An optimistic 2021 outlook for enrollment and housing demand looking across the valley of COVID-19

By: Johan Rosenberg, Chairman

Based on national trends, we are expecting that enrollment will be down this spring due to continued financial disruption facing many families and the COVID-19 winter spike. However, some colleges are seeing promising interest for the Fall 2021 term. The source of the Fall 2021 optimism may be stemming from applicants who have deferred acceptances, or those that didn’t apply and simply took a year off resulting in pent up demand. Now after the Pfizer and Moderna announcements of 90-95% effective vaccines, it is possible to look across the valley and imagine a banner enrollment year for Fall 2021. What are the implications for enrollment strategy and housing? Enrollment Strategy


As a response to the 10% domestic and 43% international enrollment decline in 2020, some universities are extending acceptance deadlines one to four weeks to maximize their Fall 2021 enrollment. Tempting as it may be to have full enrollment from any source, some students are more attractive than others. Generally, international students are more likely to pay full tuition and generate higher auxiliary revenues, so universities may want to create motivating early acceptance programs, before filling up with domestic students. Experts expect a reset in international education policies under Biden, with a reversal of many recent policies that negatively impacted enrollment. Here is a detailed list with potential executive order action that can happen as early as January. Recruiters need to be familiar with this list and have ready marketing messages. To potentially offset and recover from lost 2020-21 revenues, universities may want to entice new and deferred freshman to enroll in classes as early as summer of 2021 to lock in, to get ahead, or to get back on track, applying the “summer melt” playbook with omni-channel communications as early as Spring 2021. Universities may want to paint a new optimistic long-term picture, highlighting the income benefits of higher education in the “new normal” post–COVID-19 world, while showing support and empathy for the COVID-19 hardships that prospective students have endured, and building on the euphoria of the vaccine development, warmer temperatures, and resuming their suspended social lives. Housing Considerations On the housing front, should delayed projects be dusted off? If, for example, Fall 2021 enrollment surpasses 2019 levels by an amount equal to the pandemic drop, schools may be facing a 110% or higher demand for housing, which may be an opportunity to raise rental rates. The price elasticity of student demand based on the total cost of attendance needs to be modeled, and price announcements tailored around the results of early acceptance.

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