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Cost of Undergraduate Recruitment at Four-year institutions Has Held Steady Since 2009

January 25, 2012

According to a new report from Noel-Levitz, the median cost to recruit one undergraduate in 2011 (as defined by the budget for undergraduate recruitment and admissions divided by newly enrolled undergraduates) for four-year private institutions was $2,185 – practically the same as the $2,143 spent per undergraduate three years earlier. Public four-year institutions spend a fraction of the cost on student recruitment – only $457 per undergraduate in 2011. Public institutions are also holding their spending on recruitment, if not slightly decreasing it. In 2009, spending per undergraduate was $461. Public two-year institutions’ recruitment spending has actually fallen approximately 59 percent, from $263 in 2009 to $108 in 2011.

Within each of the sectors, enrollment size of the institution played a part in the cost of recruitment. Larger private institutions spend less money than schools with a smaller full-time equivalent (FTE) student body. The same is true within the public institutions.

Private institutions have a higher cost of recruitment per student in part by having a higher staff-to-student ratio. Admissions staff at private institutions reported a median of 33 new undergraduates per FTE admissions employee in 2011. Admissions staff at public institutions have more than three times the amount of new students per staff member at 117, while two-year public institutions have approximately 328 new students per admissions staff.

The Noel-Levitz report, “2011 Cost of Recruiting and Undergraduate Student: Benchmarks for four-year and two-year institutions” is based on data from 236 colleges and universities. Noel-Levitz defines “budget for undergraduate recruitment and admissions” with the following components: all staff salaries and benefits for employees working with undergraduate recruitment or admissions; capital costs; supplies; travel; publications and advertising; consulting services; and vendor/outsourced services. The recruitment budget does not include grants or scholarships.

The report also provides straightforward definitions and calculations so readers can accurately benchmark their institution’s data against the sample in the study. The report can be downloaded for free from the Noel-Levitz site.


Natalie Pullaro Davis
Manager, Research and Policy Analysis