2019-2024 Strategic Plan

Goal 5: Strategic Enrollment

Achieve a robust and diverse enrollment of students while enhancing access, affordability, and academic quality.

Enrollment might be Auburn University’s biggest challenge over the next five years and beyond. Demographics and affordability issues are increasing competition for a shrinking pool of qualified students. The number of high school graduates nationally is declining and is predicted to drop significantly over the next decade. Complicating matters, affordability issues are causing some qualified students not to matriculate in college. Auburn University must ready itself for this decline in qualified students through (1) mindful, proactive enrollment management actions that support recruitment and retention of students, with an emphasis on underrepresented students, and (2) increasing graduate enrollment. Addressing accessibility and affordability is critical to sustainability, requiring the university to more aggressively pursue initiatives, such as online education, dual enrollment, two-year school partnerships, and flexible curricula.

Achieving Robust and Diverse Enrollment.
Robust is defined as “capable of performing well under a wide range of conditions.” Auburn University must achieve robust enrollment that can withstand the adverse forces (e.g., demographics, affordability) expected to buffet higher education over the next decade or more. This will require us to diversify our portfolio of students and tap less traditional segments. We must more fully seize opportunities that exist with dual enrollment, transfer students, and nontraditional students. To do this, we must overhaul our student recruitment efforts, including how we market to prospective students. We must be more intentional about the way we create academic opportunities, making sure they are inclusive and meet the needs of all types of students. This includes exploring more partnerships with two-year schools and expanding online programs. These efforts will ensure we continue to recruit, enroll, and retain the special caliber of student we want at Auburn.

Fortifying our student enrollment is supported by the theme of diversity—i.e., increasing the proportion of underrepresented students. In particular, Auburn University’s proportion of African American students, stagnant for the last decade, needs to improve markedly. We must identify and implement programs to strengthen the pipeline into Auburn University of diverse students. This includes developing a tailored approach to reinforcing our brand among multicultural, diverse, and first-generation prospective students.

Enhancing Access, Affordability, and Academic Quality.
Improving access and affordability is a means for making enrollment more robust and diverse and will naturally attract students from under-tapped and more diverse segments. We aim to make Auburn University an option for all who are ready and able to meet its standards, regardless of income or social status. In particular, we must increase access for Pell-eligible and first-generation students. This requires re-directing some monies to need-based financial aid for qualified students. We are also more aggressively implementing pathway programs, such as dual enrollment, for high school and transfer students. We will develop more innovative ways to provide funding to students and seek partnerships to provide tuition support. We also must increase the value of an Auburn degree by not only lowering/defraying its costs but also increasing its benefits. Raising academic standards and improving access and affordability should be reinforcing; academic quality should not be compromised.

Enrollment Strategies.
Enrollment strategies must directly address the question of growth. Should there be growth? And if so, in what areas? These questions are best addressed by first focusing upon on-campus, undergraduate enrollment. First-time freshmen enrollment in 2018 was 4,783. An enrollment plan should carefully consider (1) the impact of growth on the Auburn Experience for on-campus students and (2) capital expenditures necessary to support such growth. Other opportunities for growth should certainly be explored, such as promoting increased summer enrollment to take advantage of unused capacity. Expansion of internships, study abroad, and other off-campus programs also present opportunities to grow enrollment and enrich the Auburn Experience without increasing the on-campus student population or requiring significant capital expenditures.

To achieve a more robust undergraduate enrollment, Auburn should also explore actions to adjust (up or down) enrollment in particular majors or colleges. Consideration should be given to admitting students at the college level, instead of at the university level. To the extent that on campus undergraduate enrollment growth is pursued, it should (1) be driven by specific programs where there is a clear and demonstrable employer or societal demand, (2) be supported by a compelling business case, and (3) clearly enhance the university’s reputation.

To achieve more robust enrollment, Auburn University will also strengthen and expand off-campus education channels (or pathway programs), including dual enrollment, online 5 14 instruction, completer programs, master’s programs for working adults, and non-degree (e.g., certificates) programs. Managed properly, enrollment growth in these programs should not impact the residential campus experience. With online programs, it is essential that targeted marketing efforts align with enrollment trends of online degree programs to ensure enrollment capacity is fully used. Online courses also need to be significantly increased and improved (e.g., to be more interactive and simulative of a live classroom environment).

Auburn University is committed to its land-grant mission to serve all Alabamians, including students from underserved, rural parts of the state. In setting our future enrollment objectives, we must consider our mix of in-state and out-of-state students (currently at 60% and 40%, respectively) and the total number of Alabama undergraduate students that should be enrolled in each incoming first-year class (currently around 2,900).

Any growth strategy must not dilute AU’s admissions standards. Our enrollment strategy should continue to raise admissions standards and improve selectivity. This requires that merit-based financial aid be competitive with other public institutions, both in Alabama and nationally.

To support elevating the research enterprise, substantive growth is required in the graduate enrollment of research-oriented students to support research faculty.

An objective of future enrollment is to improve our undergraduate selectivity. We seek to increase the number of applications received by Auburn while continuing to raise academic standards. To accomplish this, we will increase our marketing efforts in other regions of the country. Within the Southeast, we will strive to dissuade potential freshman applicants from self-selecting out of applying for various reasons. These reasons may include a perception that acceptance standards are too high, the university is not diverse or inclusive, or that Auburn is too expensive or elitist.

Improving access and affordability is a key enrollment objective, the accomplishment of which should also markedly increase student diversity. This improvement will require that funding be increased for need-based aid, both from institutional and private sources. Any enhanced financial aid program should be extended to prospective transfer students. Access might also be addressed by increasing the pool of college-ready applicants in Alabama. Many of Alabama’s high school graduates are not academically competitive; therefore Auburn is committed to creating stronger partnerships with other institutions, such as two-year schools, to develop inclusive pathways to our university. We will also consider avenues to improve the college readiness of Alabama’s high school students. Improved access will also be achieved by providing more assistance to international students in navigating increasingly stringent and complex federal regulations for matriculation at US colleges.

Effective marketing and communications are a critical component of Auburn University’s enrollment strategies. The overarching institutional brand must be cohesive and compelling; however, messaging must be tailored to targeted segments to tap new pools of prospective students. We will boldly promote the Auburn University brand with innovative marketing approaches. Marketing efforts will be increased outside of the Southeast. Lastly, tools—like predictive analytics and customer relationship management applications—are required to better compete with peer universities.

Enrollment (Headcount)
Undergraduate * Graduate ** Total Enrollment
2015-16 21,786 5,501 27,287
2016-17 22,658 5,632 28,290
2017-18 23,964 5,812 29,776
2018-19 24,628 5,812 30,440
2019-20 24,594 5,866 30,460
2020-21 24,505 6,232 30,737
Freshman Class
Enrollment
2015-16 4,902
2016-17 4,529
2017-18 4,836
2018-19 4,783
2019-20 4,808
2020-21 4,914
In-State Enrollment (%) ***
Enrollment
2015-16 68.5%
2016-17 66.4%
2017-18 64.9%
2018-19 63.2%
2019-20 61.6%
2020-21 61.2%

* In-state studdents will comprise at least 60% of the undergraduate student body. 60% is not a target, it is a lower limit.

Student Quality (First-time Freshman)
Mean ACT
2015-16 27.3
2016-17 27.4
2017-18 27.3
2018-19 27.6
2019-20 27.8
Student Quality (First-time Freshman)
Mean HSGPA
2015-16 3.83
2016-17 3.85
2017-18 3.86
2018-19 3.89
2019-20 3.90

* Upper limit on undergraduate students. Some flexibility in total number of undergraduate students is allowed via selective admission of transfer students into programs with excess capacity (not to exceed 27,000 total undergraduate students).

** Estimate is +/- 10%. For growth in masters / specialist and PhDs, we expect the rate of growth to accelerate as research in creases based on investments in the first few years.

2021-22
Target
2022-23
Target
2023-24
Target
Enrollment (Headcount):
Undergraduate* ~25,000 ~25,000 ~25,000
Graduate (total next rows)** ~6,390 ~6,700 ~7,000
First Professional ~1,140 ~1,150 ~1,150
Master’s & Educ. Specialist ~3,300 ~3,500 ~3,700
Doctoral ~1,950 ~2,050 ~2,150
Total Enrollment ~31,390 ~31,700 ~32,000
Freshmen Class 4,900 4,950 5,000
In-state Enrollment Undergraduate (%)*** >60.0% >60.0% >60.0%
First-generation (%) 18.0% 18.5% 19.0%
Pell-Eligible Students (%) 16.5% 17.0% 17.5%
Average debt, graduating seniors $11,800 $11,900 $12,000
Student Quality (first-time freshmen):
Mean ACT 27.7 27.7 27.7
Mean HSGPA 3.90 3.90 3.90
Last updated: April 28, 2021