Inquiry Volume Continues its Decline, But There Is Good News.

Inquiries were nine percent lower in August, and 11 percent lower for all of 2017.  “Long-term trends clearly are down, and the trend appears to be accelerating,” said Robert Atkins, founder and chief executive officer of Gray.  “While 2015 to 2016 was down nine percent, we’re down 11 percent so far this year.”  Mr. Atkins presented the findings at the firm’s September 21 webinar.

Conversion rates improved, however, mitigating the downward trend in inquiries.  They are currently running 25 percent ahead of 2014, the baseline year for Gray’s demand trend tracking.  “Inquiry volume has been shifting from lower quality sources to higher quality,” noted Mr. Atkins.  “As a result, conversion rates have been going up even as inquiry volume has been going down.”

A conversion is any inquiry where the applicant moves further in the process.  This can include submitting an application, applying for financial aid or starting classes.  Gray tracks conversions by month of inquiry and allows at least three months for conversion rates to mature.

Conversions for May 2017, the most recent mature month, are running 10 percent ahead of 2016, and Mr. Atkins expects that conversion rates for June, July and August will also be at least 10 percent ahead of last year.

Overall Inquiry Conversion Rates

The improving conversion rates reflect growing interest in online programs. For May, the conversion rate for online programs rose 89 percent year-over-year while for on-campus programs it fell 10 percent.  Inquiry volume in August for online programs was one percent lower than a year ago; however, this was a marked improvement from July, when inquiry volume fell 11 percent year-over-year.  The inquiry rate for on-campus programs dropped 12 percent in August.

The average price that institutions pay for inquiries dropped to $44.65 in August; the first time in 2017 it was below $45.

By degree level, inquiries for bachelor’s and doctoral programs rose by eight percent and three percent, respectively, in August.  However, inquiries were off 11 percent for undergraduate certificates, seven percent for master’s degrees and four percent for associate’s degrees.

All of the five largest markets had lower inquiry volume for August, led by Chicago, which was 21 percent lower, year-over-year.  Inquiry volume was down 14 percent in Atlanta, 10 percent in New York and Philadelphia and three percent in Los Angeles.

Four of the five largest IPEDS CIP academic programs reported lower inquiry volume, year-over-year, for August.  Registered Nursing was off by 12 percent; Criminal Justice by 11 percent; Medical Assistant by 10 percent, and Business Administration, Associate’s degree, by six percent.  Inquiry volume for Business Administration, Bachelor’s degree or higher, was unchanged from a year ago.

The five programs with the most growth in inquiry volume for August were:  General Studies, up 119 percent, year-over-year; Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies, up 117 percent; Accounting and Business/Management, up 75 percent, Hospitality Administration, up 74 percent, and Human Services, up 71 percent.

The five programs with the biggest declines in inquiry volume were:  Curriculum & Instruction, off 69 percent; Electrical/Electronic Equipment Installation and Repair, off 64 percent; Construction Management, off 56 percent; Cosmetology, off 54 percent, and Organizational Behavior Studies, off 52 percent.

The full report can be viewed here:

About Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. is a higher education consulting firm.  We help clients develop fact-based institutional and marketing strategies to maximize outcomes for students, the school, and its constituencies.  Gray uses proprietary analytical techniques and an industry-leading database combining information on inquiry volumes, demographics, competition, and employment, to help faculty and school leadership develop institutional strategies, select programs, pick locations, and prepare curricula.

Media contact:
Ellis Simon, 516-524-6804,

Company contact:
Mark Keleher, 617-366-2831,

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Gray Associates, Inc. is a software and services firm focused on higher education. We help education clients develop fact-based institutional and marketing strategies that maximize outcomes for students, the school, and its constituencies.

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