Everyone feels stress on the job. Recruitment and admissions teams are feeling it too, according to a recent story from Inside Higher Ed.
In Inside Higher Ed’s 2019 Admission Officers Survey, 336 admissions leaders weighed in, and the majority admitted they were concerned about filling their classes, especially in a timely manner. And not just a majority, but a super majority.
While we may wish for the stressless job, we knew what was in store when we took on this kind of work. And nothing relieves stress like the ability to point to a plan. Yet, the plan forward has so many options. Which ones are best for your institution? Where is the best ROI? The annoying answer: It depends.
Come see us at the AIRC Annual Conference in Miami in December where we will be offering a 3 hour pre-conference workshop on all the latest trend data and the actionable plans that help you move forward. Email us if you'd like to set up a meeting between Dec. 8 - 13 (ICEF + AIRC events).
So, let’s talk right now about the pros and cons of the various plans that lead to enrollment success.
Where are the students?
To relieve stress and meet enrollment goals, more institutions are looking further afield. Out of state, overseas, and non-traditional students are all out there. As the competition in each of these areas continues to grow, we’d like to step back and review some of the basics.
Almost all of the levers available to improve your numbers require some level of investment and innovation. If your leadership thinks otherwise, there’s some educating needed within your ranks. No budget, no growth.
There is one option that only requires time commitment and a jumbo size pack of post-it notes. This is the streamlining lever – eliminating waste. It requires looking at your entire inquiry to application to enrolled student journey and finding the waste. Identify all those things that create delays and unnecessary work like multiple reviews and other unnecessary steps. You know, like when you have 12 people in a meeting when you only needed 4. Happens all the time. Someone needs to point it out and make it better. You up for the challenge?
Take the waste out of the system and you’ll find applications and enrollments increase. Your team will have more time to identify and nurture qualified leads and incomplete applications. I-20s and admissions letters will get out faster and yield will increase.
Our colleagues David DiMaria, Associate Vice Provost for International Education at UMBC and Megan Prettyman, currently Vice President for Client Success, North America at Uniquest and formerly International Admissions and Services Director at Findlay University, have presented on this topic in multiple venues including our favorite venue, the AIRC Annual Conference. The streamlining process works and will result in stronger enrollment numbers with minimal investment.
But once you eliminate the waste, where do you turn next? To grow beyond this improvement, more significant investment is necessary.
And It Begins with Research
Understanding where your target market segments are, which pools of students are most inclined to choose your institution, is a scientific process of analysis. The data is out there in the field and stored in your own enrollment, digital marketing and financial numbers. Someone talented needs to take the time to gather it and analyze it as a whole. And be wary of all those charlatans talking about data and predictive modeling as your holy grail. (There’s a white paper around the corner on that topic.)
The data you can gather will give you insight into which of the following three recruitment market segments is most likely to work for you. If your team is big enough, perhaps you can enhance all three at once. Chances are you can’t commit the necessary resources (time and budget) to pull that off.
Domestic Student Recruitment
- Options – Continue going after the shrinking pool of domestic students by looking farther afield and making the case for why students should choose your institution over another option that is closer to home. This is the solution that 57% of admissions directors said they are currently seeking, and 75% of those say they’re being successful in these efforts, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Most institutions offer scholarship or in-state tuition options to these more distant students as incentives. Yet, we know from research reported on by Chronicle of Higher Ed that the majority of students study within 150 miles of their home and a great many within 50 miles. And that has been a relative constant since 1971. Hmmmmmm…
- Pros – You don’t need to create new programs or innovate in any significant way. Basically, you are simply relying on your marketing team to refresh and repackage your brand and the academic offerings you currently have in place and make it all shiny enough to capture additional students.
- Cons – Competing on price is a race to the bottom. There is always someone willing to go out of business faster than you. They will make poor decisions about how to run their institution. If you seek to beat them at this game, you will both go down.
- Chances of success – slim. The only institutions that are likely to see sustainable improvements with this approach are those that have succeeded with enrollment for years without doing any marketing. Putting the word out there now, essentially for the first time, will draw attention and applications. Pro tip: avoid the list purchase and the lead generators that your competitors are also using and build your inquiry database with customized, targeted digital marketing.
International Student Recruitment
- Options – This pool is shrinking a bit as well, but not as quickly as domestic. Build alumni (ebook here) and agent networks (ebook here) in key global cities and regions. Identify and evaluate key faculty with global academic relationships and leverage those to build awareness and scalable recruitment channels. Ramp up small, targeted digital marketing campaigns and track them for continuous improvement and then larger investment in what works (proven results). This is an area where Intead has done a lot of research and published plenty. You can read some of our pieces on what to look for in international recruiting agents and how successful you can expect them to be here, here, and here.
- Pros – These kinds of marketing efforts marry powerful global relationships (human touch) with powerful digital marketing approaches (tech). Human Touch + Tech = Success. You’ve looked at our Know Your Neighborhood ebook, right? Free version here. Deep recruitment marketing insights into 29 sending countries based on FPPEDUMedia's fantastic student database.
- Cons – Requires staff time commitment to build and maintain the relationships and more staff and budget to launch and track creative campaigns. You’re going to want a minimum of $20,000 USD per target region as a minimum for the media buy. That doesn’t include the creative work and the campaign management.
- Chances of success – medium. The institutions most likely to succeed are those working hard to make all those marketing channels work for them. There is no rest for the weary in digital marketing. If you are not launching the campaign, you are evaluating what went right and what didn’t. And after that you are launching another campaign. (repeat). But also know this: Of those who responded to the Inside Higher Ed survey, 58 percent said they were concerned about maintaining their current levels of international students, and this percentage has gone up since last year. Doing this cheap and as a one-off is not going to work. Sustained effort pays off. That means a three-year plan and committed budget as a starting point. Anyone doing this kind of work for a while knows this to be true.
Non-traditional Student Recruitment
- Options – Based on custom market research for your institution, figure out which non-traditional student segment is most likely to value what you have to offer. Innovate on program offerings and student services to meet this group where they are. Do not make assumptions about what the market wants. This is a costly mistake. Take the time to understand your local market well. And don’t be lured into believing that your new online offerings will draw students from far, far away. Those who are closer geographically and feel a kinship with your brand are most likely to feel comfortable with and take advantage of your online options.
- Pros – This is a growing market and will likely continue to grow for many years as the workforce seeks new career advancement and short-term upskill opportunities. Quality, Cost and Convenience are essential elements of the new innovative approaches you will implement. You’ve looked at our e-book, right? Free version here. Full version with market segmentation and recruitment strategies, here as part of Intead Plus.
- Cons – This requires innovation on many levels and team alignment – sometimes hard to produce in larger institution. Non-traditional student programming and support services are all needed and are not easy to develop. This takes time and thought to do it well in addition to investment.
- Chances of success – medium. The institution’s most likely to succeed are those working hard to innovate and meet the non-traditional student where they are, delivering what they truly need. Pro tip: start small and simple and build on the success. Nimbleness counts.
We hope our recommendations relieve some of the recruitment stresses you feel. Having a plan is the first step toward reducing the discomfort enrollment challenges cause. We’re here for ya’.
Send us an email and let us know how you prioritize your student recruitment efforts. Which market segment is first on your list?