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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.
I’m a firm believer in the adage, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” As we create strategies for adult program growth, knowing what works and what needs to be fixed is critical. For example, if working adults can’t get the major they want entirely in the evening or online, launching an advertising campaign to generate inquiries may be a waste of resources. However, if you offer an adult-friendly program that no one knows about, you may benefit from an advertising campaign. Let’s look at some ways to identify what may help you create effective strategies for adult learner enrollments. Please also see our 2015 Adult Student Marketing and Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report for related data and findings.
10-point checklist to focus on the right problems with adult learner enrollments
1. Begin by analyzing your student demographics for the past five years. Include the origin of your transfer students. What is your “over 21” population? What are their majors? Full or part time? Day or evening? On ground or online? How many credit hours do they generate? Use this data to establish realistic enrollment goals for the adult learner.
2. Conduct a thorough analysis of your competitors in the adult program space. This would include length of time to complete, tuition, academic requirements, and program formats. Based upon a recent benchmarking study, the most popular course formats for adult programs were evening and online classes. Can an adult earn an entire degree via evening or weekend classes at your institution?
3. Identify program areas of interest to adults, and conduct a needs analysis of employers to determine appropriate adult programs to develop. Consider conducting primary survey research to gauge enrollment potential. Business, health care/nursing, education, and computer science are consistently well-enrolled by adults. Do you offer the right programs?
4. Use adult learner buying behaviors to form your communication strategy. Adult learners typically select a college based upon program of interest, convenience, and recommendations of others. These students generally prefer to enroll quickly once a decision is made, but may stealth shop and delay making a decision. Once they inquire, the speed of follow up matters with adults. Close to half of the colleges who call adult inquiries do so within a day. Overall, phone attempts by staff were used by 95 percent of adult programs studied. Nearly 91 percent found this to be very or somewhat effective. In another survey of undergraduate online students who contacted more than one college, 69 percent indicated that they enrolled in the institution that responded to them first. Is your institution first to respond?
5. Develop multi-channel marketing approaches. Adults need to hear your message when they are ready, when a life change or job opportunity presents itself. Television, radio, and direct mail help drive them to your website. Make sure there is a homepage tab specifically for the adult learner with images and content relevant to the older student. Ensure a “request for information” form is readily accessible from every page.
Consider the countless ways a prospective college student can learn about your institution, and all of the ways they have available to share information with other prospective students (#CollegeMail, Yik Yak, etc.). Not only do they have all these channels to gather information, but they have constant, continuous access to these channels. These factors make it more challenging every day to break through the clutter so that your voice is heard—your true, authentic message, the one that will engage students and get them excited to learn more about your institution.
So, what is the best day to launch your search campaign to break through this clutter? The answer: there isn’t one. Students explore when they are ready. Forget your timetable—to be effective you must now operate on theirs. That’s why continuous search is a must when trying to engage today’s students.
When we launched our Continuous Search program in 2013, it was the first of its kind and a direct response to the needs that campuses had. There were some common questions:
- How can we do more with our search budget?
- With more names available, how do we wrap them into our current search program?
- How do we engage with more of the right students throughout the year?
- How important is senior search to our search program?
- How can we manage the complexity of continuous search?
- What are the true results of our program in relation to enrollment?
- Will this result in more applications from search? Will it matter?
In my enrollment management consulting with campuses around the country, many ask me how they can recruit more high-ability college students. They want students who are engaged, self-motivated, and eager to learn. Furthermore, those students are much more likely to persist and complete their educations, an outcome every campus desires and one that legislatures are increasingly demanding. Those high-ability students also have a good likelihood of becoming successful alumni, which has implications for fundraising as well as alumni outcomes that can be promoted with prospective students during future recruitment cycles.
Be prepared to invest time and resources into recruiting high-ability college students
Of course, what campus doesn’t want more high-ability students? The competition for these students is very fierce, and these students also have many tools at their disposal for researching campuses and comparing offers. You have to invest the time of faculty and staff to woo these students, and you may also need to spend some additional recruitment dollars. In addition to marshaling resources, I encourage campuses to consider incorporating these nine recruitment strategies if they want to enroll more high-ability college students.
- Host a scholarship recognition event in the spring to honor these students. Invite the students’ families to attend as well, as it’s a great opportunity to woo their parents or guardians and turn them into recruitment advocates for your campus. Consider allowing the student to invite a teacher/mentor of their choice along and let their guest speak about that particular student.
- Have faculty members call high-ability students/admits. Students are used to hearing from an admissions representative, but to hear from faculty about their particular academic interest might allow high-ability students to feel more confident in your institution. It is also an excellent opportunity to engage them and allow them to have some organic interaction with your campus during the recruitment process. Keep in mind that you need to get faculty involved as early as possible if you use this tactic, and choose faculty who will be good communicators with these students.
- Send a letter from the academic dean/provost to the parents of high-ability students. The letter could promote the honors program, study abroad, research opportunities, or other programs for these students.
- Create student-to-student communications. One idea is a postcard series highlighting current high-ability students and what they have been able to accomplish while on campus. Social media, videos, and emails from those students could also be very effective.
- Promote outcomes to these students. It is very important to get the career center involved in this process. Communicate internships, jobs, and graduate school placement to the high-ability students you are targeting as well as their parents or guardians. The more you can communicate about their future opportunities for post-graduate success, the better.
- Provide special or restricted research, internship, or travel opportunities to this group. Exclusivity tends to convey value, and these students may feel extra valued if they are allowed to participate in exclusive learning or travel events.
- Focus on study abroad research opportunities with faculty. Study abroad can provide these students with a unique class experience, a valuable internship, and an unforgettable cultural experience.
- Create honors cohorts in residence halls. High-ability students may appreciate the opportunity to live with similar high achievers, and these cohorts may prefer living arrangements that will be more conducive to studying and academic achievement.
- Ask prominent alumni in key markets to host receptions. This is a great, inexpensive way to reach out to both alumni and students. An alumni panel is an effective way to reach students/parents, while also providing these students with valuable contacts moving forward. Corporate facilities, boardrooms, research centers, and homes are all preferred venues.
On my desk is the just-released 2014 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Noel-Levitz. This report ranks a wide range of common and less widely used strategies and tactics for electronic student recruitment used by colleges and universities across the United States. Here are a few of the highlights:
10 most popular online recruiting practices among 28 practices examined,
with proportions of colleges and universities using each practice by sector:
The practices shown above in blue were being used by more than three-quarters of colleges and universities. Of the 10 practices listed in each column, six were shared across sectors.
Social media highlights
This year’s report also ranked the frequency in which U.S. colleges and universities are using various types of social media for student recruitment, with comparisons to prospective students’ preferences based on a parallel study of graduating high school seniors also conducted in March 2014. (See the 2014 E-Expectations Report). Some highlights follow:
- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram were higher education’s most popular social media for student recruitment among 21 types examined. These four social media were also rated the most popular social media by graduating high school seniors (for any purpose—not just searching for colleges).
- Snapchat—a newer social media platform—was used by fewer than 3 percent of colleges and universities for the purpose of student recruitment, yet 39 percent of graduating high school seniors reported using it.
- Fewer than 13 percent of colleges and universities reported using Google+ for online recruiting, while more than 31 percent of graduating high school seniors reported using it.
More highlights from the report
- Website spending has increased among four-year private and public colleges and universities compared to the last time this study was conducted in 2012.
- Forty-four percent of four-year private institutions and 32 percent of four-year public institutions reported providing cell phones for their admissions counselors versus just 11 percent of two-year public institutions. The report examines several ways these phones are used, with the most popular being to remain in contact with prospective students while traveling.
- Only 54 percent of four-year private institutions, 47 percent of four-year public institutions, and 23 percent of two-year public institutions reported having a mobile-optimized website. In contrast, 71 percent of graduating high school seniors reported having looked at college websites on a mobile phone or tablet.
Download the free report for the complete findings
For a wealth of additional information, download the entire 2014 E-Recruiting Practices Report. Don’t miss page 23, “How to use the benchmarks in this report,” for some specific recommendations on how to evaluate the current practices at your institution. To get the most value from this report, readers should note that it primarily rates the popularity of specific strategies and tactics (vs. their effectiveness). For effectiveness ratings, you’ll want to refer to other reports such as the 2013 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report.
I hope the information in these reports is helpful to you and your colleagues. If you have questions about how to strengthen your online recruiting, or if you’d like a presentation of the findings, please contact Noel-Levitz at 1-800-876-1117 or ContactUs@noellevitz.com.
Understanding what makes students and parents tick is one of the major requirements for an effective recruitment strategy. Even a “perfect” communications plan will yield minimal results if it lacks research about which items and issues influence your market. Such knowledge can guide how your campus should communicate with families and dictate a messaging strategy that helps to enforce your institution’s perceived value and worth.
For instance, colleges and universities have long pushed institutional fit as much as academic quality and outcomes, but this higher education market—along with all the other challenges it presents us—is not like those of the past. Today the market is far more consumer-minded. Although fit is still an important factor, it comes into play only after an institution is able to prove its ability to provide a strong return on investment. Even having struggled through the most recent recession, the market—based on the following National Student Clearinghouse research—did not waiver as experts had anticipated in the years immediately after the downturn.
The trends have continued in recent years, too. The latest data from the National Clearinghouse show that, between 2011-13, enrollments have increased slightly at four-year private colleges and universities, remained relatively flat at four-year public campuses, and declined at two-year public institutions.
The pundits had predicted that students/families would turn away from the more expensive option of private education for public post-secondary institutions, and for some students to enroll at two-year institutions at a higher rate. Interestingly, no real shift occurred, as the above graphs indicate. What does this begin to tell us? For one, families are willing to sacrifice for their child’s college education, even if it means choosing private over public, or public four-year over two-year. In no way is this meant to state that one institution type is better than another, but it does show that the impact of perceived value that families place on postsecondary institutions stays true even through a period of extreme economic distress.