Students who go to college in the future will be different from the freshmen who have traditionally enrolled in private colleges and universities. In order to attract and enroll those students, private colleges and universities will need to better differentiate themselves from each other, and from public institutions of higher education. But as an enrollment manager, I cannot be confident that I have the tools I need to enroll those students. Here is why:
With the exception of very prestigious institutions, colleges and universities seek students by buying their names from testing and other college preparation services. We then snail mail, email, call, text, and visit with those students to try to get them to enroll. But our ability to buy names is limited by the sort of data that testing services gather. And right now, they mostly gather demographic data and data on academic performance.
These data are important--they help us target students by geography, socio-economic status, and test score. But they don't help us see who will really engage with our campus, learn successfully in our classrooms, flourish at our school in ways that they wouldn't flourish elsewhere. In other words, because those data don't tell us anything about how a prospective student will match with the mission and the pedagogy of the institution, they don't help us link our institutional mission with its central task--educating students to succeed in college and beyond.
Now it is true that mission-matching takes place later in the recruiting process (sometimes), and it is true that many high school students do not care much about the mission of the schools they are looking at. But it is also true that if schools don't do better at attracting students who really fit the institutions they are selecting, we will fail to do our duty to those students, their families, and the communities that support them. And we will fail to take advantage of the characteristics that make our institutions unique.
Having said this I confess that I don't have any idea how to align student search with mission. But the organization who does it, who helps colleges and universities think about prospective students as more than an amalgam of educational and demographic data, will have done real good for students and for American higher education.