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This post is based on an article in the current issue of University Business
Cohesive college admissions and marketing teams are now more vital than ever, when missed targets for enrollment and tuition revenue are the new normal for campuses. This year’s Chronicle of Higher Education’s survey of small colleges and mid-sized universities reported that almost 3 in 10 public institutions and more than 4 in 10 private institutions missed both their enrollment and their net tuition revenue goals this year. Well-coordinated college admissions and marketing offices ensure that institutional branding messages speak to recruitment needs, while admission recruiting communications encourage brand awareness and market penetration that resonate with students, faculty, staff, and alumni. A shared reporting structure is one way to break down campus silos, creating synergies among professional staff that may not exist otherwise. So too, less formal alliances developed among staff members can be key to ensuring messaging and marketing materials that speak to campus culture while working to meet enrollment goals.
Marketing a campus’s value proposition is also critical. According to the Ruffalo Noel Levitz 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report for Four-Year and Two Year Institutions, 63 percent of high school seniors and 61 percent of high school juniors expect to see job placement outcomes on college websites. Prospective students want compelling webpages that speak authentically to student success, outcomes, and the particular attributes that make a campus unique. Furthermore, traditional platforms are becoming less relevant. RNL’s 2015 High School Students’ and Parents’ Perception of and Preferences for Communication with Colleges reported that 61 percent of student respondents had searched for colleges by viewing online videos and almost half used social media.
‘Closing the deal’ when it comes to college enrollment is everyone’s job
In order to meet expectations that demand both a relationship marketing strategy and a well branded presence, campus leaders must:
- Foster collaboration between the college admissions and marketing arms of the campus.
- Challenge the two departments to work together to develop strategic and long range enrollment marketing plans – translated into actionable steps.
- Provide an expectation for data-driven reports and communicate progress to faculty and staff, boards, and other influential campus constituents.
- Encourage partnerships among the development office, career services, financial aid officers, faculty, athletics, institutional research, residence life, and even auxiliary services to facilitate the publication of authentic material.
- Make sure the team stays current on prospective student preferences.
- Ensure differentiated marketing outreach to address individual concerns, tailored to reach specific students.
- Involve every department that communicates with prospective students and their families in order to ensure that brand consistency, stylistic preferences, delivery methods, and timing is synchronized.
- Engage professionals from the marketing arm of the institution to assist in training admissions recruiters and others in the campus community.
- Create a culture where any member of the campus can seamlessly articulate the costs and benefits of education at the institution.
- Give the enrollment marketing team a voice at the leadership table. Their expertise on trends, market volatility, and demographic shifts can provide much-needed context for enrollment and net tuition revenue projections.
LeAnn Hughes, vice president for enrollment and marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University, describes the value of this approach, “Much of my work at the cabinet level is to ensure our team is mindful of the impact of decisions as they pertain to enrollment outcomes. When discussions occur that have impact on budgets, tuition, discount rates, or headcount, I am able to communicate the possible implications in real time…. I have the ability to ensure marketing budget allocations of the institution are centralized and are invested in ways that will have the greatest possible impact toward driving revenue generating goals, rather than being unnecessarily diluted in initiatives that will do little to drive toward positive outcomes.”
In short, a coordinated structure where college admissions and marketing teams act collaboratively, and are then encouraged to provide a data-driven and informative voice to leadership, will provide the best opportunity for success.
For more on this topic, visit the February edition of University Business.
Today’s challenging environment is pushing marketing and enrollment management to new frontiers. Attend our upcoming Summit to take a deep dive into the latest trends, research, and innovations for nurturing student engagement. It’s not too late to register.
Unable to attend the Summit? Contact us at 800.876.1117 or send an email to discuss enrollment opportunities, confidentially, with an expert from Ruffalo Noel Levitz.
This is part two of a two-post series on opportunities associated with the new FAFSA PPY (Prior-Prior Year) regulations which went into effect in fall 2016. See part one.
How well is your enrollment team tracking the impact of FAFSA PPY? Are you maximizing your early filer conversion and yield rates?
In September of 2015, the Department of Education announced that we would be moving to Prior-Prior Year (PPY) or Early FAFSA Filing for the fall 2017-18 academic year. This change was largely supported by higher education institutions, policy groups, and lawmakers with a number of goals in mind:
- Simplify the aid application process
- Increase FAFSA completion
- Increase the accuracy of the FAFSA
- Provide families an earlier and more accurate idea of their anticipated financial aid and college costs
- Provide all students more time to plan and make informed enrollment decisions
And of course the ultimate goals: greater affordability and greater access for students.
Now that PPY and fall 2017 recruitment are well under way, it is important to review the early results of FAFSA PPY and identify specific strategies to maximize filer conversion and yield rates.
Early FAFSA PPY filing rates: What the data show
FAFSA PPY filing started off quickly in comparison to previous years but slowed during December. In the absence of previous filer rates for October, the Department of Education in its reports decided to compare FAFSA filing rates from 2016 to 2017 by week. For example: Week 4 of 2017 included filing data through October 21 compared to Week 4 of 2016 which included data through January 22:
Above, we can see the first 4 weeks of filing this year were exceptional with 497,884 filers compared to 390,819 in the previous cycle, a 27.4 percent increase. The FAFSAs submitted were also more accurate, with the number of rejected ISIRs dropping by 12.6 percent in the first month. This translates to a 34.1 percent increase in the number of completed FAFSAs submitted during the first four weeks of the FAFSA cycle for 2017.
This post is the first part of a two-post series on opportunities associated with the new Prior-Prior Year regulations which went into effect in fall 2016.
Prior-Prior Year is now in its fourth month. How well prepared is your campus for the new realities of today’s marketplace? And how are you making a stronger case for your affordability using P-P-Y for today’s cost-conscious families? Consider:
- 2 million students will graduate from U.S high schools every year for at least the next 10 years (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2016).
- Approximately 62 percent of American students annually will consider postsecondary education (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 2016).
- The price tag of higher education has nearly doubled in the last 20 years (Perry, 2016). There are no consumer goods or services that have increased more than the annual cost of college education since 1996. If we compare the overall consumer prices of all goods and services during this same period, the cost of higher education has increased in real dollars by more than 94 percent.
Need evidence that cost is a growing concern? The Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey is part of the Higher Education Research Institute, which is part of UCLA. The survey, which has a fifty-year history, is administered to incoming first-year students before they start classes, allowing campuses to understand student perceptions about college prior to time on campus and in classrooms. The 2015 CIRP Freshman Survey indicated that the top reason students chose the institution they attended was academic reputation—not surprisingly, this has remained the number one reason for several years. The third and fourth reasons focused on financial aid and cost. The overall amount of financial aid offered was the third reason, and the overall cost of attending the college was the fourth (Cooperative Institutional Research Program, 2016).
In addition, a study by Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that Caucasian and African American students are more likely to have discussions regarding college financing versus parents of Hispanic and Asian American students. Of the parents who are “very involved” in the college selection process, as many as 72 percent have had conversations with their students about college financing (Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2016).
Address the cost conversation earlier—Prior-Prior Year brings new opportunities
There is no doubt that institutional awards and state financial assistance affect students’ choices of postsecondary institutions; unfortunately, students and families often are not informed of their financial aid package or other sources of financial assistance until after students are admitted (Renn & Reason, 2013). This is changing, however. Fall 2016 was the first fall in which campuses were able to begin awarding financial aid to admitted students as early as October 1—which many campuses are referring to as Prior-Prior Year awarding. Because many students and families have an unrealistic understanding of how they will pay for college, the additional time in the process to assess financial aid and determine how much a family can contribute to total cost of attendance is beneficial.
Last month the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) released updated high school graduate projections through 2032 . The report contained the following findings and observations:
- The steady growth in high school graduates that led to significant expansion of higher education in the United States in recent decades is coming to an abrupt halt. While the percentage of graduates grew 30 percent from 1995 to 2013, the number of high school graduates is expected to show virtually no growth for the next seven years.
- Dramatic increases in graduates who are Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander will continue. The racial/ethnic mix of high school graduates in the United States will shift significantly toward a more diverse population of graduates fueled primarily by large increases in the number of Hispanic (50 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islander (30 percent) public high school graduates through about 2025.
- Marked regional differences will continue as well. There is significant regional variation, with the Northeast and the Midwest experiencing continuing declines in the number of high school graduates, while the West will see slight increases and the South significant and steady increases. Most notably, the South is the engine of growth for high school graduates.
The enrollment challenges noted in these findings are probably not a surprise to most higher education leaders who are already feeling the impact of weakening student demand. Indeed total enrollment in degree-granting institutions declined by more than 800,000 students between fall 2010 and fall 2014 according to IPEDS. The National Student Clearinghouse, which produces data ahead of IPEDS, has now reported enrollment declines for ten consecutive terms through fall 2016.
How healthy is your pool of prospective students for 2017? Are you on track to achieve your enrollment goals? Our latest set of recruitment conversion benchmarks can help you better understand the quality of your pool now–and throughout the cycle–and can help identify possible strategies to take now to close any gaps.
Accurate prospective student conversion data is the key. Below are some specific suggestions for how to use peer institution benchmarks to take your prospective student conversion to the next level.
1) Be sure to track separate student populations in your institution’s conversion rates. As the latest data from Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s 2016 Recruitment Conversion and Yield Rate Benchmarks demonstrate, different types of prospective students convert and yield at different rates, so it is no longer possible to use a “one-size-fits-all” tracking approach. We recommend that four-year public and private campuses should, at minimum, be separately tracking freshmen and transfers, in-state and out-of-state, international, traditional and nontraditional-age, and campus applications versus applicants from third-party services. In addition, applicants whose first contact is the application (stealth applicants) should be tracked separately from those who are inquiries before applying.
2) Develop more accurate enrollment projections using your institutions’ conversion data from previous years. Look back at your own internal conversion rates first, even before examining external benchmarks such as those from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. By examining your institution’s historic conversion rates at each stage of the cycle and for each type of applicant, you can better predict where your future enrollment will end up as each week of the admissions cycle unfolds. For effective internal benchmark comparisons, we advise our client institutions to store and analyze three to five years of comparative data. To more fully understand how to use this historical trend data to predict and influence enrollment, see the table and illustrations on pages 2 and 3 of the Ruffalo Noel Levitz white paper, 7 Categories of Admissions Data to Guide Decision-Making.
3) Strengthen your recruitment strategies by using peer benchmarks to identify strengths and challenges/opportunities. This will allow you to keep building more efficient and effective programs for student recruitment and admission. For example, in places where you see that your conversion rate is significantly lower than peer institutions, you may need to initiate new activities aimed at raising your rate. Or, in cases where you see that your rate is above a given benchmark, you may decide to build on that area as a particular strength of your admissions/recruitment/marketing program.
4) Measure conversion of students from your search purchases to assess your effectiveness in drawing them to your institution. The days of the convenient “response card” are long gone, but institutions still need to assess the return on their investment in search name purchases—specifically, the percentage that convert to inquiries. If your conversion rate is lower than peers’, you may need to step up your early contact with all, or a qualified portion, of the search pool. Coverage rate (the percent of enrolled students who were in the search campaigns) should also be calculated.
This is part two of a two-part blog post published with the permission of Simmons College
Recap: Simmons College (read part one here)
“The college’s system was handling a growing number of applications and the admissions team was becoming increasingly bogged down with trying to get them to an actionable status. Having to focus on the logistics of application materials limited the meaningful conversations counselors could have with interested students and their families—and lower yield rates showed it. Dolan believed it was time to reconsider how they built and cultivated the college’s inquiry and applicant pools.”
Our story continues…Adapting to a new approach
Telling your campus that you’re experiencing what was ultimately a 27 percent decrease in applications is enough to cause panic, despite the very promising indicator of a rise in campus visits that fall. Dr. Dolan is the first to admit that there was more than a little trepidation on campus as their first early action deadline neared. The raw application numbers didn’t live up to the previous year, and he realized they needed to assess (and report on) different metrics because this was a very different approach. A closer look at the status of the first round of early action applications painted a more promising picture. “Our file completion rate was 97 percent. We had never seen that before.” Without changing its admission standards, Simmons had the same number of offers of acceptance to keep it on track for its yield and enrollment targets. The trend continued through the second early action and regular decision deadlines.
What’s more, with its inquiry pool now qualified, the team could see that the number of prospective students who had a very high interest in Simmons was, in Dr. Dolan’s words, “through the roof.”
Focusing on applicants—not applications
With RNL providing unprecedented intelligence on each prospective student, the counselors were able to focus their own outreach. They could do seemingly simple things that made a tremendous difference. For example, they could reach out to all of their prospective students who hadn’t yet filed financial aid forms and advise them on the process. In the past, the applicant volume prevented being able to achieve that in the tight timeline necessary. “The team became so much more efficient. They had more time to connect with their prospective students and strengthen those relationships. They really understood their students,” said Dolan.
Focusing on the right numbers
Explaining the new approach and its benefit to students is great, but in assessing and projecting enrollment to the campus, it’s still about numbers. It’s just that the numbers they needed to look at were different now. “We needed to educate our community,” Dr. Dolan explains. With the support, insights, and counsel of the RNL team, Simmons rebuilt its metrics to evaluate the applicant pool, including building a 13-point affinity metric. “It was still a bit of a leap of faith,” Dolan admits, “but by March 11 we knew we had it.”
This is part one of a two-part blog post published with the permission of Simmons College.
See part 2.
Simmons College was in a good place in fall 2015. One year after enrolling the smallest class in its history, the freshman class of this Massachusetts college was now its largest ever. Not a small feat for this private, liberal arts women’s college in Boston. It was the type of success you’d want to replicate. So—for many people—it was a bit of a shock when the college completely changed its recruitment and marketing approach for the class entering in fall 2016. Why make such a seemingly risky move?
Dr. John F. Dolan, vice president of enrollment management at Simmons since 2014, explains, “Our system was full with applications that didn’t necessarily behave the way we needed or wanted…and required too much time and energy to manage.” He chose to partner with Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) to more effectively manage the college’s enrollment stream.
The perils of inflated applications
In making this decision, Dr. Dolan had taken a close look at the numbers. Applications had more than doubled since 2007: to the casual observer, a positive indicator of demand. Yet the number of offers of acceptance remained steady—and not by a concerted decision to become more selective. Rather, it was because the number of completed applications actually remained flat over the same period.
This meant the college’s system was handling a growing number of applications and the admissions team was becoming increasingly bogged down with trying to get them to an actionable status. Having to focus on the logistics of application materials limited the meaningful conversations counselors could have with interested students and their families—and lower yield rates showed it. Dolan believed it was time to reconsider how they built and cultivated the college’s inquiry and applicant pools.
Refocusing on genuine interest: It’s all about getting the right applicants, not just generating more applications
In partnering with RNL to recruit and enroll its class entering for fall 2016, Simmons College utilized the company’s Enrollment Marketing Solutions and Enhanced Search Strategies. RNL employed its customized predictive analytics and its multi-channel creative communications approach to strengthen Simmons’ search program, which included rising seniors. RNL also surveyed students in the inquiry pool, scored their enrollment propensity using predictive analytics, and engaged with them via its Comprehensive Inquiry Management.
Many colleges and universities across the U.S. and abroad now use digital marketing tools such as chat, skype, virtual college fairs, and webinars to reach prospective international students abroad, along with a wide variety of social media and technologies including:
- WeChat (especially for China – 650 million monthly active users)
- Weibo (“Twitter” for China; 460 million monthly active users)
- Virtual college fairs
Tools like these are essential elements in the mix of methods for recruiting international students–but they are not the whole thing. In my experience, most institutions find they are best used in combination with face-to-face recruiting and other key methods such as email, print materials, paid advertising, and—of course—the institution’s website.
Per Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), students outside the U.S. require a mix of online and offline resources. Online resources used include:
- Official college and university websites (94% of students use)
- University ranking websites (74% of students use)
- Specialized recruiting websites (44% of students use sites like Study in the USA)
- Student chat rooms (14%)
- Social media (13%)
This data is consistent with what I hear from the NAFSA Association of International Educators: Social media in nations outside the U.S. are seen by U.S. recruiters as complementary rather than as primary recruiting tools; not as many students are depending on social media as we may think. For prospective students, social media appear to be primarily a source for ideas and inspiration, rather than a selection tool.
8 tips for taking your recruiting to the next level
Of major importance in using technology for international student recruitment:
- First, get your website content and email strategy in order, then work on social media. Students prefer to use email to initiate contact with a university, but if there is no quick response, they’ll resort to social media to get what they want.
- Connect students with students. Strive to create authentic conversations and to keep it genuine. Connecting prospective students with current students from the same region/country is most important.
- Responses should be personal and quick–within two hours.
- Photos are better than text-heavy posts.
- Hire some actual students to do the posting (after training them as ambassadors).
- Personalize messages: Happy Eid, Happy Lunar New Year. All communications must always be personalized and relevant.
- Ask current students to evaluate your social media strategy so they can tell you what works and what doesn’t.
- Social media efforts often work better as yield activities rather than as initial contact.
Something interesting, and an area that has room for significant improvement: students say it’s really hard to find information on costs and scholarships on official college and university websites. I would agree! There’s a real opportunity here for institutions willing to work hard and thoughtfully on their websites.
Sources for this infographic include four Ruffalo Noel Levitz reports:
The forthcoming fall 2016 E-Expectations Report
2016 Adult E-Expectations Report
2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report
2016 Marketing and Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report
How can you improve your digital marketing?
Call 800.876.1117 or email us for an appointment to discuss your digital marketing strategy with an expert from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. We’ll listen to what’s working for you, and share what’s working for our partner campuses. All conversations are completely confidential.
Join us for two upcoming webinars
|Maximizing Your Engagement With Prospective Students on Social Media
Thursday, October 20, 2016, 2 p.m. Eastern Time
How to Reach Prospective Adult Students: Insights From 2016 E-Expectations Research
Thursday, November 10, 2016, 2 p.m. Eastern Time