Can Sports Drive Enrollment?

In an increasingly competitive enrollment market, many colleges are considering less traditional enrollment strategies to grow – or just maintain – enrollment numbers.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the annual growth rate of 5.6% that occurred from 1963 to 1980 has slowed to a projected 1.25% growth for 2010 to 2021.  For small schools that rely heavily on enrollment as a revenue source, this statistic is particularly frightening and a 2015 Moody’s Investor Service report predicted that the closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple in the coming years.

What’s a small college to do?

One possibility is establishing or expanding its athletics program. Research has shown that athletics is one of the top three considerations, along with academics and campus-related influences, in impacting the enrollment choice of small-college student athletes. (Goss, Jubenville, & Orejan, 2006) Additional scholarship opportunities don’t hurt either. A study showed that as the amount of financial aid offered was increased by $1,000, the probability of the given student enrolling increased between 1.1% and 2%. (Braunstein et al., 1999).

The percentage of student-athletes at colleges is growing. The number of colleges where at least 33 percent of the students played a sport increased from 96 to 124 between 2006 and 2011, according to an Associated Press report. When a prospective student is deciding between multiple institutions, the range of available sports can make the difference.

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