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Business Officer Magazine

Business Briefs

Short news articles based on research surveys and peers’ business experiences that can benefit institutions

New Report Examines Trends in College Admission Rates

U.S. Students' International Exam Scores


The ranking of U.S. 15-year-olds' average score on the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) combined literacy test, out of 34 participating Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.


Average score of American 15-year-olds on the PISA mathematics literacy test.


The proportion of American 15-year-olds who scored at the highest levels on the PISA combined literacy tests.


The average mathematics literacy score among all 33 participating OECD countries.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Highlights From PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context. Available online.

The number of high school graduates in the United States reached a peak of 3.33 million in 2008–09, after more than a decade of steady growth. However, according to the State of College Admission 2010 report, numbers will decline thereafter for at least six years before rebounding. In addition to researching high school graduation trends, the report, from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), describes shifts in college admission applications and enrollments as well as trends in campus admission office budgets. The 2010 edition—which covers the fall 2009 admission cycle—marks the eighth anniversary of this report.

NACAC estimates that the number of high school graduates fell to 3.29 million in 2009–10, and will decline through 2014 –15 before rebounding to 3.4 million by 2018–19. Overall, the total number of high school graduates is predicted to rise 11 percent between 2005–06 and 2018 –19, but that percentage will vary widely by state. Large increases in graduates will occur in some states, such as Nevada (59 percent), Utah (53 percent), Georgia (41 percent), and Texas (40 percent)—while substantial decreases are anticipated in others, such as Rhode Island (-21 percent), North Dakota (-20 percent), and Washington, D.C. (-19 percent).

College Applications and Enrollments

While the total number of high school graduates may be in decline, the number of students applying to college continues to grow. Applications grew in part because most prospective undergraduates apply for admission to multiple institutions. Seventy-five percent of fall 2009 freshmen applied to three or more colleges, an increase of 14 percentage points over the past 19 years. The percentage of students who submitted seven or more applications reached 23 percent.

On average across all public and private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities, the average acceptance rate is 67 percent. Selective colleges (those that accept less than half their applicants) received only 31 percent of all undergraduate admissions applications. The average institutional yield rate—the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enrolled in a college to which they submitted an admission application—was 43 percent.

Over the past three decades, the share of high school completers who enrolled in a higher education institution by the fall of their high school graduation increased from less than half to about 65 percent. As a result, the total number of new students entering colleges and universities has increased despite the recent declines in the number of high school graduates. But, there have been some notable recent gaps in enrollments by family income and race/ethnicity. Only 58 percent of high school completers from the lowest income quartile entered higher education by fall 2008, compared with 87 percent of those from the highest income quartile. In 2008, Latino and African-American high school graduates accounted for 33 percent of the traditional college-age population, but they represented only 25 percent of the students enrolled in postsecondary education.

Among the four-year colleges with selective admission criteria, students' demonstrated academic achievements—grades, strength of curriculum, admission test scores, and so on-constituted the most important factors in the admission decision. However, between 25 percent and 30 percent of colleges rated race/ethnicity, first-generation status, and high school attended as at least moderately important as criteria that influence the way admission decisions are evaluated.

Costs of Admission Activities

On average, colleges and universities spent $524 to recruit each applicant for fall 2009 admission, $843 to recruit each admitted student, and $2,553 to recruit each student who ultimately enrolls (when admission staff salaries and benefits were included in the admission office budget). Much of these costs were the result of the need to engage institutional staff in evaluating admission applications.

For the fall 2009 admission period, the admission officer was responsible for reading an average of 514 undergraduate admission applications. Staffs at public institutions were responsible for reading 2.5 times more applications than their counterparts at private colleges and universities. Admission officers at larger colleges and those at more selective institutions also had to contend with higher application volumes.

Admission office budgets include funds to cover expenses such as staff salaries and benefits, publications and mailings to prospective and admitted students, staff travel for recruitment, and other activities conducted by the admission department or third-party contractors.

While these costs are high, a sizable share of institutions reported making budget cuts in their admission office functions, likely because of difficult economic times. The proportion of colleges reporting decreases in their admission office budgets grew from 17 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2009. In addition, only 29 percent of colleges reported a budget increase for 2009, down from  42 percent in 2008.

NACUBO CONTACT Kenneth Redd, director, research and policy analysis, 202.861.2527

RESOURCE LINK Additional information about the State of College Admission 2010 report is available from the NACAC Web site.

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Postcards From Online

There are many ways to portray what's happening in the online learning sector. (See related article, "Going the Distance.") Here are several point-of-interest snapshots.

Course content. Nonprofit colleges and universities are partnering with for-profit providers for a variety of services, including market research and program marketing; student recruitment and retention; faculty recruitment and training; course development; and designing, and managing online classrooms. While survey data from the Instructional Technology Council's 2009 distance education survey (Trends in eLearning: Tracking the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges ) show that more community colleges are outsourcing hosting services for online classes to a third party (36 percent) or as part of a consortium (20 percent), the overwhelming majority (75 percent) still develop their own course content, compared to 18 percent that use content offered by a textbook publisher and 5 percent that contract or license materials from a content provider.

Program oversight. Distance education programs are migrating from IT operations to oversight by the academic side of the house. The 2010 Managing Online Education survey , a collaboration of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies and the Campus Computing Project, reports an indicator of that trend: While "chief information officer" is the most common title of the senior operating officer for online programming (for 42 percent of respondents), 49 percent of these CIOs report to the institution's provost or chief academic officer.

Ongoing Online Issues

No matter your institution's location on the online learning curve, certain challenges are ongoing. It's smart to keep the following issues in mind as you move forward:

  • Course content. While some institutions outsource content development, 75 percent of community colleges that offer e-learning still develop their own course content.
  • Program oversight. Distance learning programs are gradually migrating from IT operations to oversight by the academic side of the house.
  • Faculty training. Half of the participants in the 2010 Managing Online Education survey report that faculty training averages 22 hours, reflecting a significant investment of resources.
  • Technical support. This remains a big issue for students and faculty. Only one third of campuses participating in the 2010 Managing Online Education survey indicated that they provide 24/7 technical support.
  • ADA compliance. In 2009, results of the Instructional Technology Council's Trends in eLearning survey showed that only 54 percent of participating institutions indicated that most or all of their online classes were in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Faculty training. Among participating colleges and universities in the 2010 Managing Online Education survey, half report that training is mandatory for faculty who teach in online programs. Required training averages 22 hours, reflecting a significant investment of institutional resources. That finding is similar to ITC's 2009 distance education survey data, which show 60 percent of respondents saying faculty training for distance education is mandatory, of which 80 percent indicated that eight or more hours of training are required.

Technical support. According to the 2010 Managing Online Education survey, technical support remains a big issue for students and faculty. The survey data revealed that 15 percent of campuses limit support to the regular Monday through Friday workday hours, 20 percent offer some limited evening support, and another 32 percent provide some evening and weekend support beyond the workday. Only one third of participating campuses indicated that they provide 24/7 technical support.

ADA compliance. With all the progress made in improving online course quality and student retention, one area that seems to have slipped is accessibility compliance. According to ITC survey data, while 73 percent of respondents in 2008 indicated that most or all of their online classes were in compliance, among respondents in 2009, only 54 percent reported this as being the case, reflecting a nearly 20 percent drop from the previous year. A lack of strong policies and effective oversight may be to blame. According to the 2010 Managing Online Education survey, a number of institutions could be vulnerable to complaints, because responsibility to ensure compliance often resides with individual faculty members (34 percent) and academic departments (23 percent), rather than with a central office familiar with Americans with Disabilities Act mandates. Only 16  percent of institutions reported having a central office that examines each course for ADA compliance.

Key challenges. As reported in the most recent ITC survey, among the greatest challenges identified by community colleges for administrators of distance education programs are support staff needed for training and technical assistance, adequate student services for distance education students, and adequate assessment of distance education classes. With regard to faculty, top challenges include addressing faculty workload, and recruitment and training of quality faculty. Meanwhile, the top three challenges respondents noted for students enrolled in distance education classes were preparing students to take classes at a distance, assessing student learning and performance, and providing computer and technical support.

Online reorganization. Even as enrollments grow, the organizational arrangements for managing online efforts are in transition at many institutions. Close to half (44 percent) of the 2010 Managing Online Education survey respondents report that their campus has "reorganized the management of online education" in the past two years, while nearly a third (31 percent) have done so and anticipate another reorganization within the next two years. Why the upheaval? Survey participants  cite budget issues (52 percent) and efforts to coordinate instructional resources (39 percent) as major contributing factors, followed by changes in institution leadership (35 percent) and senior program officials (29 percent), and centralizing management of online education (27 percent).

Growth hazards. Beyond organizational concerns are challenges to program expansion. According to the 2010 Managing Online Education survey, faculty resistance to teaching online courses (73 percent) accounts for the primary impediment to expanding online education programs. Nearly two thirds (61 percent) of survey participants cited "lack of key resources" (instructors and support personnel) as a factor affecting program expansion, while more than half (56 percent) acknowledge that institutional budget cuts hamper program development and growth. These top three impediments—all internal challenges—far outweigh external concerns such as union agreements (26 percent), federal student aid regulations (22 percent), state regulations (17 percent), or accrediting issues (16 percent).

SUBMITTED BY Karla Hignite, contributing editor for Business Officer 

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SPOTLIGHT: Comprehensive and Doctoral Institutions
An Easy Way to Enrich Employee Discount Programs

At the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), we found that our employee discount program was falling into the "burdensome" category. Limited participation resulted from the small number of vendors and offerings, and out-of-date information. But, the idea of finding time to create a new program that was of real value, complying with conflict-of-interest rules, and devising a plan that we could easily administer seemed daunting.

As a way to meet that challenge, the human resources (HR) department contracted with an outside vendor, PerkSpot  to create and manage our employee discount benefit. The online program began in June 2009, and we've had excellent results so far. According to the November 2010 utilization report, UNO had a 37 percent participation rate. In November alone, there were 83 new registrations, and employees accessed the site 336 times. The vendor keeps the site updated, with frequent additions of providers and offerings, some of which are recommended by program participants.

Benefits at Your Fingertips

After careful consideration, we contracted with an online resource that offers discounts and rebates on goods and services from some of the top brand names in the United States. We've realized a number of positive improvements with the new program, including:

  • A greatly expanded list of products and services. Our provider finds national and local businesses, such as Best Buy, Dell, and Verizon Wireless, that offer discounts on their merchandise and services. In our previous program, we had products from only six vendors, but now more than 500 participate. Some of the most popular products are computers, electronics, and vacations.
  • Outsourcing of vendor contracts. Our HR and legal departments negotiated a three-year renewable contract with our provider, which makes arrangements with all the other individual companies.
  • A customized Web site for UNO. Once registered, faculty, staff, and students can access information about product and service offers directly through the provider's Web site or through the UNO Human Resources Web page.
  • Confidential transactions. Payments are handled between the participant and the vendor. In this way, HR does not compromise its relationship with faculty and staff, because no confidential information is passed between HR and PerkSpot. In addition, a disclaimer included on the Web site states that UNO does not endorse or imply endorsement of any of the companies offering products or services within the discount program.

Little or No Cost

A great attraction of the discount program is that there is no direct cost to the university. The provider generates its revenue from the participating companies. Our provider also handles vendor evaluations and establishes preferred product categories. We can also request that certain vendors be screened out if we feel they are not appropriate.

Indirect cost was only for the HR staff, who spent approximately 35 hours on vendor selection, contract negotiation, and initial rollout.

The result has been a no-risk rewards program for UNO. Since the launch of the site, more than one third of UNO faculty, staff, and students have registered. As of November 2010, there were 1,105 participants. At a time when salaries and other benefits remain somewhat static, we've been able to create an employee discount program that has met and exceeded expectations for administration and staff.

SUBMITTED BY Marlene Anderson, director, human resources department, the University of Nebraska-Omaha 

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