How UMN is adapting to student “enrollment cliff”

New studies predict declining numbers of high school graduates in the next decade.

Williamson+Hall%2C+captured+on+Tuesday%2C+June+21.+The+Universitys+Admissions+office+is+located+in+Williamson+Hall.+

Shalom Berhane

Williamson Hall, captured on Tuesday, June 21. The University’s Admissions office is located in Williamson Hall.

by Ellie Roth and Amirah Razman

A statistic was presented to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents at the June Board meeting that projected a significant decline in high school graduation rates in the next decade. The Office of Admissions is working to adapt their marketing strategies and admission requirements in order to adjust to the changing times.

New studies presented to the Board earlier this month indicate that the Midwest region of the U.S. is expected to see a decline in high school graduates of around 5%. Minnesota, compared to other states, is in a better position in terms of maintaining high school graduates, according to Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster, but the University is trying to ensure it is ahead of the decline.

This phenomenon, called the “Enrollment Cliff,” projects that in the next decade there will be less high school graduates due to decreasing population growth and, in turn, less people looking to pursue a college degree, according to Interim Executive Director of the Office of Admissions Keri Risic.

Nationally, enrollments have been trending down for over a decade, but “everything was accelerated due to the pandemic,” McMaster said.

According to McMaster, predictions indicate that many colleges may not survive through the next 10 years due to declining enrollment.

The good news, McMaster said, is that the state of Minnesota will not experience significant declines in high school graduates until 2030, which will allow the University more time to plan. McMaster said it’s quite simple to get an estimate of the amount of high school graduates around the year 2030 because the data already exists.

“If we’re looking ten years out for 12th graders, we’d be looking at second graders now,” McMaster said. “We can see from looking at second graders and first graders that the numbers in school are declining.”

From that point, it’s about making sure these students are aware of the University from early on.

The Office of Admissions has “a multi-year, multi-communications approach” to reaching students in high school, according to Tanya Wright, director of customer experience and communications in the Office of Admissions. This approach includes sending recruiters to high schools, college fairs and community events.

“We look for ways that we can keep fine tuning and getting more and more personal with our many students,” Wright said.

Marketing strategies have changed recently due to the disruption of students’ high school years from the COVID-19 pandemic. The University will use email campaigns to market scholarships, while also working with Cappex to strengthen its promotion efforts.

The University also plans to reach out to students through text messaging, mail and phone calls, Risic and Wright said.

The University has recently adjusted admission requirements for incoming students. While the University does not plan to eliminate the standardized test requirement, University leaders have decided to remain “test optional” through the Fall 2025 admission cycle, Risic said.

Wright said the recruiting team has also partnered with community-based organizations like TRIO — a federal program that helps youth and adults who are low-income, first generation or have a disability to enroll and complete a college program — to help reach students who may be less interested in pursuing a college degree.

“Our job is to help students see all the potential and help them see all the wonderful features and programs at the university,” Wright said. “We think it’s a pretty great place.”