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Recruiting Intelligence

Student Recruitment Mistakes of the Desperate: Part 2


This week we are continuing our two-part series on the all-too-common mistakes that happen when recruitment professionals are caught between increasing strain on limited budgets and rising enrollment demands. Didn't get the chance to read part one? You can do so here.

As you read this series, you might think, "yep, I've been there..." or "hey, I would never do that!" ... Either way, as you and your team navigate the uncertain waters of 2021, there is value in strategizing around these common pitfalls as you keep your eyes on enrollment growth.

And if you’re looking for more resources and perspective for your team, we hope you’ll join us for our two virtual sessions at NAFSA 2021 in June.

  • In Achieving Global Agility: The Flexibility of Global Campus Options, we’ll be joined by Seamus Harreys from CIEE and Ita Duron from Massachusetts College of Health and Pharmacy Sciences for a discussion on the challenges and opportunities of delivering your academic programs on remote campuses (think: Shanghai). First-hand experiences shared.

  • We’ll also be presenting with David DiMaria from University of Maryland, Baltimore County on strategies to help your institution’s international recruitment efforts thrive, even during challenging times, in Going from 0-60: Internationalization. We’ll be talking all things strategic partnerships, team management strategy, techniques for building that all-important leadership buy-in, and the global marketing efforts that pay off.

Let's get into it — Part 2 of recruitment mistakes of the desperate... 

(Reminder: you can find Mistakes #1 through 3 in Part 1 of this blog series.)

4. Put Inexperience in Charge

This may not be a popular thing to say among some of our readers, but some SIO’s have strong academic training and some international experience, but little recruitment marketing and digital analytics background. They are still wonderful and talented people who care deeply about students and their institution! Nevertheless, some lack critically important skills necessary for a position responsible for building student enrollment. It can be a plum job with exciting potential, but without the seasoned global marketing skills available to the recruiting and enrollment operation, there’s more trouble ahead.

The question: Does the team responsible for recruitment have the leadership perspective and range of industry knowledge/expertise available to turn the numbers around? If you don’t have them in-house, can you acquire them through external resources to supplement your team?

The mistake: Thinking that an academic leader with an affinity for international travel will have the skills to lead your enrollment marketing operation and make complicated global business decisions that depend on a technical understanding of digital and other marketing tactics.

The result: Well-meaning and well-liked leaders fail to grasp the operational and tactical requirements of the job and enrollment numbers continue to decline. Frustration abounds.

Best practice: Evaluate the skills available in-house or via external sources. You want to be sure your departmental leadership has the ability to:

  • Manage the team upstream and downstream (the people skills)
  • Establish the technology systems required (the tools to attract, nurture, convert)
  • Manage the process (the operational analysis skills)
  • Inspire the creativity (the marketing chops: no hum drum, delete-prone recruitment ads and emails)
  • Understand the market conditions (the global perspective)
  • Understand the KPIs (the data tracking and analysis skills)

5. Scattershot Marketing Investments

Student lead generators, list purveyors, social media "gurus," education agents pushing student fairs – they are all telling you they provide “student recruitment marketing services.” They are all pricing their services between $7,000 - $15,000 USD annually – because they know most institution leaders can find that level of funding in some hidden drawer somewhere. And they all promise great returns for this minimal investment.

The question: Have you asked the critical questions of these vendors about their past clients and the kinds of results they found in recent years? Better yet, have you asked them how many of their current clients were clients one, two, or three years ago?

The mistake: Believing that you can see results in this field of work for short money. The “even if we get just one new student, it will be worth the investment” mindset. If the vendors are demonstrating significant client churn from year to year, that is a clear indicator that what they are promising is not being delivered.

The result: Multiple years of investing $15,000 here and $15,000 there with no results to show for the investment and effort. Wasted time and money. Raise your hand if you are nodding and thinking "Oh, I have SO been there."

Best practice: There is a place for testing different options — always.  But take time to learn about and understand the big umbrella that is global marketing with its many channels: digital ads (with video and lead capture forms), social media ads (same), mobile landing pages, PR activities, university partnerships, education fairs, list purchases, lead generators, recruiting agents, pathway programs, and more. Each channel is designed to achieve different results in different parts of the recruitment funnel. Each requires a different level of investment and close, careful management.

No quick, cheap fixes. Win leadership support for a more thoughtful use of funding that prioritizes long-range planning. Take the $15,000 in that drawer and pool it with something bigger to get a real return on your investment. Build capacity and the underpinnings for sustained, consistent growth. That approach requires knowledge of the field, marketing creativity, and sustained management and investment.

What’s your next step?

Leadership in this field requires planning and tough decisions. Be realistic in analyzing why a student would choose your institution. Focus on your institutional strengths and the markets that really make sense for what you are offering. 

It takes time (years) to learn this field and to develop a strong recruiting system. Use data. Adapt. Use more data. Adapt again. You’ll need to figure out which of your products belongs on which shelves.

Avoid the common mistakes of the desperate. Rely on the expertise around you to make decisions informed by industry experience and data. Our associations are key resources for all of us: NAFSA, NACAC, AIEA, AIRC, EIAE, TABS, NAIS, and others. Key service providers like ICEF and iSchoolConnect also help you learn and build infrastructure. And always, the Intead team is here when you need us. 

*This post was first published in August 2018 by Ben Waxman and Cathryn Andrews. Our team has updated the perspective and republished for 2021.

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