One of the most commonly asked questions I receive when I am working on a Noel-Levitz partner campus is, “How do we compare with other institutions?” For over 20 years, Noel-Levitz has attempted to answer this question through a series of benchmarking studies–the latest is the 2010 Admissions Funnel Benchmarks for Four-Year Public and Private Institutions. Thanks goes to 193 colleges and universities who completed our survey this fall. The data increases in value as participation increases.
What you will see when you review the data is in part the result of what you already know: colleges and universities are making it very easy for prospective students to apply. The result is that fewer students are inquiring before applying, inquiry-to-applicant conversion rates are going up (because of increased applications as the first point of contact), and yield from accepted to enrolled is dropping due to “soft,” less-committed online applicants.
This leads me to observe several patterns that are worthy of note.
Five trends I observed after reading the latest benchmarking study:
- 1. I am especially struck by the low overall admit rates at public and private institutions and by the downward trend in admit rates over the last eight years at private four-year institutions (down 10 percent). This is caused by the large number of soft applicants who do not complete the process, who cannot be accepted or denied. How does your campus compare? Is your admit rate lower or higher than the medians reported? What strategies have you put in place to offset this trend?
2. It is evident that “secret shopping” is here to stay, with students and families doing their research online before inquiring (if they inquire) and submitting an application. While yield rates today have been declining, what I believe you will see in the years to come will be higher yield rates from students who apply online and complete the process, because they won’t apply unless they strongly suspect the institution has the characteristics they are looking for. It is like when I purchased my last washer and dryer–by the time I walked in the store, I knew exactly what I wanted, all of the features, and the best price. There was no “looking around” from store to store.3. While the recruitment of students still requires building a relationship between the institution and the prospective student and those that influence them, the obvious key to the relationship management process has become the institutional Web site. Scores of students and their families are looking at your Web site and are making the decision to inquire and/or apply based solely on the information that you provide and that they can easily find on your site. This means that the answers to commonly asked questions must be readily available, easy to find, and enjoyable to review once the student enters your Web site. To ensure that your site contains the content the student needs, ask yourself these two questions: 1) What is it that a student needs to know in order to make a good decision that we are a good fit for them?; and 2) What is it that we want them to know that they might not initially ask? This will help you determine what you should focus on when constructing your Web site with the secret shopper in mind.
4. The data show the importance of segmenting your applicant pool by type of application. Prospective students who apply as a first point of contact online have a lower yield rate, so a campus that is up in applications cannot celebrate that fact until they know if the application increase is from a high or low yielding source.
5. Finally, I believe the declining transfer yield trend among private colleges will continue for a while. It used to be that transfer students only applied to one or two schools, but with the ease in which transfers can now apply, transfer students will be applying to slightly more schools. Once your institution’s Web site provides transfer students with more accurate information that allows a prospective transfer to see which classes that they have taken will transfer, then I believe the yield will begin to climb.
Add your own observations and share your comments below
I encourage you to review the entire benchmark report, including Appendix B, which highlights seven ways that you can use the benchmark data at your institution. Add your comments to the blog so others can see them. If you have questions or would like to discuss the patterns you are seeing in your funnel, please feel free to contact me.
Craig Engel works directly with campuses on the effective administration of their enrollment management programs. His areas of expertise include database and inquiry pool management, staff training and development, transfer and graduate/professional recruitment techniques, and strategic enrollment planning. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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