Enrollment managers at colleges and universities are running a machine. Whether it has a soul or not depends on the mindset they bring to their jobs. The most admired enrollment managers are running a humanized enrollment system. In serving more than 100 enrollment managers, we have gleaned the following best practices:
1. Balance Institutional Priorities and the Greater Good.
- Create a healthy school culture by enrolling the best-fit students.
- Honor institutional priorities by enrolling legacy students, full-pay students, donor students, athletes and other priority students.
- Create a sustainable society by recruiting and providing support for both under-served and under-represented students.
2. Invest in First Impressions.
- Brand your college because in the sea of sameness, brands win. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment. Tell a better story.
- Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media, open houses, information sessions, grounds, classrooms, tours, and admissions office décor.
- Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
- Claim your Google page 1 rankings – ensuring the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.
- Make your facilities and grounds beautiful because beauty engenders confidence.
3. Embrace Digital Search. Abandon Traditional Search.
- Reduce your reliance on traditional funnel methods based on purchased names. These drive “softer” prospect interest and leads that require more support — manpower and aid money — for conversion and retention. Remember that pouring large number of prospects into the traditional funnel may allow a college to become slightly more selective in shaping a class, but it rarely taps into deeper “right-fit” connections. Along with additional churn that comes with traditional funnel methods, you risk diluting “lifetime student value.” That dilution does not reveal itself for a long time — maybe not until those alumni rise to the ranks of future major gift donors.
- Go beyond traditional list buying. Expand your applicant pool with cheaper, smarter, and less wasteful paid social advertising. This supports A/B testing, look-alike marketing, affinity group segmentation, and surgical micro-targeting which all leverage partly human judgement and partly machine-learning algorithms.
- Mobilize and mutually reinforce paid, owned, earned and shared media. Surround and engage your prospects with your brand by leveraging various forms of paid media, high-fidelity content marketing, online PR, and social media to create a comprehensive marketing strategy for your program.
- Romance prospects with high-fidelity academic program pages and landing pages. They are the “money pages” on a website used by value-minded prospects to make their school choices. They must feature stories of peer students, faculty, facilities, and centers of excellence where the students’ minds will be shaped and skills will be developed. They must also paint pictures of exciting opportunities that await program graduates and tell stories of alumni as demonstrable proof of your program’s distinction.
- Create and publish high-fidelity content. Create stories, infographics, stats, videos, quizzes/calculators, contests – on your website and social media channels. Not only do leads generated there outperform paid advertising leads by three-folds, paid advertising leads also out-perform purchased names by three-folds. The best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through word-of-mouth on social media and “accidental finds” on Google page one.
4. Establish Timely Follow-up.
- Don’t let automation get in the way of personalized and timely follow-up.
- Offset reduced contact with stealth applicants by stepping up the game at each touch point. Pay as much attention to the follow-up and yield communications as you do to the lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.
5. Let Data Guide Decisions.
- Measure year-over-year admissions metrics, cost per lead/enroll, melt rate, graduation rate, placement rate, giving rate, etc. As Peter Drucker said “What you can’t measure, you can’t manage.”
- Use data to give legs to your intuition. Don’t surrender your judgement to data.
- Take bold action once you gather the insights from your data.
6. Invest in People, Process and Technology.
- To generate predictable enrollment, invest in the right mix of talent (e.g. strategists, external partners and team members), processes (e.g. communications plan for every stage of the admissions funnel) and modern tools (e.g. CRM, marketing automation software, and lead attribution software).
- Fight the good fight to influence the organizational reporting structure because it determines whether your college will survive or thrive.
7. Focus on Lifetime Student Value.
- Provide robust academic support, career guidance and campus experiences to your students. Graduate brand ambassadors that become future donors and referral generators.
8. Create Institutional Reputation.
- Support institutional initiatives that are consequential and support meaningful causes.