Click to see full size
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.
We all live in and enjoy the benefits of a sharing economy, where individuals are able to borrow or rent assets owned by someone else. We see this regularly when the price of the asset is high (a car, a home) and not fully utilized all of the time, think Airbnb, Uber. But it can also apply to the sharing of information technology and intellectual resources. It’s that sharing of intellectual resources, specifically, college student success assets, that I want to focus on today.
As educators, the reality of our work today is that we face intense pressure to address our college student success needs. Think performance-based funding, budgeting and net revenue issues, accreditation, local, regional, and national employment trends. And student needs are changing as demographics change; we have less time and resources to design an effective solution, not to mention we have very little room for error. Instead of designing something from the ground up, we often take advantage of our student success sharing economy and frequently look to established best practices, associations, vendors, and colleagues for an idea that can be customized to fit our unique needs and situation.
Descriptions of more than 170 award-winning retention programs
I hope you’ve taken advantage of the body of knowledge Ruffalo Noel Levitz contributes to the student success sharing economy. One way we contribute is by celebrating effective college retention programs with the Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards (REAs). More than 170 colleges and universities have been honored with Retention Excellence Awards and they all have shared their retention assets via our compendium. If you’re looking for new ideas to serve minority students, to create a comprehensive retention plan, to recruit back stop outs or virtually anything else, check out the retention assets your colleagues have shared.
Apply for a Retention Excellence Award
Naturally, giving is as important as receiving in the college student success sharing economy. I invite you to share your retention assets by applying for a 2017 Retention Excellence Award (REA). Applications are now being accepted and must be completed by March 17, 2017. The application process is brief and is similar to submitting a proposal to present at a conference. Up to three winners will be recognized and the honor includes a free conference registration to the National Conference on Student Marketing Recruitment and Retention being held in Denver, July 26-28, 2017. Winners are featured in a national webinar hosted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz and will serve as a judge in selecting the 2018 winners.
Please take the time to contribute to the student success sharing economy. I encourage you to review the application and consider applying. The process is easy, and the rewards for your campus and our student success sharing economy are many!
Questions? Please contact me directly by email or call me at 800.876.1117, ext. 8787.
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.
This post is adapted from a recent article in University Business
There were more than 100,000 applicants to American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools in the fall of 2004. From 2001 to 2003 alone, the number of applicants rose almost 30 percent. During this time, most law schools could expect yearly increases in tuition and applications and often enjoyed improvements in selectivity and academic quality that resulted from the increased numbers of students seeking to study law with no increase in institutional aid. For many universities, the law school was seen as a cash cow since they were able to enroll bigger and better new 1L classes with very little expenditure of institutional financial aid.
By 2015, however, the number of applicants nationally had declined by 46 percent from the 2004 peak, a result of a shrinking job market for lawyers driven by cutbacks following the Great Recession and “offshoring” of some legal work to countries with lower labor costs. Most of the nation’s law schools were forced to change the way they recruited, admitted, awarded, and enrolled students in order to respond to this unprecedented drop in demand. For example, many progressed rapidly from giving very little consideration of the use of scholarships to, in a few short years, employing sophisticated financial aid leveraging strategies in order to meet enrollment goals. As a result of the severe disruption of their student markets, law schools have moved from a position where they typically lagged undergraduate programs in terms of market responsiveness, budget planning, and sophistication of recruitment practices to a position in which many law schools are now employing best-practice recruitment strategies to enroll their 1L classes.
Implications for the rest of higher education
When looking at the opportunity to drive more traffic to a university or college website, content strategy plays a critical role. In my work with campus websites, I’ve noticed a very critical part of SEO content strategy that is overlooked is identifying new content opportunities.
How do you identify new content opportunities?
While there are many ways to identify gaps in content, today we will discuss university SEO keyword research. My recommendations below are based on successful academic program content, as they are the leading target resources from a user and SEO perspective.
To break your content strategy goal down in economic terms, i.e. supply and demand: do you have the supply of robust academic program pages to meet demand for content that answers prospect’s key questions? Examples would include available programs, costs, outcomes, curriculum, and experiential learning options. To identify more granular SEO opportunities you can do the following:
- Develop initial SEO content opportunity lists at a page and global thematic level, based on internal knowledge, research, and hunches
- Find an SEO tool/platform that can assist you in
- Targeting opportunities
- Identifying new topics for your content
- Uncovering competitors’ content strategies
- Prioritize content development based on a mix of content performance insights, program capacity, and program popularity among other factors
- Measure and confirm relevance and competition
- Iterate for continuous SEO growth
As I travel the country and work with our campus partners I am starting to hear more and more about completion planning. For the past three or four decades, we had really focused on first year retention planning and rightly so because it is still the time period during the student lifecycle, for most colleges and universities, where the greatest attrition occurs. But, now I’m being asked what about years two, three, and four? Should we have a completion plan? How should we define completion? How do we plan for it?
One of the first things I’d recommend is to be aware of the national conversation regarding completion. Some would say we should focus on on-time graduation rates—we should no longer accept the 150 percent of time metric as a standard of performance. I think that may be a perfect ideal and we should try to plan for that, but I also believe that you may need a framework in order to move in that direction. Toward that end, here are three steps to take in order to get your completion planning off to a strong start.
Three steps to focus college completion planning
First, please review what I call your cohort’s reality. What really happens as they persist toward completion? If you’re at a four-year institution, is it true for your institution that yearly attrition for first-time, full-time students is about half as much in each subsequent year and that, if students are retained to the 5th term (third year), attrition is low single digits beyond that term? If you’re a two-year institution, is it the case that attrition is highest from second to third term and begins to decline from third to fourth term?
Second, once you know your cohort’s reality, test the following planning conditions at your institution. I believe they are true at many colleges and universities.
- Many colleges and universities have not developed a yearly Attrition Curve, using predictive analytics, which helps allocate resources efficiently to develop targeted advising, outreach, and intervention plans.
- Many colleges and universities don’t have a completion planning framework beyond year one to manage the desired outcomes.
- Who understands the cohort reality?
- What are the desired retention and or completion outcomes each year of the student lifecycle?
- Who is responsible for strategy development throughout the student lifecycle?
- Many colleges and universities have not prioritized or effectively developed the must-have student success strategies to manage retention and completion. Some examples include:
- Lifecycle persistence and progression data
- Realistic goal-setting and allocation of resources
- Effective planning
- Academic advising/degree planning
- Course scheduling, guided pathways to graduation, co-requisite remediation (I know this one is very controversial), other academic management strategies
- First-year transitions
- Experiential learning
- Academic support
- Quality service initiatives
- Academic recovery
- Recruit-back strategies
- Co-curricular/residence life programming
- Use of Title III or V
- Many colleges and universities have not effectively developed and integrated these strategies throughout the student lifecycle.
Third, and finally, start to make inroads with your completion planning efforts using the data. For example, if you know your cohort’s reality looks like the chart below, and you believe you have planned well during year one, then move to year two and assess the list of planning conditions above under step two for year two. Do you have a robust set of strategies, such as the long list of 14 above, for year two? Who owns the planning effort? Are you able to predict which students who return to year two will return to year three?
Last year, the student success coordinator at a client institution of mine shared a story that may be familiar to those who lead the efforts to improve student retention and graduation rates on your own campuses.
A faculty member was nonplussed when the most recent freshman cohort retention figures showed that first-to-second-year retention had improved by about 2 percentage points. A “what’s the big deal” comment was followed by “is it even statistically significant?” After hearing this story, I suggested to the student success coordinator that if her colleague doesn’t see improved student success as good news for both students and the institution serving them, than an appeal to her colleague’s understanding of the bottom line might be convincing.
In this case, net revenue per freshman was about $15,000/year, and a 2 percentage point increase in retention rate translated to 12 additional students persisting to sophomore year. That’s $180,000 in additional net revenue in the second year, not counting room revenue. Using average persistence rates to junior year, 10 would still be enrolled, and eventually 9 students would persist to senior year. That equates to $150,000 and $135,000 in years three and four. In total, the 2 percentage point improvement in retention was likely to result in about $465,000 additional net revenue over a three-year period for the first cohort alone, not counting the additional revenue gained from each subsequent cohort cycle. For small, tuition-dependent institutions, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Calculating revenue from specific majors
At the same institution, the institutional research officer was interested in gaining a better understanding of the internal migration patterns of students who change majors, especially those who began as biology majors. They were seeking to answer not only the question of whether students in a particular major were leaving the institution at higher rates than other majors, but also whether they were remaining as science majors or migrating to majors within another academic division. This need for additional data aligned nicely with the fact that an intentional by-product of our retention predictive modeling and best-practice review is to encourage our clients to do a better job of tracking retention by various subpopulations. To that end, we provide reports to demonstrate movement among majors over time. In this instance, a custom report was designed that the IR director could then replicate internally. This provided the institution with valuable data for planning as they sought to identify majors that, even though initial demand (first-time majors) may not have been strong, showed enrollment increases over time as a result of internal transfers. The financial consequences of enrollments by major would not have been obvious from looking exclusively at initial enrollment data.
I’ve talked with a number of colleagues on college campuses this week and they are all focused now on helping their first-year students transition to the second semester. On many campuses, a primary vehicle for this support in the fall term is the first-year seminar—most of which concluded at the end of the first semester. But what structures and support for student success are available once those first-semester courses and programs end?
Data collected from institutions that administer first-year student assessments from Ruffalo Noel Levitz (College Student Inventory, a pre-test, and the Mid-Year Student Assessment, a post-test) show the top five areas in which students had requests for assistance as they entered their institutions and the extent to which assistance was provided during term one:
These data from a recent report, Changes in Freshman Attitudes Following a Semester of Classes and Interventions, reveal that students’ motivational needs persist over time and are multi-faceted. The most substantial gaps between requests and assistance provided were in three areas that spanned all three sectors: financial guidance, career services, and academic support.
These data from the first-year experience indicate the need for structured, targeted support services extended through the second semester. If your freshman seminar has ended, how will you provide this structure of support? And what data will you have available to identify at-risk students and design the most relevant programs and services to address your students’ changing needs in the second term?
My colleague, Tim Culver, wrote about this in a previous blog that I encourage you to read or re-read. The blog emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the P+P=R formula…progression + persistence = retention.
Student attrition continues beyond the first term
Above, data from the 2015 Student Retention Indicators Benchmark Report show that attrition continues beyond the first semester. This means colleges and universities must develop strategies that support student success beyond the first term, encompassing the entire first-year experience.
How to respond?
International student enrollment has jumped over 30 percent over five years according to the Institute of International Education, with international undergraduate enrollment in particular rising significantly during that period. As more international college students come to the United States to study—and as more American colleges and universities look abroad to enroll students—what concerns do international students have about enrolling here?
According to Noel-Levitz’s latest joint report with CollegeWeekLive, Meeting the Expectations of International Undergraduate and Graduate Students, the biggest issue is money. That’s what more than 2,500 prospective international college students told us when we polled them earlier this year:
What are international students’ concerns about studying abroad?
For the second straight year, funding has dominated the concerns of international students, as these 2014 results were very similar to a 2013 study we did which only polled prospective undergraduate students. As you can see, when we looked at prospective graduate students along with undergraduates in this year’s study, both groups listed funding as their top concern by a wide margin.
This may be surprising to some enrollment managers, because I think there is an assumption that many international students have funding from their home countries or are well off enough that they will be able to afford full tuition at American institutions. As the next finding shows, however, many expect to receive U.S. scholarships and aid to finance their educations at American institutions.