Higher Education

More Admissions Directors Are Targeting Online Students

By Cait Etherington
November 04, 2018

The 2018 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors was released in October. Not surprisingly, as university enrollments drop and competition increases, admissions directors face growing challenges. This year’s survey found that in response, a growing number of admissions directors are looking for students somewhere they previously ignored–online.

More Admissions Directors Report Actively Recruiting Online students

According to the 2018 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, over the past year, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of admissions directors reporting that their college is now making greater attempts to recruit online students. In fact, the number of reported colleges targeting online students jumped from 41% to 54%. The report also found that the recruitment of online students appears likely to continue growing in the 2018 to 2019 recruitment season. As stated in the report, “Roughly two-thirds of admissions directors indicate their college will make greater efforts to recruit first-generation college students (67 percent) and transfer students (64 percent). Slim majorities say students recruited with merit scholarships (55 percent), online students (54 percent), out-of-state students (53 percent) and students older than 24 (52 percent) will be a focus of recruitment for their college.”

The Challenges of Recruiting Online Students

From a recruiter’s standpoint, the primary challenge of recruiting online students is finding them. Online students are less likely to receive information about recruitment events in their areas. Even more complex, however, is the fact that online students don’t always graduate at the same time as students in bricks-and-mortar schools. While some online students take longer (e.g., they may be doing a reduced course load to accommodate work or an intensive training schedule), others use the online format to complete high school in just two or three years. The bottom line is that, in addition to being more elusive, admissions directors can’t always predict where an online student is at in their studies based simply on their age or grade level.

Beyond the challenging of locating online students, admissions directors face one more notable challenge–evaluating an online students’ transcript. With standards varying greatly from one online school to the next and little or no historical data on online schools, it can be difficult for admissions directors to determine what an online student has been doing over the course of their high school education. At Colorado State University, for example, the admissions office clearly states that “Applicants completing online course work/diplomas are held to the same admission standards as applicants from traditional settings.” However, the university’s admissions office also notes that when it comes to accepting online students, additional factors may be taken into account, including factors that weigh how well-prepared the applicant is for traditional classroom success and whether or not the online program completed was actually comparably in rigor to the types of programs typically completed by traditional classroom students.

Reasons to Recruit Online Students

Despite the bad reputation of some online high schools, online schools are also increasingly becoming the choice option for parents of gifted students. Over the past year, eLearning Inside News has published featured on just two of these schools: Stanford Online High School and Davidson Academy. The chance to recruit profoundly gifted students, however, is not the only reason to consider turning one’s attention to online schools.

First, recruiting online may make more sense for some institutions than others. Many homeschoolers and many online homeschoolers happen to be from religious families. For this reason, there is no question that Christian universities such as Brigham Young may find that it is especially beneficial to recruit online students. Second, a growing number of young adults are opting to complete their high school diplomas online (in 2018, eLearning Inside News wrote about just a few Olympians who are pursuing their high school diplomas and college degrees online). As such, schools looking to recruit top-level athletes may also find it advantageous to focus on online recruitments. Finally, recruiting online is a great way to reach non-traditional students, including students who may have had their education disrupted at the high school level and turned to online learning to complete their high school diplomas.