, and recruit the right student candidates. This is particularly important in a highly competitive and crowded education marketplace.

Are you ready to personalize the enrollment journey for private college students?

Book your Element451 demo today to learn how a student-centric CRM can help.


Talk With Us

Enroll more students with the first-ever student-centered engagement CRM.

Get a Demo
A photo of an Element team member