Financial Future Update Fall 2015

Enrollment strategies and tuition revenue

In February 2013, the Grinnell College Board of Trustees voted to keep the College’s commitment to need-blind admission and to meeting 100 percent of domestic students’ financial need. At that same meeting, the board called for a fall 2015 review of efforts to establish financial sustainability. Trustees noted that a lack of significant progress would mean a discussion of more aggressively managing enrollment strategies or a change to an openly “need-aware” admission strategy effective with the class entering in 2017.

Last year saw a significant increase in tuition revenue. For 2015–16, Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment, says, “One question we had was, ‘Can we repeat what we did last year?’” 

The short answer was yes. 

Bagnoli attributes the successful growth in part to a change in how Grinnell College markets itself. “We no longer lead with financial aid information,” he says. “We talk more about the actual experience of attending Grinnell. We don’t emphasize financial aid in terms of what makes us distinctive.”

 This year, a higher percentage of students across the board accepted Grinnell’s offer of admission. Bagnoli thinks two initiatives contributed to the increase. After admitted students received their financial aid awards, College staff members called each one to review the offers, answer questions, and help overcome objections to enrollment.

Another tactic was mailing a personalized postcard. “There was social media buzz about that,” Bagnoli says. “Admitted students posted about how well the College seemed to know them. Our objective was to convey to admitted students our boldly individualized approach to education, and their responses confirmed the efficacy of the cards to achieve that understanding. 

“As pleased as I am about recent increases in net student revenue,” Bagnoli continues, “the level of net revenue from students is not yet adequate to underwrite the increasing costs associated with their education.” 

He and his team are examining additional initiatives. For example, what if the College were to admit a higher percentage of well-qualified international students with the resources to finance a significant share of their Grinnell education? That was one idea Bagnoli described to the trustees in June.

Whatever strategy they choose, Bagnoli says, “We are seeking solutions that will allow the College to maintain its commitments to access and diversity while increasing revenue — a tricky combination of objectives to achieve.” 

In their October 2015 board meeting, trustees will vote on whether to continue need-blind admission. The College will announce the results of the vote online and in the winter issue of The Grinnell Magazine.

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