There is a never-ending dialogue in higher education enrollment between quality vs. quantity, as more colleges and universities focus on reaching more students and also recruiting the right students. This is an important dual objective—recruiting more students powers enrollment growth to sustain an institution, and recruiting better students with the right fit who actually reach graduation is the ultimate goal.
National enrollments have declined for a sixth straight year. It’s tougher than ever to fill a class. But it’s not just numbers institutions want. The pressure has been to not only recruit more students, but also to ensure that students find their best-fit institution, as colleges and universities must make better progress on student retention and success. National graduation rates (within six years) still hover at 60 percent.
The response from many institutions—and the recruitment strategists and firms that support them—has been to simply turn up the volume. They say: you can either recruit en masse or recruit the right students. Colleges and universities are often forced to choose between massive, impersonal recruitment strategies OR customized, smaller, more personal enrollment strategies. There is this notion that you can’t have quality of applicants as well as quantity when it comes to higher education enrollment.
In any other business—think of those successfully reaching consumers and driving revenue—marketers are not handcuffed by this kind of false choice. Our commercial counterparts use technology, tools, and insights to get there, and are encouraged to test and innovate to find smarter ways to reach the right people at the right time with the right message—at scale. The success of companies like Amazon has hinged on driving high quality consumer loyalty/conversion as well as volume—while still delivering a personalized, high-quality experience tailored to the individual. Whether we like it or not, this is what today’s higher education “consumer” expects and what is needed to reach them.
Students, parents, adult learners, and their influencers are no different. The same approach must happen in higher education marketing and recruitment. Institutions need to adopt a similar thought process to meet their enrollment goals AND do so in the way that reflects the applicant quality, diversity, and student fit for their academic programs. [Read more…]