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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.
2016 research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes
Ruffalo Noel Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2016 to understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student recruitment, campus marketing, and student retention. We also examined current campus practices for enrollment and marketing. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:
The college website is still the #1 way to communicate with prospective students but the runner-up is now split between email and text messaging. In recent polls, campus officials rated text messaging and email almost equally effective, and 70 percent of prospective students indicated they were open to receiving text messages from colleges and universities. But fewer than half of campuses currently send mass recruiting texts. Download our 2016 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Colleges and universities can accomplish five goals at once by increasing student satisfaction. Many consumer studies have shown that increasing satisfaction builds positive word of mouth. Now a 2016 study has confirmed that increasing student satisfaction is also linked to lower student loan default rates, adding to earlier-confirmed links with higher retention rates, completion rates, and alumni giving. Is your institution measuring and rewarding improvements in satisfaction? See the research.
At $2,232 per student, private colleges spent nearly four times more than four-year public institutions on student recruitment last year. We also learned that budgets for recruitment and admissions remained flat over the past two years for the majority of four-year and two-year institutions. Is your institution tracking ROI on all of its recruiting activities and identifying new, high-payback opportunities? See our 2016 Report: Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student.
40 percent of high school seniors apply to colleges they learn about during their senior year. In addition, 50 percent of seniors rule out institutions based only on “sticker price.” Is your institution focusing a substantial amount of its recruiting on seniors? And how are you emphasizing your institution’s value to skeptical students and parents? Download our 2016 Perceptions of Financial Aid Report and Infographic.
54 percent of adult prospective students have clicked on a paid online ad from a college or university, as have 47 percent of high school juniors, yet most institutions place these ads only occasionally. What new digital outreach strategies should your institution be considering in 2017? Download our 2016 Adult E-Expectations Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Mathematics is a struggle for 51 percent of incoming adult learners, including 53 percent of incoming first-generation adult students. Our 2016 research shows a majority of incoming students agree with the statement, “Math has always been difficult for me.” Do you know how many students at your institution are struggling with mathematics and other areas inside and outside the classroom? Download our 2016 Adult Learner Motivation to Complete College Report.
95 percent of incoming traditional-age students express a desire to graduate, but only about half do. Our latest freshman research shows a wide array of personal, social, financial, and academic obstacles prevent students from reaching their goals. Have you explored the merits of using noncognitive surveys to better understand your incoming students’ needs early on, or do you wait until you see visible signs of struggle? See our 2016 Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report.
New edition of book, plans for 2017 research
Also in 2016, we released our 2016 update of the book, Strategic Enrollment Planning: A Dynamic Collaboration. Order this authoritative, step-by-step guide to help your campus prepare for major changes in today’s marketplace.
Looking ahead to 2017, we plan to release new benchmarks on college student satisfaction and motivation, new research on recruiting conversion and yield rates, a new study of student retention indicators, and updates on rising seniors’ perceptions of financial aid and high school students’ and parents’ perceptions of and preferences for college communications.
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Learn more about our Higher Education Research
To help educators stay on top of the many changes in higher education, we regularly conduct trend research and share our findings widely. Learn about several ways we provide information.
How effective is your campus enrollment team at managing continuous change and at monitoring the changes in today’s students? Is your enrollment strategy “playbook” in need of updating?
For an overview of the latest keys to enrollment success, I encourage you to attend Noel-Levitz’s upcoming 2015 Enrollment Management Workshop Series. At this workshop, I will be presenting a top-line overview of the ever-changing world of enrollment management, including the complexities of responding to changing demographics and the critical elements of a successful student recruitment and marketing program. My observations will be drawn from over 50 campus visits I’ve made in the last year or so, and from keeping an eye on the latest research.
I won’t share everything here that I’ll share at the workshop, but I will share some key points. In the current environment, understanding and organizing for the “new normal” isn’t an option. To be effective, campus enrollment teams, together with their senior colleagues, must address today’s increasing calls for accountability, affordability, and efficiency, while delivering enrollment and revenue outcomes, relevant academic programs, and improvements to all aspects of the student and prospective student experience. Adding to the pressures are increasing levels of competition and an accelerating use of technology and data to continuously fine-tune strategies and react to changes.
How I see colleges and universities responding to today’s environment
In response to these and other challenges, I observe today’s colleges and universities finding ways to become more strategic, efficient, and effective through initiatives such as:
- Developing longer-term plans
- Identifying and eliminating barriers to enrollment
- Knowing the profile of the persister
- Cultivating current students
- Identifying and responding to the marketplace
- Integrating campus silos
- Conducting meaningful market research
- Mobilizing the campus to assist with recruitment, marketing, and retention
The use of data is growing, too, as more campuses are employing analytics, tracking, and research to drive their decision-making and goal-setting.
Our Noel-Levitz consultants have written blogs on a wide variety of enrollment management and student success topics in 2014 so far. Here are the eight most-read posts in case you missed them.
We will return with new posts soon. Be sure to sign up for Strategies e-newsletter, which includes the latest posts from the blog.
How can colleges and universities move accepted students toward enrolling? Consultant Brian Jansen offers nine strategies for connecting with accepted students and encouraging their enrollment.
Five strategies for improving student retention and college completion among second-year college students
With the increased focus on improving college completion rates, we look at how to “broaden the lens” to extend first-year interventions into the second year as well.
A special report from Noel-Levitz compiles pertinent projections over the next five and ten years that may influence enrollments for colleges and universities that primarily serve traditional-age undergraduates.
My colleague Andrea Gilbert was right on point with her February blog post, “Nine strategies for generating college applications in the student recruitment home stretch.” I want to continue the discussion by examining the next stage in the application process: moving students to the admitted stage. Each year, thousands of students apply to institutions across the country. However, it’s nearly impossible to influence their decisions if they don’t complete the application process. Students’ desires may fluctuate depending on what is going on in their lives, but this underlying fact remains—if they started the application process with your campus, they’re interested.
The 2012 Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey found that 64.9 percent of respondents applied to three or more institutions, and an astounding 20.1 percent said they applied to more than seven institutions (see page 24 of the PDF):
The problem is that these students may not always complete the application process. These incomplete applications are a problem for admissions teams, who often spend an inordinate amount of time chasing down pieces needed to complete the application.
If you work in enrollment management, it is always tempting to focus all of your work on the next incoming class. Are you getting enough inquiries? How many applications have we received? Will we make our goals next fall?
While these top-of-mind questions are important for the near term—indeed, you may need to focus most of your attention there depending on how things are going—you know the reality is that after you bring in the next class, you will face the same near-term demands all over again. With the next class. The class after that. And the class after that. The near-term-mania never goes away.
Instead of only focusing on the immediate, today’s savvy enrollment managers strive to carve out time where it pays off most: building up strategic, foundational elements of an enrollment program that will pay off for many years to come.
Of course, there are many productive avenues toward this goal, but I am going to share two ways that Noel-Levitz considers to be especially important.
One way to work smarter: look beyond the raw enrollment numbers
Let’s say you want to raise enrollment by 5 percent within three years. You could begin by striving to generate 15 percent more inquiries. Or you could begin by striving to gradually increase the inquiry-to-applicant conversion rate each year by concentrating on inquiries who have a greater chance of enrolling so you end up with the higher number of matriculants you need. The big advantage of the latter approach is that improving conversion rates has a longer-lasting effect, i.e., improving the processes and systems that move these metrics will affect many future years of prospective students.
The same logic works on later-stage metrics, such as the applicant acceptance rate for students who complete their applications, the accepted-to-enrolled yield rate, or retention rates such as the census-day-to-census-day persistence rate from term one to term two. In fact, depending on your situation, improving later-stage metrics may have the potential to produce even greater dividends than reaching the goals for early-stage conversions.