Industry News

Market Reporting that Matters

Football Success May Help Boost University Enrollment

Alabama, Clemson Prime Examples

By Dave Sorter | Thursday, December 14, 2017


College football championships bring a sense of pride to a university community, as well as a place in the national consciousness. Even those who aren’t fans of the sport likely know something about the gridiron exploits of schools such as Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Southern California.

A winning football team can bring more than notoriety, however. University enrollment figures since 2007 show that universities with dominant football teams often realize increased university enrollment growth during their winning stretches. And, of course, enrollment growth means more student housing demand.

Two of the four teams in this year’s College Football Playoff are prime examples of that fact. Alabama and Clemson, who have split the past two college football championship games, will play their rubber match in a CFP semifinal on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Both of these universities have seen their student bodies grow during their recent runs to glory.

Alabama has long been among football’s powerhouses, but the Crimson Tide fell on hard times in the mid-2000s. But the hiring of coach Nick Saban sparked a turnaround that has seen the Tide roll to four national football titles since 2009.

’Bama’s enrollment in the fall of 2009, that first championship year of the Saban era, was 28,699. It grew to 30,127 the next fall after Alabama beat Texas in January 2010 for the title. Enrollment has since grown anywhere from 1.5-6.2% in subsequent years, with preliminary Fall 2017 enrollment coming in at 38,563. That’s a 34.4% increase in the eight years since 2009.

Click to enlarge in new tab

Is the Crimson Tide’s football success responsible for attracting all those additional students? Of course not. But the cachet of a traditional power returning to greatness and the winning atmosphere surrounding campus make Alabama an attractive school.

On the other hand, defending college football champion Clemson is a relative newcomer to the football elite. While usually sporting a winning record, the Tigers had not been to one of the elite bowls since 1981 before playing in the Orange Bowl as Atlantic Coast Conference champions in 2011, the third year under current coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson’s real rise to power came the past two years, when, behind all-everything quarterback DeShaun Watson – now an injured Houston Texans rookie – they faced Alabama in the national championship game.

Clemson University’s enrollment was 19,914 in 2011 and 24,387 in the preliminary Fall 2017 figures, a 22.5% increase over the past six years. It is doubtful football was the sole reason, since the student body increased by 14.3% in the four years from 2007-2011. So, the football success may have simply helped accelerate an ongoing pattern of university enrollment growth.

Click to enlarge in new tab

Perhaps the poster child for football/enrollment ebb and flow could be Oregon. The Ducks were anything but mighty during the 20th century before becoming a power in the late 2000s, ultimately losing the 2010 season BCS championship game to Auburn and its quarterback, Cam Newton. Oregon continued strong through 2014 when, despite the dominance of quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks lost the first College Football Playoff title game to underdog Ohio State.

As the football team climbed to power, university enrollment grew as well. The student body totaled 20,332 in 2007 and expanded to 24,096 in 2014, an 18.5% increase. But in the three years since, the football team has not contended as it rides a coaching carousel, and enrollment dropped to 22,980 in Fall 2017 – a 4.6% decline from 2014. Not even the basketball team’s appearance in the 2017 NCAA Final Four could stem the tide.

Click to enlarge in new tab

A college football team’s long-term run of success – especially a championship – seems to go hand in hand with increased enrollment. So what will happen this season? Will Alabama or Clemson continue their championship ways? Or will Oklahoma or Georgia, who meet in the other Jan. 1 semifinal at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, begin a new trend?

That will be decided on the football field. And the admissions office.


Dave Sorter

Dave Sorter


Dave Sorter is an award-winning journalist who spent 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining Axiometrics. He oversees all Axio blogs and newsletters and serves as senior editor of all Axio publications.

Javascript is not enable. This may affect content rendering. You can enabled Javascript in your Settings Menu.