Flight Patterns: How Student Migration is Changing Higher Ed 

College-bound students are on the move – in a few different ways. 

Spurred by the pandemic, students are traveling farther than usual to attend their schools of choice. Over the last three years, students’ average distance traveled has increased at both public and private institutions. 

Of note: Public institutions now draw 20 percent of their enrollment from out of state. That number was only 13 percent in 2019. Private institutions should pay particular attention to this trend, knowing that they’re now competing more directly with public institutions outside of their home states for their enrollment. 

When considering larger states like Texas and California, students may remain in-state to attend college, but they’re willing to travel a longer distance to do so.  

Geographical distance isn’t the only area experiencing migration, though. One of the biggest shifts rests in inquiries – both in the “when” and “how.” 

​From 2019 to 2022, students migrated toward inquiring in senior year. Our data shows that senior-originated inquiries yield at lower rates than those pre-senior year, so this might pose a real challenge for future enrollment cycles.  

We’ve also seen a migration away from traditional inquiry sources (test scores, travel, and visit – as affected by the pandemic) toward applications (or “stealth” applicants) and searched names. Both of these yield lower and more unpredictably than the aforementioned sources, so schools have needed to get creative with their strategies. 

It’s not all bad news, though! By identifying new inquiry sources, refining audiences through smart targeting, and enhancing recruitment efforts, you can ensure you keep up with these trends and stay ahead of these significant shifts in headwinds. 

As always, we would love to strategize with you and walk you through these trends in depth. Please feel free to schedule 30 minutes with us for a much closer look at what’s happening this cycle.