Enrollment Management

Hard Times as Motivators toward Future Success

(Omar Correa is an admired colleague and great friend.  He is also guest blogger this week providing his perspective on the enrollment management and higher education today)

Do you remember the first time riding a bicycle on your own, your first ice cream cone, the excitement of riding a roller coaster? “Wow! Let’s do it again”! Is that what you said? Something similar?

I remember having the same experience during my very first high school visit as an admissions representative. It was a very small high school in southeastern Iowa. I was there early, had all my materials ready and I was prepared. I was nervous, anxious… would I represent my institution well? Will I remember my presentation? Will I be asked a question I couldn’t answer? I was there for about an hour, it was all a blur. Next thing I remember…I was driving on I-80 thinking,”WHOA!!!! Am I getting paid to do this?” What a great feeling, helping students, telling the institution’s story and having every student listen as if I was reading straight from Harry Potter (replace with whatever teen book is popular).

I count myself among those lucky individuals that have found a job they love. They have found more than a job, a vocation. Webster defines vocation as “a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work”. That’s how I feel about my work in higher education and I feel blessed for that feeling. Do I feel that way because it is an easy job? Absolutely not! Since those days as a road warrior, the job has always been challenging, long hours and many sacrifices, personal and professional, are made by those in the world of enrollment management. But these challenges and sacrifices are overshadowed by the rewarding nature of the work that we do.

We also know that these challenges and rewards come in every year. We all know that this fall’s first year’s class will be challenging, so is next year’s class. We also know how it feels to work hard and smart trying to bring that class and still come up short. We know the consequences to the bottom line and the morale in the office and around campus. But we also know how it feels to welcome that new class to campus and see them grow personally and as students. Furthermore, we know that feeling when four years later, we have parents and students reminding us of the path traveled, the challenges and successes, once the student reaches graduation. We know that regardless of these feelings, the pressure is there to bring more students, better students and able-to-pay students.

As stated by Eric Hoover in the September 15, 2014 Chronicle of Higher Education article, The Hottest Seat on Campus, the market pressures are pushing institutions to search for “silver bullets.” The challenges on enrollment management are amplified by declining demographics, stagnant economy and heightened competition. Last month I experienced this phenomenon personally, where my institution did not need my services any longer, as the goals of the institution were not in line with what we could deliver, although all the forecast pointed toward a successful year. It is often difficult to realize the blessings that come, even disguised in the form of the loss of employment.

Jon Boeckenstedt wrote on his blog on February 3, 2014. Bloody Monday: Not just for the NFL:

In some sense, my colleagues are like NFL Coaches: Success, a finite commodity based on the nature of the game, is parceled out by the whims of the gods, and your hard work and good fortune bless you with it on occasion.  But the organizational appetite never goes away, and when it’s not fed sufficiently, good people are shown the door, and often replaced with someone who–in many ways–is just like the person leaving.  Only different.  The NFL has its Bloody Monday, the day after the season ends and coaches get fired.  In enrollment, we have bloody springs.

Having done this for so long, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to stay in one place as long as I wanted, but I’m also surprised when the pressures and the issues and the expectations we deal with are not obvious to those who don’t do it every day.  Maybe the same could be said of most professions. But for as much fun as this profession is, and for all the rewards it brings, I do wish we could bring a little more sanity to the continual upward spiral of expectations.

There is an expectation of More, Better and Less Needy that is part of the recipe for failure. As you may imagine, this has allowed me a lot of time to reflect and do some soul-searching. What’s next? What would I do differently? Is my passion for what I do extinguishing? I would still say that higher education is my vocation; I still have a passion for what I do, although we get shaken every now and then, we must continue to examine ourselves, grow from our challenges and don’t give up. A good friend of mine always says, “If it was easy, everybody would do it”.

In the last several weeks I have followed 4 Steps to keep moving forward in this crazy world of higher education that I love. What must I do to assess the next steps toward success and stay motivated?:

  1. Be objective and do some soul searching

Earl Nightingale once said, “We are all self-made, but only the successful will admit it.” I have to ask myself, what could I have done better? What will I do differently in the future? It’s always easier to look for an external force to blame, but we must bring some objectivity and reflection to the process.

  1. Revise your goals and vision

Where did you see yourself next year, 5, 10 years from now? Do you still see yourself there?, then don’t stop, revise the plan, the path. See whatever obstacle is in front of you as a detour and not the end of the road. Remember, who we were, who we are and who we will be are three different people.

  1. Remember your passion and your purpose

Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of our purpose and passion. When times are tough, we must go back and remember why we started our journey in the first place. A good way to accomplish this is by surrounding ourselves with people that are passionate, and trust me, it is contagious.

  1. Let go of the past and embrace future success

Someone once said, “You can’t start the next chapter, if you keep re-reading the last.” Once we have learned from our past mistakes, we shouldn’t look back! Be willing to move on with purpose, remember the Chinese proverb that says, “The master has failed more times than the beginner has tried.”

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Enrollment Management

Athletics and Enrollment: Communicating Across the Divide

(Jill McCartney, Doane College Athletic Director, is a guest blogger this week providing her perspective on the relationship and communication between athletic departments – specifically coaches – and enrollment offices)

Recruiting is the lifeblood of Athletics. While the same may be said for Admissions and the Enrollment staff, the way that we operate in Athletics and the strategies we use may not be altogether commensurate. For instance, admissions folks may be happy to welcome all applicants meeting admissions criteria, but sports coaches are not necessarily happy about welcoming all prospects.

As Athletics plays a larger role in enrollment management, ensuring good communication between Athletics folks and enrollment staff is important. Key to this communication is not only making sure everyone is aware of the lines of communication and who reports to whom, but also that the language we speak means the same thing to both groups. How the Admissions Office operates may not look like how sports coaches go about their work. Thus, making sure that both groups understand each other can go a long way in helping them function cooperatively.

To this end, I’ve listed some of the most important things for Enrollment professionals to know about how Athletics operates in recruiting:

  1. Coaches want the “Red Carpet Treatment” for their top prospects. What is interesting here is that coaches agree they want this, but they don’t necessarily know what this “Red Carpet Treatment” should look like. When I told our Admissions Director that this is what our coaches wanted, he expressed that this is how their staff attempted to treat each prospect they recruited. Admissions folks, he said, try to make each student feel wanted, so he wanted to know what specifically coaches were looking for. I had no definitive answer for our Director, even after asking our coaches a few more questions. I came to the conclusion that coaches just wanted admissions staff to know who their top prospects were and, therefore, needed to do a better job of communicating with the Admissions staff about their recruiting priorities.
  2. Coaches don’t like to be surprised with prospects. Coaches tend to be very intentional about their recruiting, which means they usually know most of the players in the area. They also tend to have busy schedules, so having an admissions staff member ask for a meeting within the next hour or, even worse, having the admissions ambassador show up at the coach’s office with the prospect and her family in tow, are not good for promoting good will between departments. Given that coaches now work under the expectation of maintaining larger rosters and supplementing campus recruitment, coaches generally understand the need to help out with students in whom they may not be very interested; but coaches still want to ensure that they make best use of their time, so having some background information on the prospect or having the time to delegate the visit to an assistant will go a long way toward maintaining good will and optimizing the time spent on the visit.
  3. In recruiting, coaches operate on a sped-up timeframe. Coaches live in a here-today-gone-tomorrow world. When they have a hot prospect, coaches recruit with an urgency, and they want others to show this same kind of urgency. For instance, when the arch rival down the road has already admitted the hot prospect, coaches expect their school to act accordingly—and right now. They want their prospects to be admitted in the same window as other schools against whom they compete.
  4. Coaches’ recruiting calendars can depend on the sport and gender of the student-athletes. And these recruiting calendars may not work very smoothly with academic or admissions calendars. Coaches of women’s sports tend to start recruiting players as sophomores and try to get commitments from their top prospects by December of their senior year (if not earlier!). On the men’s side, coaches typically find that early recruiting is not as effective, so they make their big push during the senior year. In football, campus visits get going in December and January, with many players making decisions by the first of February. For football recruiting, then, the winter break can make visits somewhat problematic, as December visits fall during final exams and January visits occur before classes start. We are fortunate at our institution that the Admissions staff and key faculty are willing to work with football coaches to set up visit days before the start of the semester to ensure a high quality visit for prospects and their families. While coaches would like for Admissions staff and faculty to be available during evenings and weekends—when many prospects are able to visit campus—finding other creative ways to adapt to coaches’ recruiting calendars is key to recruiting success.
  5. Coaches want admissions counselors to know about their sports programs. While coaches understand that they are the best and most effective promoters of their own programs, they want to feel as if it’s a team effort with admissions when their prospects are on campus. Coaches like to hear from the prospect that the student ambassador giving the tour talked about the football team’s big win over the top-ranked opponent, or that the admissions counselor told them about the baseball team’s unbeaten record in conference last year. On our campus, we have created promotional sheets for use by coaches and admissions staff, and these can serve admissions staff as “cheat sheets” for key talking points.

While this list reflects the specific priorities of coaches at Doane College, Crete, Nebraska, I believe the underlying principle—the need for clear and effective communication—pertains to all. What has helped our coaches and, I believe, our Enrollment staff, is the use of multiple means of communicating. Having our Director of Admissions as an invited guest to our Athletics Department meetings, creating an Admissions staff “liaison” to the Athletics Department, and using Google Docs for coaches to update offers and acceptances are all ways that we have worked to shore up communication and effective rapport between departments. The good news is that we are still speaking to each other, and the even better news is that both groups feel that we have benefited from the increased and improved communication.

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education Marketing

You’ve got mail!

QUICK EDITORS NOTE:  You may continue to choose to read this blog post or you may watch/listen to the post!

Everyone likes getting mail during the holidays. I write my family’s annual holiday letter updating family and friends on what’s going on in the life of my wife, kids, and me. The result of this annual tradition – in addition to the increasing amount of online Christmas present purchases – is a crazy busy time of the year for the USPS as well as other delivery services. In fact, I learned while watching the TODAY SHOW that December 18th is anticipated to be the most significant mail date of the year!

To be fair, I believe everyone likes to get mail, particularly personalized mail, regardless of the holidays. I still look forward to checking my mailbox every day when I get home from work – but, maybe I’m old fashion.  I did turn 40 this year. There are fewer bills, statements and cards/letters in the mailbox compared to 10 years ago. Personally, I don’t get the hand-written card from my mom like I did in college. She emails or texts which I appreciate, but they still don’t have the same effect. Think about the last time you received something hand-written in the mail. Felt good, right?

After checking with a colleague and Doane College alumnus at the United States Postal Service (USPS), I’m told that mail volumes have declined considerably over the last decade. First-class mail – i.e. bills, statements, letters and payments – has been significantly impacted by online options. As a result the USPS delivered 35% less First-Class Mail in 2013 than they did in 2004. While the rate of decline has slowed in the last two years (only a 5% and 4% drop in the last two years respectively) the first 2 quarters of 2014 shows that trend continuing. But, what about Standard A mail (aka Junk Mail)? Truth be told that Standard A mail has increased slightly in the last year and is down only marginally from where it was in 2004.  Bottom line…less mail in the mailbox means what is in the box may very well get more attention by comparison to ten years ago.

Two quick thoughts on this: First, with less mail, it’s understandable that businesses are working more strategically with Standard A mail to gain more presence in front of the consumer – to get noticed in the mailbox. Second, I believe the value of a personal note in the mailbox has more impact today than it did 15 years ago.

I contend that the plight of first-class mail has actually made the mailbox more relevant today! In higher education enrollment management, communication with the prospective student is of paramount importance and ever more challenging to coordinate. For example, response rates to mail pieces are abysmal for the most part and the elimination of landlines makes it even more challenging to connect with a student via phone. Rather than wait for students to tell us they are interested, colleges use predictive models to determine who we need to target with our communication plans and ultimately we create communication flows that hit prospective student mailboxes on a regular basis even when a student hasn’t taken the specific step to tell us they are interested. We can’t afford to wait for the student to respond.

Beyond general propaganda mail, however, I am also determined to create a mailbox presence for prospective students that connect to them personally. It’s true that printing companies can more easily print variable data on brochures and postcards to give the impression of personalization. While I think this works and has an effect, it still does not replace the value of the hand-written addressed envelope that contains something more personalized inside. Make no mistake, this isn’t easy to coordinate and takes time and energy. However, Admission Counselors at Doane College must make connections with prospective students that require them to think beyond the quick phone call or even the Facebook message or email.

So, how about email? Studies have shown that prospective students prefer to receive college information via email. As a result, we push emails out to prospects regularly. So much so that people question if it’s too much. Do people really care that much about junk emails, so much that it frustrates them? Can you actually send too much email? Mass email can be easy and very inexpensive. Unfortunately, some enrollment professionals struggle to invest the time and energy to really think through an email campaign strategy. This is not an indictment on those individuals. It’s reality of our resources. I know we are guilty of that at times for sure. A discussion I hear in my office often is related to the volume of emails that we send to prospective students. I hear people contend, “We are turning them off with so many emails!” Really? A student is not considering Doane College because of how many emails we send? I think it’s an easy excuse for a person, but not the reason they are not coming to Doane College. I simply think it’s unfortunate for a college or business to fear sending too many emails. That said, it is important to have a balance – purpose and volume. People can easily opt-out of email campaigns or they can simply ignore them. I get an email a day from Kohls – maybe even two or three this time of year – and it doesn’t bother me because I know it’s there if I’m interested. It takes more energy for me to opt-out or send a nasty-gram for them to stop sending me emails.

Lets be clear, however. Quantity and quality are two different issues. I’m in favor of significant volume of emails, but there has to be a strategy and a vetted message to these emails. They do represent your brand.

College enrollment professionals lament over different strategies to engage with high school students during the college search process. We utilize all modes of communication in what sometimes seems like a lost cause. Does our mail get opened? How do we know if they don’t respond to the tear-off card or go online with the customized URL. Do they even receive our email campaigns? We create landing pages, review open-rates and click-through stats in hopes of validating our efforts. We look at Google reports to see the pages visitors land on. Today, we can’t obtain as many valid phone numbers because there is no landline! We pay exceptional amounts of money to firms to help us manage the communication flow to prospective students, which includes a select number of mail pieces, email campaigns, and phone calls. We consider the message, the look, the timing, and the volume of touches all in hopes that the student engages.

There is no silver bullet. But, moving all online and eliminating a mailbox strategy is a sure death in my opinion. Take advantage of the mailbox today. It’s not nearly as cramped as it once was. Get your college into the conversation by making sure your brand lands on the dining room table or counter at the end of the day, preferably at the top of the pile.

So, I leave you with a few pieces of advice:

  1. The mailbox still matters.  Use it strategically.
  2. Hand-written addressed envelopes are effective.
  3. Be aggressive with emails, but give thought to your message and subject lines for best response rates. Top of the mind awareness is the name of the game. Be there when they are ready for you. Can you dedicate a person to manage this activity and report on successes and failures?

Happy Holidays! JOEL

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education

All you have to do is get them here!

In my opinion, the campus visit is the single greatest indicator of student interest in a college or university.  While it’s true that students may enroll without a visit, it’s rare.  Colleges will host large number of visitors throughout the academic year and also some in the summer.  The visit can “seal the deal” for many who visit their first-choice college.  For others, particularly those that have not already applied for admittance, a visit may prove that a school isn’t the greatest fit and an application will not get completed.  At Doane College, we have a beautiful campus – many will argue the most beautiful in Nebraska.  It’s amazing no doubt.  As a result, I hear many people – not those in admissions mind you – share the sentiment, “All you have to do is get them here.”  I have two issues with that statement.  First, if that were only true and second, we still have to get them here!  I’m going to address these in reverse order.

Do to the continued ease of online applications; a large number of applicants will not even visit a campus to which they apply.  Getting a student to visit campus is not as easy as some might think, particularly those that visit from “away”.  Without the visit, we are almost guaranteed that the student will not enroll.  Given the incredible “noise” generated by all schools encouraging student visits during the fall, how can a college break through to be noticed by students and have that opportunity to WOW them with a visit experience?  First, it’s about exposure early.  Students need to see the college as early as their freshman year in order to have a real chance.  Second, it’s about consistency in the message to students and families.  Colleges and universities must articulate value and how they are different from other schools.  For example, at Doane, we provide a world-class education excelling at teaching tomorrow’s educators and conducting real-world scientific research.  We provide guarantees in both three-and four-year programs with an inclusive community where students can fit in her and stand out after college.

It’s also about opportunity.  Again as an example, Doane College offers an opportunity for each student to earn a $1,000 grant (renewable annually) simply for visiting Doane College during their senior year.  Visit campus and earn the $1,000 upon enrollment.  And, this isn’t just for high school students.  Students who are looking to transfer from their current institution can receive the grant by visiting campus as well, provided it’s within 12 months of their enrollment.  Finally, it’s about convenience.  Location matters for sure.  Doane’s main market is within 100 miles of campus.  For those outside that radius, the college provides a bit more incentive beyond the $1000 visit grant.  For this reason, Doane has a travel reimbursement program allowing students with limited resources to access funding to support their travel to campus and their time on campus.  Truth be told, even these strategies don’t guarantee (remember, no silver bullet) chart-topping visit numbers.  But they can definitely help.

So, let’s say we get them to campus…what next?  As I mentioned (and it’s worth mentioning again), Doane College has a beautiful campus.  But to even think that campus beauty in and of itself gets the job done over simplifies the college decision, particularly today.  I’m going to give students more credit for college choice than simple campus beauty.   The reality is as admission professionals, we have limited exposure to how a visit is done at other colleges and universities.  How many college visit coordinators have the opportunity to see how others coordinate visits?  How many admission counselors visit other colleges as a prospective student in order to do a real assessment of what we do well?  How many faculty interview or meet with prospective students at different institutions throughout their career?  Professional conferences can give us a little exposure to how others coordinate and manage visits, but generally it’s not enough.  My point is that it’s easy to believe we are doing it well, but most of us in enrollment will still want our yield on visitors to increase.  We can always do better.  Just getting them here won’t get the numbers.

The fact of the matter is that while beauty counts, it’s the substance of the visit that really makes the difference.  It’s the whole visit experience, including things we cannot control (at least not easily), i.e. the weather, families showing up late, the menu in the cafeteria that day,..people!  🙂   We try to create an environment where each visitor can have an exceptional experience in order to determine if they are a good fit at Doane College.  We talk about “Orange Carpet Treatment” or “Concierge Service”.  I want our admission team to be genuine with students and families while at the same time making sure that our prospective students leave the visit knowing as much about their Doane potential as realistically possible.  I also hope that all staff and faculty recognize the opportunity they have to influence a visitor when they greet a student and a parent or when they say hello on the sidewalk.  There are a lot of moving parts that we manage (and some that we can’t), and we must strive to do them incredibly well.

Other than looking at yield rates, how can a college determine where they can increase the quality of visits?  Admission offices will mail surveys or seek feedback from visitors regarding their visits.  Unfortunately, at Doane we only hear about the great visits (which unfortunately don’t guarantee enrollment) or we hear about the horrible visits which can guarantee enrollment….elsewhere!  We jump to “fix” that issue immediately, but we also want to hear about the typical visits.  We generate schedules and manage visits trying to keep the student in mind while at the same time managing the relationships with our colleagues on campus recognizing that their time is valuable as well.

As professionals, we sit down and try to determine how we can be better.  Is it the schedule?  Is it the people we have student’s visit with?  Is it the route of the tour?  Are our ambassadors/tour guides saying the right things?  We consider employing a “secret shopper” experience to try and identify our weaknesses from an outsider.  We want to make the best experience for each visitor.  We can and should want Doane College to be right for every visitor even though we know that’s not reality.   Our goal at Doane is to influence and provide an exceptional admission experience.  You hear the saying that beauty is only skin deep.  Our beauty comes from within (value and outcomes) reinforcing what is easy to see on the surface.

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Enrollment Management, Higher Education Marketing

Mortimer, We’re Back!

Those words of the infamous Randolph Duke expressed to Mortimer Duke in a scene of Coming to America came to mind this week as I reflected on the time of year and my blog. Today, students are arriving on the Doane College campus to begin orientation while all over Nebraska (and across the nation), high school students are crossing the classroom thresholds for the first time since last spring anticipating what will come of this new year. It’s an exciting time for many to be sure.

As many students look forward, enrollment professionals tend to first look back. While it’s true that we are anxious for the start of a new recruiting year, admission directors crunch data and survey the higher education landscape to understand what worked and what didn’t work over the last year. Whether we anticipate making our enrollment numbers or not, it doesn’t change the questions that we seek answers to because one thing is for sure; higher education enrollment management is not getting easier, particularly in the private sector.

Then again, as much as changed, there are still constants. Students must apply and be admitted in order to enroll. And, students generally will not enroll if they have not visited the campus. So, as we lament over the tactics that we deployed last year, our bottom line question is rather simple. How do we influence more students to apply and visit? This is why higher education has become so commercialized. In some cases, yield on the number of applicants can fluctuate a few percentage points but enrollment growth or even just enrollment stability is predicated on colleges being able to convince enough students to complete an application and visit the campus. And, because of the commercialization, there is a tremendous amount of “noise” for students and parents to filter through to make their decisions. Truth be told, even if a student applies to 15 colleges, how many can they realistically visit, particularly during the academic year? To that point, colleges must figure out a way to be one of 3-5 true options in a student’s senior year.

So, the onslaught of communication continues and even increases for high school juniors and seniors. Mailboxes (because print mail still matters!) and email accounts will be filled with college information. And, make no mistake, every private college has amazing professors, small student-to-faculty ratios, and will tout new facilities. Filtering through the noise is exactly what students need to do. Results matter. Outcomes can distinguish one school from another. And no doubt, fit continues to be important. At Doane College, we’ve taken the step of identifying what we believe makes us different; what sets us apart from the crowd that will also resonate with students and parents. Our communication material will reflect our identity which can be summed up with the following “elevator statement”.

 

Doane College is a world-class private college excelling at teaching tomorrow’s educators and conducting real-world scientific research. We provide guarantees to graduate in both three- and four-year programs with an inclusive community where students can fit in here and stand out after college.

 

Check out this short video.

Using this statement as a guide, we are making sure our messages within brochures, emails, and digital media are focused and speak to the issues that students and parents expect to be addressed by colleges.  Every college has something special about it.  Connecting students to that something special takes considerable efforts and resources in today’s market.

My blog took a short hiatus over the summer, but we are off and running again. We’re back!

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Higher Education

What if you could start over?

One-course-at-a-time, gap-year, 2-year programs, and on-line programs!  Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all in higher education.  Today, higher education is challenging historical and traditional practices.  Parents want to know outcomes!  They want programs that translate into results.  They want to know what “works”.  Why does a bachelor’s degree take four years?  Why is college typically relegated to two semesters or three trimesters between September and May?  Who makes these rules and are we confident that there isn’t a better way?

Like a little kid, one of my favorite questions is “why”.  The questions above are great examples of questions I ask myself often.  And most recently, I asked if Doane College can graduate a student in less than four years.  The answer led me to try and impact our approach to AP tests and dual-credit coursework.  Although Doane College is a 4-year traditional college, we are taking steps to think differently.  Today, Doane College is rolling out a 3-year graduation program in which certain majors are backed by a 3-year graduation guarantee.

As a quick digression, Doane College has offered a 4-year graduation guarantee for many years.  We were one of the first to offer such a guarantee and the first in the state of Nebraska.  I believe the 4-year guarantee is a component of our culture and while the 4-year guarantee red-tape can be duplicated almost anywhere, I’m not certain that the culture can.  In that same vein, I look at the new 3-year program.  This is not rocket science.  The academic requirements for graduation have not changed.  Instead, we’ve packaged our academic programs with the understanding that a student may choose to accelerate their educational experience.  In the event they want to do that, we provide them the road map.  But make no mistake; this is not for the faint of heart.  Eighteen credits a semester and summer coursework wasn’t in my college plans, but it is for some students today, particularly those that have already taken over 24 college credits while in high school.  And by the way, we have a few Doane students graduating in three years without this program.

Now, before even the first faculty member says, “you can’t do that,” I say yes, we can and yes we are.  Today, high school students are taking more college level dual-credit courses and AP tests than ever before.  And I believe they are doing this because they believe there is a benefit to doing so.  They believe they are getting ahead.  Moreover, high schools are helping to facilitate programs to encourage more college coursework prior to graduation.  But, how many colleges and universities are acknowledging this openly and actually embracing this proactive approach to college?  If a first-year college student enrolls with 36 credits, doesn’t it stand to reason that they consider themselves at the sophomore level relative to credits earned?  And, furthermore, if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be logical to assume that they need only three more years to graduate in college.  If that’s not true, why are we talking about college being four years?  Shouldn’t we talk about it being four-and-a-half or five years?  (Truthfully, there are colleges that do speak to honest fact that it takes more than four years at their school).  Why would high schools encourage their students to do college coursework before high school graduation without some understanding of a benefit?

The four-year model is tried and true and a tough mold to break.  But, I believe colleges and universities should embrace the fact that there are quality students working hard in high school with expectations of getting ahead both academically and financially.  More importantly, colleges must get in the game and respond appropriately with packaged programming that helps a student to leverage pre-college credit toward an accelerated degree plan.  Obviously this assumes that the student wants this.  A student could also want to double or triple major.  They could want to study abroad.  They could want to stop out for a year.  All these options are acceptable and may prolong any accelerated program to four years or beyond.  That’s not the point.  The point is that there are students who want this and their current success in graduating in three years is often predicated on the strong collaboration with a faculty advisor who shepherds the student through any red tape.  I vote for making it easier for a student to see these opportunities.  Notice I didn’t say make it easier to graduate.  In fact, I think it goes without saying that graduating in three years is more rigorous than a four year plan.

A three-year program isn’t a game-changer in higher education.  In fact, changing higher education today is difficult and requires patience.  But, who doesn’t like to dream?  To that end, give some thought to this question.   What would you do if you could start your own college and take advantage of all the lessons learned over time?  Start fresh!  Would you use one-course-at-at-time?  Would you use a hybrid approach to online and classroom work?  Would your program encompass year-round programming?  Would you require an urban plunge or an international experience?  Would you require an internship?  Would you still require the liberal arts?  This all gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.  Part of me fears the pace of educational change is impacted more by the inability to insert new ideas into old structure.  So, what if you could start over?

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Higher Education Marketing

Five realizations of marketing in higher education

(Mike Lefler, Sr. Director of Strategic Communication at Doane College, is a guest blogger this week providing his personal experience with marketing in higher education)

I may be oversimplifying this, but as a marketer, your responsibility is to know your product, know your target audience and create a bridge between the two. But in higher education, that simple notion is compounded by speaking to several different audiences (traditional students, adult learners, parents, teachers, etc.) that are all looking for different things in a school that features many different selling points.

When I came to Doane College to strategically direct marketing and communications, I had backgrounds in athletic media relations and marketing in the non-profit and health care sectors. Fields that I felt had a fairly clear sales pitch and more defined audiences. The complex nature of college recruitment and selling a small college in an extremely competitive environment was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Below are the five things I have realized in the past six months about marketing in higher education:

Recognize that your school is not for everyone – The million-dollar question: What do students want? This is a question we should be asking ourselves each and every day. The trouble is there is no one thing that we can sell that will attract the number of students we’re looking for.  We’ve come to find that some students look for location or campus community, others for college size or academic reputation while many will refer to a parent, guidance counselor or teacher to lend them advice.  This creates a challenge for the college marketer.

Here at Doane, we recognize we are not going to be the exact fit for each person out there. We as marketers can’t change that. We also realize that, if prospects are given the appropriate information in a manner that stands out, we can be a fit for more people than are now enrolled at our school. What we can do is build our identity and tell our story – what we’re the best at, who can succeed here, what people say about their experiences – in as clear a way as possible to make sure that people are hearing it and giving us real consideration for what we have to offer.

Expand your avenues strategically – Gone are the days of purchasing one ad in the local newspaper and everyone in a 20-mile radius seeing it.  You need to consider things like mobile compatibility, search engine optimization, social media, inbound marketing, online advertising and email blasts.  Prospective students gather their information in numerous ways, so you need to be diverse and stand out in your approach.

The trouble is that big oak tree in the middle of campus isn’t a money tree.  You need to be strategic about which avenues you pursue because funds are limited in the world of small-college marketing. You’ve got to find innovative ways to reach your audiences with succinct messages while being as targeted as possible. Build a following through social media, promote your website until you’re blue in the face, utilize email to the fullest extent, capitalize on good PR and publish enough content through blogs and a news feed to get you noticed outside of your campus walls.  Most importantly, tell your strengths right up front and be as colorful as possible so you stand out from that stack of letters from colleges across the country.

It’s OUR brand – When we launched our new brand on Dec. 2, I had people approach me saying, “I love your new brand.”  I immediately correct them and let them know that this is our brand. This is not something that is just going to live through marketing endeavors. If we are to create a recognizable brand, this needs to be something that lives and breathes through each and every student, faculty member, staff person and alum. A brand is only as strong as the people that live it.  When you are a college, that brand needs to become who you are or it’s not perceived as believable by those on the outside looking in. And it’s everyone’s responsibility for marketing, not just the department that has that title outside its door.

Align your goals with other departments –When marketing a college or university, your ultimate goal is not only to have your brand seen by as many targeted people as possible, but also to help other departments accomplish their goals. Let’s take for example our admissions office. Here at Doane, if our admissions office is not hitting its enrollment goals, this will also be a reflection on how effective our marketing is. Yes, this puts our goals partly in the hands of other departments, but it also brings us together with others as one team and gets us all on the same page. We need to step back, take a look at the big picture of what is going to make us successful and align ourselves with others whom we support to gauge our successes or failures.

To academia, marketing is low-hanging fruit for criticism – Anyone who has worked in marketing for any length of time has stories of “Suzy in accounting who thinks that, because she saw a great commercial while watching The Bachelor last night, she is now an expert in advertising.” In academia, where faculty and students are taught to question everything, the notion is magnified. To them, marketing may seem like a gimmick or trivial in nature with no real science behind it. They want to see immediate proof that the billboard up in the middle of town is translating directly into students in our classrooms.

The answer to this is to justify everything. Make them feel like they are part of the process (which they are to some extent). Let them know what you’re doing every step of the way and why. You’ll get your share of resistance, but by trusting in your marketing experience, training and sticking to your strategy, you’ll get where you need to be.

(Thank you Mike for your guest post!  Joel)

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