Four Strategic Enrollment Management Takeaways from the 2024 Online College Student Report

By: Chris Gilmore Mar 01, 2024

Four Strategic Enrollment Management Takeaways from the 2024 Online College Student Report

EducationDynamics released its 13th annual Online College Students Report in February 2024. This annual report, based on a survey of over 3,000 online colleges students, serves as a valuable resource for enrollment management professionals vested in enrolling and retaining adult students in online education.

Here are four key takeaways for enrollment management professionals from the 2024 report: 

1. Prospective students are considering fewer options. 

79% of respondents are considering 1-3 schools. This contrasts with previous Online College Students reports where online students considered 4-5 options. This shift suggests students are entering the funnel better informed than ever. With the increasing availability of information online, prospective students are now more likely to research and narrow down their options before even making an inquiry. Submitting a request for more information (RFI) indicates they view your institution as meeting some baseline criteria and is a window of opportunity for your institution to make a positive impression and stand out from the competition.   

A smaller consideration pool emphasizes the urgency to make positive contact with prospects post-inquiry. Prompt follow-up and establishing your ability to assist with individual goals can increase the likelihood of them selecting your institution and eliminating other options.  


  • Aim for immediate follow-up after inquiries to demonstrate responsiveness and commitment. 
  • Tailor your communication to address their individual needs and goals. 
  • Proactively demonstrate your interest in their success and encourage them to choose your institution. 
  • Ensure timely and clear responses during the decision-making process to secure them before they explore other possibilities.

2. Front-line admissions and enrollment staff play a significant role in the adult student decision making process.  

For those in higher education admissions and enrollment, it’s likely not news that a significant portion of prospective students cited their interactions with staff/advisors as influential in their enrollment decision-making process. The importance of having the right people in these roles for effective student recruitment has been recognized for a long time. The report confirms that the staff/advisors’ impact on student success can make-or-break opportunities to attract and retain them. With adult students being more likely to face multiple financial, social, family and work-related responsibilities while pursuing a degree, support from knowledgeable and empathetic staff is essential for their positive experience with your institution. 

These front-line team members interact daily with prospective students, presenting an image of the institution and influencing their decisions. As such, it is crucial for institutions to invest in their recruitment teams by providing them with the necessary resources and support to excel in their roles. This could include ongoing training and development opportunities, competitive compensation packages, and clear career advancement paths.  By doing so, institutions can ensure that they have a team of skilled and motivated professionals who are committed to attracting and enrolling the best possible candidates for their programs. 


  • Prioritize investments in professional development and training specific to the needs of adult students and admissions practices. 
  • Focus on areas like communication, emotional intelligence, and needs assessment to build stronger connections with students. 
  • Regularly assess and refine training programs based on staff feedback and industry best practices. 

3. Why price isn’t the only factor in choosing a school for college students. 

While 37% of surveyed online college students identified affordability as the primary enrollment decision factor, a significant portion students prioritized other criteria including: program alignment, institutional reputation, faster completion times and the program’s ability to fit into their lifestyles.  

Institutions with competitive pricing can capitalize on their advantage by combining affordability with an attractive, career-aligned program and flexible format. However, institutions with higher costs must emphasize unique strengths beyond price. This emphasizes the importance of strategic enrollment training for staff involved in student recruitment to understand student needs and clearly articulate the benefits that differentiate the institution from competitors, especially when cost isn’t the primary advantage. Highlighting additional value propositions aligned with student goals is now more crucial than ever.  


  • Equip your team with the skills to actively listen to students’ needs and highlight program features that resonate with each individual.  
  • Ensure your programs are well-aligned with current career trends and student needs. 
  • Clearly communicate the unique benefits your institution offers beyond affordability. 

4. Speeding up online student recruitment  

Success in online student recruitment relies heavily on the speed and efficiency of an institution’s teams and processes. A significant 80% of online students ultimately enroll at the first institution that admits them. This means institutions must contact these prospective students quickly, schedule interviews promptly, evaluate prior learning efficiently and help them navigate their financial options with speed. 

It’s not just about admissions; the entire system needs to operate smoothly. Higher education isn’t traditionally known for swift responses, but institutions that prioritize efficiency will gain a competitive edge and position themselves for success. 


  • Analyze and identify areas for improvement across all teams and processes involved in online student recruitment, from initial contact to enrollment. 
  • Explore and leverage technology to streamline tasks like communication, document management, and financial aid advising. 
  • Provide training to staff involved in online student recruitment on efficient communication strategies, using digital tools effectively, and navigating the enrollment process smoothly. 

The 2024 Online College Student Report paints a clear picture: prospective students are savvier, prioritize specific needs, and value efficiency. To thrive in this competitive landscape, institutions must adapt their strategies to these changing dynamics. Focusing on prompt communication, highlighting unique value propositions beyond just affordability, and investing in a well-equipped and efficient enrollment team are crucial steps toward attracting and enrolling qualified online students. 

By embracing these takeaways, enrollment management professionals can demonstrate their commitment to student success and secure a competitive edge in the ever-evolving online education market to attract, enroll and retain the next generation of online college students.