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Recruiting Intelligence

Rinse and Repeat is Not the Answer

Rinse and Repeat

Every CFO’s dilemma: how much discounting do we have to do to fill our classes?

But before you get there, it is the Enrollment Management team’s job to answer a few other questions:

  1. To whom do we market? (this takes us from suspect to application)
  2. Whom do we accept? (this takes us from applicant to accepted pool)
  3. And now we turn to the CFO and financial aid team to answer, “How much do we award them?” (this takes us from accepted to tuition-paying)

The Intead team is hyper-focused on question number 1 in ways that others in the student marketing world seem to miss or oversimplify. Zip code and IPEDS analyses will tell you that there are roughly 250K families in the US able to afford tuition bills of $30K or more. And that pool is shrinking as the Chronicle of Higher Ed and industry analysts consistently remind us. The fear of 2025 is growing!

Private institutions have faced, and will continue to face, a world of trouble in the years ahead. If you are not clear about what makes your institution highly valuable to your target audience (and no, the answer is not, “we provide a personalized level of attention to our students”), then your classrooms and dorms are going to look sparser. Those doubles you converted to triples will be double again.

And for other institutions, those with lower price points, there are significant headwinds in terms of how students and parents are evaluating your value as well. Competition will continue to grow.

We'll be talking about all of this at #NAFSA2022 in Denver in just 5 weeks. Please be in touch to set up a meeting or join us for one of our four interactive NAFSA presentations where we are honored to share the dais with our colleagues from Benedict College, San Diego State University, Clark University, Northeastern University, CIEE, ICEF, and GNET.  

With this post we share our concern, and it should be yours as well, that the marketing agencies offering enrollment/recruitment services for so many institutions are taking their marketing plans from their most recent client and applying them to the next one that comes in the door.

Literally, some of them are simply slapping your logo on the marketing plan they delivered to the client that came before you and selling it to you as something unique and fresh. They are that cynical about their own work and what you are doing on your campus.🙄

Read on for tips on how to frame the pertinent questions and approach the answers for your institution. While the framework has common elements for all, the resulting marketing plan must be different based on your specific institution type, location, ranking and academic strengths, tuition, culture, etc.

Your student enrollment marketing must focus on what makes you, you.

We’re here to say very loudly: rinse and repeat is not the answer.

Question #1: To whom do we market?

An easy question that is surprisingly easy to get wrong. Determining who it is you should be marketing to has everything to do with:

  • Persona development – understanding yourself and your audience(s) - who and where they are
  • Competitor analysis – understanding the options your audience is weighing.

Thinking about these marketing elements should be the crux of every recruitment initiative. It is how you narrow your communications and prospect identification and development from “families with high school students in Vietnam” to “high school students in Vietnam interested in STEM programs and building strong personal connections.” Indeed, it’s how you decide on students from Vietnam versus India, Nigeria, or Bangladesh in the first place.

Persona development is rooted in market research, qualitative and quantitative, involving digital analysis and lots of conversations with current and former students, as well as folks in country. It involves understanding the cultural perspective of your target audience. It takes time and expertise, but it pays off in dividends because your marketing grows exponentially smarter and more efficient for the work.

Question #2: Whom do we accept?

A hotly debated topic. Undeniably whom you accept has a very real impact on your reputation, your rankings, and your recruitment, not to mention your faculty’s experience in the classroom.  Admissions folks know a lot about the ire of the angry faculty members, we know.

Oh, and student experience counts for something as well, right?

The requirements for whom to accept necessarily loosened during the pandemic. However, it appears we’re coming off this wave of universities reducing (or altogether removing) long-established requirements of things like standardized exams. The trend may officially be in retreat with MIT’s recent decision to return to standardized testing. Their argument: they say SATs are key to their ability to accurately predict student academic success across socioeconomic divides. And they, like you, want students to succeed—for the students’ sake as well as their own.

Not every university has the luxury of being MIT and other highly ranked institutions. They will never hurt for applications. More to the point, it’s just not every institution’s goal to behave like MIT. Understanding that, whom you accept should be based on metrics tied directly to your institution’s mission and ideal student experience.

For the record, we are not at all convinced that MIT’s return to using the SAT is the beginning of a wave among other institutions. It isn't very likely, or at least it shouldn’t be the model that other institutions follow.

Question #3: Who gets the scholarships?

Scholarship is big. It’s often the deciding factor. It is a big student search term. You can be a little playful here: Google Trends.

Used well and within legal boundaries, scholarships, or discounting, can help you shape the campus experience by boosting your ability to recruit and retain students who align with your mission or even short-term goals.

Maybe your directive is to see more males on campus – a disappearing segment of late. Or your provost aims to boost international student enrollment by 6%, or grow a specific academic program. Discounting plays an important role in achieving these targets. Like anything, put the money where your mouth is. Another way of saying it: your budget is an expression of your values. JEDI anyone?

Many consulting groups out there provide predictive modeling with detailed statistical analysis to let you know that if you offer student A $3,000 more in scholarships, they will be 75% more likely to enroll. Over time, these predictive tools can become accurate. But it does take time to hone them. And importantly, these tools can play a powerful role in diversity decisions – for good or ill.

The Bottom Line: As you weigh the 3 big enrollment questions of whom to recruit, whom to accept, and who gets scholarships, be sure you are seeking counsel from a partner steeped in the industry and who gets the bigger picture. Because rinse and repeat and losing sight of diversity is not a winning strategy.

A focus on your institution’s culture and student success stories customized for each market segment is how you grow long term. Be in touch.

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