Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Lessons from the NFL for Managing College Enrollment
Press Release

RELEASE: Lessons from the NFL for Managing College Enrollment

Read the report.

Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress argues that colleges must abandon their rankings-focused culture and follow the unlikely example of the National Football League. The author, Jerome Lucido, argues that the NFL’s league rules present a promising model of how to moderate harmful competition, regain public trust, and focus on educational results.

The complex field known as enrollment management is comprised of methodologies used by colleges and universities to determine who is recruited, who merits admissions, who receives student aid, and of what variety. Current college enrollment strategies have lead our nation to produce college graduates from the most advantaged portion of the population at alarmingly disproportionate rates. And as a groundswell of research continues to signal that college education matters more than ever for the growth and sustenance of our country, the United States must work to increase the percentage of its population entering and graduating from college.

“The goals of college admission and enrollment leaders disproportionately favor economically advantaged students through intense competition for institutional prestige and revenue. The lopsided results now undermine the educational attainment goals of the nation, said Lucido, author of the report and professor at the University of Southern California. “But there are ways that the competition can be harnessed to more fully serve the public interest. We need only look to the NFL to find a useful model. The NFL represents one of the most competitive environments known to our nation, and yet it offers higher education a valuable model for collective action by creating a more level playing field, reducing costs, and producing better results.”

The report released today, entitled “Lessons from the NFL for Managing College Enrollment,” examines the conflicts and tradeoffs in college enrollment management and presents a case for how the goals and strategies pursued can be recalibrated to address the national priorities or educational access and completion. Specifically, the paper suggests that American higher education would be more inclusive and results driven if colleges and universities formed a league to establish rules of competition and progress in the public interest. The goals of this “Higher Education League” would be broader participation, increased rates of success, and reduced costs. League rules would ensure better and more relevant public information about college characteristics and college choice, clear and consistent recruitment and application guidelines, full disclosure and uniform methods in determination and delivery of student financial assistance, educational quality measured by student learning and student readiness to realize personal and societal goals, and the nurturance of the talent in the K-12 pipeline.

“As policymakers search for ways to strengthen our middle class by making college more affordable and accessible, it is essential that they understand the competitive forces at work in college admissions,” said Julie Margetta Morgan, Director of Postsecondary Access and Success at the Center for American Progress, “Lucido offers a compelling look into the world of enrollment management and an intriguing and innovative way to think about moderating competition among institutions.”

The paper concludes by suggesting that higher education leaders, public policymakers, philanthropic foundations, corporate entities, and others engage in and support the exploration, formation, and startup of the league.

Read the report: Lessons from the NFL for Managing College Enrollment by Jerome A. Lucido

What higher education experts are saying about Lucido’s paper:

Don Hossler, professor of educational leadership and policy studies, Indiana University Bloomington:

By using the analogy of a sports league, Lucido provides a provocative framework with which to think about the competitive policies and practices of colleges and universities. It is intriguing to consider the fact that Congress has made special allowances for professional sports leagues—which are hardly essential to the long-term health of the nation—and yet has created a legal environment where it is illegal for colleges and universities to enter into conversations that might result in lower tuition prices, more emphasis on the education of undergraduate students, and less emphasis and money devoted to the recruitment of students. It is time for a careful analysis of federal laws and for institutions to take a closer look at how they spend their financial aid dollars.

Don Heller, dean of the College of Education, Michigan State University:

In this paper Lucido has drawn an interesting analogy between the NFL, which has become the most successful sports league in the country due largely to collective action, and the college enrollment business. He makes a compelling case that collective action is needed to help rescue the higher education industry in this country from decline, and university leaders and policymakers should take note.

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact Katie Peters at [email protected] or 202.741.6285.