Arrows shooting to top right of frame, symbolizing enrollment growth.

Accelerate Enrollment Growth in Higher Education …and Sustain Positive Momentum

With demographic headwinds creating enrollment challenges for many colleges and universities, institutional innovation and adaptation is needed to drive growth. In a recent panel discussion on this topic hosted by Gray DI, higher education innovators shared strategies and insights on how institutions can accelerate enrollment expansion even in the current climate.

As John Childs, co-founder of Evidence In Motion (EIM) stated, “If you think you can grow, you can. If you don’t think you can grow, you can’t.” The panel made a compelling case that willingness to take risks and try new approaches can stimulate enrollment growth regardless of external demographic factors. Creative partnerships and coordinated efforts to evolve programming, leverage data, and rethink legacy practices allows schools to better attract and retain students.

In this article, let’s explore five key themes of the All-Star Panel:

Leveraging Data and Technology

Technology platforms designed for higher education, incorporating AI and machine learning, can simplify the analysis of data, forecast student demand and program potential, and facilitate more informed decision-making regarding academic programs. As one example, software can optimize course scheduling to better align with diverse student needs.

“We have algorithms that do predict – they’re predictive algorithms throughout our software platform. AI will help them get smarter and more predictive of what students are going to do and what the demand is,” said Sarah Collins of Ad Astra.

By bringing together disconnected data sources, schools can facilitate fact-based evaluations of program opportunities to accelerate growth decisions. Data transparency and consistency enables productive program planning conversations.

Expanding the Academic Portfolio

Schools can leverage course-sharing consortiums and partnerships to quickly and affordably add attractive new programs like health care, tech and cybersecurity. This expands student options at lower risk. As John Childs explained, such partnerships can enable launching larger, more differentiated programs right out of the gate.

Taking a bottom-up approach by packaging existing courses into new interdisciplinary offerings can also stimulate growth efficiently. According to panelist Bob Atkins, Gray president, this leverages existing assets to potentially appeal to new audiences.

Improving Access and Alignment

Strategically optimizing course schedules boosts retention and completions by giving diverse students the flexible access they need. This also improves revenue per student. Scheduling and resource allocation data, when integrated, can inform wider enrollment strategies (e.g., for transfer students and adult learners) with student needs in mind.

As Collins stated, “The schedule is a big deal for people – they have lives. Not everybody goes to full-time university and college and can take classes whenever they’re offered.”

Overcoming Internal Roadblocks

While external solutions are straightforward conceptually, cultural change management is critical to enable institutions to rethink models and accelerate innovation. Communicating connections to mission and strategy can help gain faculty/staff buy-in. Identifying internal program ownership and aligning stakeholders also smooths transformation.

“We need to find an owner – and we need to make sure that they are able to champion that,” said Rize Education’s Charlie Restrepo when discussing keys to adopting new academic models. “Ownership and alignment – those are the two words that we talk about all the time.”

The Will to Grow

The panel made a compelling case that creative partnerships and coordinated efforts to evolve programming, leverage data, and rethink legacy practices can drive enrollment growth even in the context of demographic challenges. The key is leadership and willingness to adapt.

As John Childs summarized, “If you’re willing to do those things, it’s not a short putt, but it is possible to grow even despite the demographic aspects. I don’t believe in the demographic cliff either, by the way. I think there are demographic issues, but the biggest issue is the willingness to go to college.”

Final Thoughts

Driving sustainable growth requires looking beyond quick fixes or isolated strategies. Institutions must take an integrated approach focused on understanding and serving students while also streamlining operations through technology and partnerships.

Success stories highlighted in the discussion prove growth is possible for schools willing to embrace change, even as economic and demographic trends create headwinds in the sector. Though the path forward takes work, the payoff for institutions, and the expanded access for students, makes the effort worthwhile.

Driving long term, sustainable growth in higher ed is what Evidence In Motion does best. To learn more about how we partner with colleges and universities across the country to power innovative health care education solutions, visit