Close to Home

I can tell I belong to a different generation. To come home for Thanksgiving from my freshman year at college, I had to fly. Today’s students prefer a college within an hour’s drive of home. East coast students I talked with a year ago called two hours “very far away.” That doesn’t seem far at all to my ancient and Midwestern sensibility. That’s an easy day trip—go to dinner in Des Moines and come home.

The idea of a school in my own backyard would have seemed claustrophobic to my younger self. Where’s the adventure in that? Of course, today’s students have greater chances to study abroad and some pursue an adventurous gap year. For those students, a nearby school may be less circumscribed than it seems to me.

Even more confining might be thinking of your market as circumscribed by that hour limit. Yet demographically, your own backyard is the most likely place to find traditional students who will enroll and persist.

Why do traditional students want to stay so close to home? I can’t tell if it’s the helicopter parents, the millennial generation’s ties to home, or the media hype that makes college seem like a risky choice. Maybe all three.

If you can’t enlarge the circle much, what can you do to improve your draw within that limit? You may have to restructure your academic portfolio or think about students you haven’t attracted in the past. Can you serve nontraditional students better? Can you improve your reputation? Fortunately, these are the very moves that will help you expand that circle, as well as strengthen your draw from within its limits.

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