Enrollment Management Manifesto

Effective Enrollment Manifesto

In the past 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with more than fifty college vice presidents of enrollment. Whether they are recruited as a change agent or a strategic visionary, they are increasingly expected to liberate new growth for the college by focusing on the 3 R’s of prosperity: Revenue, Reputation and Rankings. These three currents flow under the fifteen practices for managing and running successful college enrollment operations in this manifesto:

1. Invest in brand. Speak with one brand voice.
In the sea of sameness, brands win.

Know your brand’s core promise, values, ideals, distinctions and the ideals it stand for.

Articulate your brand value cheerfully irrespective of whether you are a liberal arts college, STEM university, healthcare college, college of access, online educator, a research powerhouse, experiential brand, faith-based or an integrative brand.

Speak with one brand voice to all audiences, but strike different notes for various segments of students, alumni, donors, partners and influencers.

2. Curate and manage first impressions.
Fortify every digital touch point including websites, social media channels, search engine descriptions, paid campaigns, brand anthem videos, blogs and digital magazines.

Infuse beauty and strength in every physical touch point such as open houses, information sessions, college entrance, campus grounds, campus signage, classrooms, tours, and admissions office décor.

People make snap judgements. Their perception of your college is created and reinforced at every contact. Curate your touch points carefully.

3. Pursue right-fit students.
In addition to the traditional admissions funnel, invert the admissions funnel by marketing your thriving students and alumni heroes to attract like-minded prospects. This will create admission pipes, not funnels.

Right-fit students go on to become brand ambassadors, recruiters, partners, donors and engaged citizens.

4. Abandon traditional student search models. Hunt like sharks. Don’t feed like whales.
The era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks, and praying some convert is over. Embrace new paid advertising methodologies based on right-fit, micro-segments, look-alikes, A/B testing, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups. Direct prospects to high-fidelity, microsites and story landing pages. Think right-fit, admission pipes and inverted admissions funnels, not just traditional admissions funnels.

Smarter enrollment strategies win an outsized share of the shrinking student market.

5. Avoid democratic budget allocation.
Lead with strengths. Bet on champion program chairs and signature programs. Let the signature programs generate profits to sustain others. Allocate pilot budgets for novel portfolio approaches and tactics.

Great enrollment managers are rarely democratic in budget allocation. They play favorites with winners.

6. Articulate unique talking points and follow playbooks to recruit each student type.
Apply unique talking points and playbooks for traditional high schools undergraduate students, transfersonline students, graduate students and international students.

7. Think student life cycle.
From prospect to current students to alumni and donors. Take the long view. Insist on providing robust academic support, career guidance and a great campus experience to your students.

Happy graduates will become brand ambassadors who’ll generate referrals and donate their time, treasure and talent to advance the institution.

8. Claim your Google page one rankings.
Develop smart foundational SEO and create ongoing high-fidelity content to secure and sustain Google page one rankings. Start by formulating a Keyword Guide. Create new stories, infographics, stats, videos, interactives, quizzes/calculators, contests, blogs — on your website and social media channels. Inform each new asset by the Keyword Guide. Ensure that the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.

Remember two things. First, leads generated from Google organic rankings outperform paid advertising leads by three-folds. Second, the best prospects prefer to “discover” the college of their choice through “accidental finds” on Google page one and word-of-mouth on social media.

9. Energize influencers, referral networks and reliable feeders.
Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation upon which you build retail recruitment. It’s much easier to recruit groups of students (wholesale) rather than winning one student at a time (retail). Cultivate relationships with feeder high schools, community colleges, undergraduate programs and corporate HR departments.

Successful enrollment vice presidents nurture relationships with school principals, high school college counselors, influential alumni and educational journalists which form a steady source of referrals.

10. Know your signature programs. Insist on offering a distinctive portfolio of academic programs.
Your signature programs pull a steady stream of prospects. Defend them.

Foster creation of new programs and new flavors of programs where your college can claim indisputable competitive advantage. Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No school achieves prosperity with commodity offerings.

Not only are distinctive programs easier to rank on Google page one, students are willing to travel across the country and across the world to enroll in them.

11. Deploy a unique game plan for every stage of the admissions funnel.
Know what prospects and influencers need at every stage of the admissions funnel, and cater to their needs. Pay as much attention to yield communications and follow-up processes as you do to lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.

Personalization and mass-customization outperforms one-size-fits-all.

12. Augment integrated marketing with timely follow up and boots-on-the-ground activities.
This trifecta is the holy grail of higher education enrollment and marketing. You take one part out, and success will elude you.

Don’t let automation get in the way of personalized and timely follow-up. There are no short-cuts for old-fashioned, belly-to-belly relationship building.

13. Know your numbers and industry benchmarks. Combine data, intuition. and courageous action.
Forge your own path. Perform better than how you did last year. Measure what matters.

Know your admissions funnel data and the best sources for inquiries, applications and enrolls.  Embrace data-informed decision making. Measure what matters, watch what you see, see the unseen — but also trust your instinct and gut. Take bold action once you gather the insights from your data.

Keep an eye out on your referral rate, student quality measures, yield rate, melt rate, graduation rate, placement rate, and and even your alumni giving rate. Periodically compare these numbers to those of your peers and aspirational competitors.

You can only manage what you can measure.

14. Leverage tools, technologies, people and imagination.
Use marketing automation software to analyze the best sources of inquiries and applications.  Adopt CRM  tools to nurture leads. Leverage A/B testing tools to zero in on winning messages. Use counselors and faculty to do the essential work of relationship building to win hearts and minds of prospects.

Imagination, passion and purpose — not process — is what prospects ultimately buy and are buying into.

15. Balance profit and purpose.
No money, no mission. No mission, no money. Prospects are attracted to passionate brands. You need both to survive and thrive.

For enrollment success, the best enrollment managers orchestrate boots-on-the-ground activities, integrated marketing and timely follow-up.

If you are seeking an enrollment marketing agency to grow your undergraduate, graduate, online, adult or international enrollment, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.