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New Carnegie Study Shows Niche Colleges Can Overcome Misperceptions and Boost Enrollment

December 3, 2008

WESTFORD, Mass., Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ — A new national study conducted by
Carnegie Communications, a Massachusetts-based higher education research,
communications and consulting firm, reveals critical challenges and
opportunities for the country’s niche colleges — particularly in today’s
uncertain economic environment.

The study, conducted with a sample of high school students across the
country, found that while students today are not as attracted to Women’s,
Historically Black or Catholic Colleges as they are to public and other
private colleges and universities, misperceptions about these colleges can be
overcome if the colleges sharpen their communications to prospective students.

Previous research identified an opportunity gap for these colleges:

— According to the College Board, 54% of college bound students are
female, yet only 5% of them make application to Women’s Colleges (Source:
Women’s College Coalition);

— African American student enrollment in college has increased 37% from
’98-’04, but enrollment in Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs)
has only increased by 13% during that period (Source: National Center for
Education Statistics);

— Catholic Colleges enroll 22% of all students, but 89% of Millennials
indicate a willingness to switch from one brand to another if the second brand
is associated with a good cause. (Source: Moody’s study on Catholic
institutions, Cone Millennial Cause Study 2006).

Successful Graduates

The lack of interest in these niche sectors occurs despite evidence that
attending them is a satisfying experience and graduates go on to be
disproportionately successful in their careers and graduate school. For
example, Women’s Colleges report that more of their graduates go on to run
Fortune 1000 companies or sit at the highest level of government than those
who did not attend these institutions. Research at Michigan State University
found that 40% of African Americans with Ph.D.’s earned Bachelor’s degrees
from HBCUs and 85% of African American physicians attended HBCUs.

The new Carnegie study validated this opportunity gap. Only 10% of women
said they would “likely” (i.e., definitely or very likely) apply to a Women’s
College, only 11% of African American students said they would “likely” apply
to a Historically Black College or University and 36% of Catholic students
said they would “likely” apply to a Catholic institution. This compares to
nearly 90% of the sample who said they would “likely” apply to a public
four-year institution and nearly 75% said they would “likely” apply to a
four-year private college.

Communications Opportunities

But, an analysis of the study also identified communications opportunities
for these niche colleges by looking at how they are rated on the criteria that
guide students’ selections. For women, African American and Catholic students,
niche institutions lag behind the public and private school counterparts in
their ratings on “strength of academic programs,” “overall campus life,” and
“success of graduates.”

When women, African American and Catholic students were asked to provide
the top reasons for attending private colleges and public universities, all
three groups associated private colleges with “high quality academics,”
“successful graduates” and “more majors and opportunities to get involved.”
They associated public universities with “lower cost,” “more majors” and “high
quality academics.” All three groups of students had the same hesitations for
private colleges as being “too expensive” and public universities as having
“large class sizes.” Thus, public institutions may be the beneficiary in tough
financial times, but private institutions may be perceived to provide worthy
benefits that offset greater cost.

The top reasons women, African Americans and Catholic students have for
attending the niche schools included “the school’s fundamental identity” as an
added value benefit above and beyond the benefit of attending a private or
public institution. At the same time, however, the hesitations with attending
these schools included “perceived lack of diversity inherent in the school’s
mission” and “perceived expense,” which may explain why they lag behind
private and public schools in likelihood to apply.

“While the findings of our study show that these niche colleges face
challenging times in the future, they are also encouraging because they show
overwhelming advantages for the students who enroll in these colleges,” said
Dr. Debra Godfrey, Senior Vice President at Carnegie, who directed the study.
“What we find is a situation in which Women’s, Historically Black and Catholic
Colleges have a tremendous opportunity to use messaging to build on strengths
and reframe hesitations and limitations to unique, added value differentiators
that can boost student enrollment in the coming years.”

About the Methodology

Using a national database of high school students, 860 students responded
to a web based survey in August and September of this year. The sample
represented students who were likely to attend college and had roughly the
national average for ACT and SAT scores with GPAs in the “B” range. The sample
robustly represented women, African Americans and Catholics for analysis
purposes.

About Carnegie

Carnegie Communications (http://www.carnegiecomm.com), based in Westford,
Massachusetts
, has been providing research, creative development and marketing
consulting services to higher education institutions for ten years. Its
services span areas of enrollment, retention and advancement for a range of
key audiences associated with more than 100 client colleges and universities.

SOURCE Carnegie Communications


Source: newswire