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Yield better!

It’s 2014 and I’m all about resolutions for a new year.  This year, one of my professional resolutions will be to yield better.  It’s basketball season so if you don’t mind, I’ll use a basketball experience to make today’s point.

I was an average college basketball player who, like many, made too many mistakes and bad plays for my memory.  From a young age, I wanted to play college ball so I worked hard toward that goal trying to get better at every opportunity.  I had some talent and I was coachable!  I listened well, did my best to learn from my mistakes (provided I understood the mistake I made), and tried the alternative solution the next time I was in a similar situation.  That said, I distinctly remember multiple times during games when I would come off the playing floor only to hear my coach look at me and with intense frustration say, “Play better!”

I can’t help but relate that to an experience in enrollment management and understand to an extent why my coach said what he did.  I look at our current admission funnel reports seeing a somewhat stagnant inquiry pool, applicant numbers and yield percentages resembling a graph line similar to my favorite roller coaster (up and down over the last five years) all the while thinking to myself, “Yield better!”  Ah, but if it were only that easy.

I have not had one conversation with a colleague in higher education enrollment management who is interested in reducing enrollment.  We all want to grow or at the very least maintain size while becoming more selective.  Either way, we are often challenged with the notion of yielding better from our inquiry and applicant pools particularly this time of year.  Unfortunately for colleges, prospective students have grown very recruitment savvy.  They are much less likely to fill out inquiry forms from the mail or even online forms that have been pushed to them.  They are more interested in dictating the colleges that they want to consider and when they want to connect.  This change is impacting our ability to project yields as accurately as we may have even just five years ago.

Quickly back to basketball.  As I walked past my coach toward a place on the bench (his comment ringing in my ears) my head spins with potential solutions of how I can play better.  Today, I anticipate that same spinning in admission counselor’s heads as I push them to yield better.  I’m sure they are looking for solutions themselves.  But, as the enrollment manager at my institution, it is my responsibility to have the answer.  Similar to the coach, I should provide solutions which will yield better.

Over the course of the last 5 years, our inquiry pool has decreased.  At the same time, our applicant pool has increased and ultimately our yield on admitted applicants has fluctuated from a high of 29% to a low of 22% resulting in first-year classes between 337 and 287 students.  With a similar applicant pool to last year and an enrollment goal of 350 first-year students, it is clear that “yield better” is the obvious overall solution to achieve our goal.

So, what steps are we taking right at Doane College now to ultimately yield better?  First and foremost, we are spending more effort to focus our message on the value of a Doane College education by comparison to alternatives.  Second, we are working on the modes to deliver that message effectively utilizing traditional mail, telephone, web site, and social media.  Third, we are utilizing a new analytical tool that allows us to customize our message based on the specific interests of the student.  Finally, we are recalibrating our financial aid distribution, merit, need-based, and strategic funding, to improve our yield.  On the surface, these actions may seem obvious to others in enrollment management.  Nevertheless, the devil is in the details.  Like most enrollment management strategies, immediate results are elusive.  Our efforts require patience.  But, hope isn’t a strategy.  Enrollment management requires daily planning, monitoring tactics, and modifying our approach for better results.  Every day our admission office must make time to focus on tactics that will yield better.

Here’s to strong college enrollments across the US in 2014.  Cheers!

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