Enrollment Management

[March Madness] Enrollment Management

Imagine, if you will, the high school senior that creates a tournament bracket similar to college basketball and seeds each of his potential college suitors in accordance with his interest.  Then, one by one he pits each school against one another using financial aid as the sole contributing factor to the decision on which college or university moves on to the next round.  (I saw something similar to this in our student affairs office last year when a college senior created a bracket during March representing his law school choices.)  As an enrollment management professional at a private, independent college and obviously not knowing explicitly who my institution is competing with, a process like this would make me cringe.

In the admission and financial aid office at Doane College, March 13th represents the date when we make our first official financial aid offers to prospective students.  We will mail over 400 financial aid awards representing over half of the total number of awards we will make this recruiting cycle.  And, when you consider that our first “wave” of financial aid awards accounts for roughly 60% of our anticipated class, it makes sense that this is a big deal.

March is maddening, particularly in this day and age in higher education and this would be true without college basketball!  I’ve discussed in previous posts the challenges of merit aid, price, cost, and tuition.  Financial aid is a beast and a blessing in enrollment management.  No two schools develop their financial aid policy and strategy the same.  As a result, all who want to make apples to apples comparisons with financial aid awards are easily frustrated.  A consequence of this process is an increasing demand for financial aid negotiations between potential students (or the parents) and the college.  At times it’s laughable because I often see those who have the greatest ability to pay for college lobbying for the greatest amount of aid.  But, then I ask myself, “Who could blame them?”  Just because people have wealth doesn’t mean they are any more interested in parting with it.  Nevertheless, I often hear more appeals for families with the financial resources than I do for those that do not.

Those in enrollment management understand that financial aid can be very complicated and therefore isn’t always the easiest to explain to families.  Even if you can articulate your institution’s philosophy and process, good luck helping a family understand why their Expected Family Contribution is $20,000 as defined by the FAFSA.  Who hasn’t heard the comment, “I don’t have $20,000 in the bank to pay for Junior’s college each year!”?  I suppose the saving grace is to share that the EFC is calculated the same for everyone and therefore each school is using the same information.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t provide families with much comfort.

So, how does an admission counselor navigate the March Madness bracket with a prospective student in the event they focus largely on the financial aid award?  As a private, independent college, how can we compete with the local community college on price?  If you draw that match-up do you simply throw in the towel?  How about if you draw the local state institution?  Maybe you have a chance if the student isn’t getting any aid from the state school.  But what if you draw another area competitor; similar college if you will?  Slam dunk, right?  Hmmm, not so fast.  In the end, we must to talk about value.  We cannot let it be only about cost even when we know that is a significant issue.

Let me share a brief story.  A father visits Doane College with his son.  During the visit they indicate that they have received an “offer” from another private, independent college in the state totaling more than our offer.  When asked for the details of the offer in order to determine if we could find a way to be more competitive, the father indicated that he doesn’t work that way.  He is a farmer and he likened his son’s college choice to a recent purchase of a tractor. He shared, “When I need a tractor, I go to two businesses and ask for the best price on a tractor.  Whoever gives me the best offer gets my business.”  I asked the father, “Sir, were both tractors John Deere?”  He indicated that both were Case to which I replied, “Sir, in your example, what if you were comparing Case to John Deere?  Would price be your only comparison point?”  I would bet that John Deere and Case reps would work hard to argue the differences in their tractors if given the chance.  That being said, if from the beginning this farmer knew that he wanted a Case, the fact that we are John Deere is irrelevant because it’s very possible that we don’t have what you want.  Comparing Doane College to another school based only on financial aid is shortsighted and assumes that everything else is equal.  A better financial offer from us may make your decision more difficult but it sounds like this farmer and his son had already decided what they wanted.

March Madness in higher education admissions seems to be all about financial aid and less the importance of fit and comfort in a college choice.  As colleges, we create financial aid awarding strategies in order to provide enough financial aid to make enrollment possible for a target amount of prospective students while also anticipating resulting revenue.  Ultimately, our awards will not be the best award for every student.  It doesn’t (and can’t!) work that way.  But, we want to be right for 350 first-year students for sure!

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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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Enrollment Management

Merit aid and the impact on tuition price

Eric Hoover wrote an article on January 17th, “Want to Define Merit?  Good luck.”  He accounted for a discussion among higher education enrollment officials at a conference focused on merit aid, specifically how colleges assess and reward merit aid to shape the socioeconomic and racial diversity of students at selective colleges.  I enjoyed the article but it got me thinking.  Shape socioeconomic and racial diversity?  I wish!

The term “merit aid” has grown in relevance exponentially over the last ten years for private, independent colleges.  But, merit aid is an enrollment tool used for very different reasons depending on the college.   Hoover’s article is focused on the discussion of officials from more selective colleges.  He discussed need-blind admissions, the influence of social class on students’ test scores, and the important debate surrounding the way in which colleges leverage aid to solidify diversity in enrollment.

Now, allow me the opportunity to share the world that many enrollment managers and college administrators live in related to this merit aid.  Our institutions are not considered highly selective.  We would love to shape our classes with more diversity and better test scores which typically translate into higher retention rates and ultimately stronger ratings in US News & World Report.  We thoroughly enjoy those conversations and get excited whenever the opportunity arises to participate in that discussion.  Unfortunately, our real-world, day-to-day challenges often push the discussion of shaping a class to the periphery.  Focus on that and we don’t have the enrollment to shape!  Fair to say, our issues with merit aid are different.

When colleges began offering merit, they opened Pandora’s Box.  On one hand, it was genius because it made private college attractive to many students who may have seen it as out of reach due to cost; college only for the wealthy.  On the other hand, it started a financial war which continues today.  Schools are pitted against each other fighting for the same student often not based on value of the education, but instead based on the value of a scholarship.  And, make no mistake; as the pressure to offer more merit has increased, schools have had to recoup their financial investment (net tuition revenue) in the form of tuition increases.

Because colleges offer merit with slightly different criteria, comparisons can be challenging.  There are different qualifications for different scholarship amounts.  Some scholarships are competitive whereas others are given based solely on arbitrary criteria.  Moreover, the arbitrary criteria are different at each school as is the amount attributed to the criteria.  Easy example is Doane College and Hastings College.  Very similar schools but different academic qualifications for different scholarship amounts.

As tuition-driven colleges increase merit to attract more students, it puts other similar colleges in a position to increase merit as well to be competitive in very price/cost-sensitive markets.  One college can significantly increase merit aid forcing other similar schools to do the same to stay competitive or lose enrollment.  In the private college environment, I believe this tactic erodes the value of the product we sell.  And not only that, but as I mentioned before, tuition will increase in order to recoup some of the net revenue lost by increasing aid.  I don’t expect students/parents to appreciate this or feel any remorse for colleges.  Nevertheless, merit aid war games are significantly effecting decisions made with respect to tuition and other costs at colleges today.

I’m not suggesting that merit aid is bad.  I don’t think I can make that argument.  But, it complicates an already challenging college decision.  If instead of merit, a college chose to provide financial aid based solely on need, it’s not likely that the college would meet enrollment targets, nor would it likely meet net tuition revenue targets for operational budgets.  But, some would argue that’s the “right thing to do.”  I don’t see an easy answer here but I do anticipate a change coming in higher education.  The path of more aid and increased tuition is a very rocky road at best.

I’m not minimizing the importance of the merit conversation related to Mr. Hoover’s article.  However, I think it’s important to understand that there is another merit issue unrelated to and (to me) equally important for many colleges today.  We can’t begin to shape our enrollment if we don’t have enrollment to shape.

What do you believe the role of merit aid should be in college enrollment?   

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Enrollment Management

College Tuition – the Price and the Cost

This is the time of the year in higher education recruitment when rubber hits the road.  Students begin to make the often tough college choice.  An important factor in that choice for most is the cost of education.  And, the cost of education depends greatly on the *price.

The price of tuition at private, independent colleges has received a great deal of criticism as of late.  There are those that feel that tuition prices have escalated far too high as a result of college greed or unwillingness to take into consideration the impact of that cost on families.

First, price does matter.  Let’s say you are considering two pair of shoes.  A brand name shoe has a price tag of $70 while a no-name brand has a price tag of $35.  Quick, which shoe in your opinion represents higher quality?  What if the $70 shoe is 50% off?  Now, both shoes will cost you the same amount out of your pocket.  Does that change your opinion of the quality of the higher priced shoe?

Although I acknowledge that this is a bit of an oversimplification, price is often perceived as representative of a specific product’s quality in the market.  While I recognize that there are other impacts on price such as demand, price can be very important in the context of competition in a specific demographic and geographic market.  Consider the private, independent colleges in the state of Nebraska.  List each college and their respective tuition. Tuition amounts are typically within $2,000-$3,000, and sometimes within less than $1,000.  The fact that these colleges have tuition prices so close is not by chance.  But this still doesn’t answer the question as to why tuition prices continue to escalate.

Price does matter but the increasing price is not necessarily attributed to a college’s incessant desire to fill their coffers with your money.  What is easily misunderstood is a college’s ability to maintain appropriate net revenue to operate (with modest program investments) without increasing the price.  In order for a college to operate annually with net revenue from tuition, it must not only consider the price of tuition but also the amount of discounting required in order to meet overall enrollment targets.  Essentially, to what extent must a college put tuition on-sale in order to meet or exceed enrollment targets?

Consider the shoe example above.  Let’s try to keep this relatively simple.  Both shoes will cost the consumer the same out-of-pocket cost.  In turn, each company receives the same net revenue.  Private, independent colleges can be considered similar to the name brand shoe while a public university is the no-brand shoe.  While tuition is high, often the cost is discounted with significant merit aid and grants.  This discount is equivalent to a sale.  Each year enrollment managers assess the amount of aid required to yield the previous class.  Consumers are expecting more and more aid each year.  To be clear, this discussion is not addressing state and federal aid such as Pell Grants and loans.  I’m simply speaking to the funds provided independently by the institution which are not loans.  The amount of average institutional aid (merit or grant aid) for each student divided by the tuition translates into a college’s average tuition discount.

PRICE

Tuition = $20,000

———–

 Average Merit/Scholarship/Grants (provided by institution) = $7,000

Tuition Discount = 35%

———-

COST

$13,000

Many colleges are discounting tuition at historically high rates in order to meet enrollment goals.  If tuition does not increase and the rate of discount increases, a college will lose net revenue and be forced to operate with fewer resources than the previous year.  Think about this in the context of a family budget.  Fewer resources lead to decisions that ultimately can affect quality of life.  At a college, this can affect the quality of the educational program.  In order to account for a significant sale (discount) on tuition, the price must increase to protect net revenue and maintain operations with the same consume value expectations.

It’s important to understand that when a college provides a discount on tuition with institutional aid, rarely is that aid actually funded by actual paper money.  That’s not to say it never is, but most colleges simply don’t raise enough money annually to off-set the financial aid that they fund.  Do some quick math.

(Enrollment)  x  (Tuition Price) x (Sale/Discount) = Financial Aid Funding Required Annually

1,200$20,000  .35  = $8,400,000 (that is 8 million!)

There are not too many colleges that fundraise $8 million annually to support financial aid.  Nor are endowment returns (even on substantial endowments like Doane College’s) enough to support the scholarships/grants provided to students.  And, this example uses a tuition discount of 35% rather than upwards of 40% which is becoming more typical for some schools.

So, if the example above holds true, why not decrease tuition by $10,000 and stop discounting?  First, let me bring you back to the shoe comparison.  There is a strong theory that if a college cut tuition by 50%, it would impact their perception of quality.  There are schools that have done this but not without a great deal of research, consternation, and some risk.  Pricing may seem elementary on the surface.  Unfortunately, it is a significant issue and one that colleges wrestle with each year.  The price of tuition is one number while the cost of tuition to a family can be something quite different.

*For the purpose of this post, price is reflective of tuition only.

P.S.  Doane College approached tuition pricing a bit differently in 2013.

This academic year Doane College approached setting tuition slightly different than in the past.  First, internally administration discussed tuition considering the ongoing debate of increasing prices.  Doane considered holding tuition also known as “freezing tuition” for a year.  Doane considered lowering tuition, albeit for only a short conversation.  Ultimately, Doane decided on a 4% tuition increase but rather than make this decision in February – the customary time – the college’s board approved the tuition in October.  This move was an acknowledgement of the importance of financial planning and providing families with definitive costs for which to plan early in the year rather than in late February.  In addition, Doane College also modified academic scholarships and increased allocations of merit aid to historic high levels for new students enrolling in fall 2014.

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Higher Education

A hybrid proposal to the gap year.

Have you heard of the “gap year” concept?  Basically, the concept suggests that a student should consider taking a year between high school and college to work, explore, and mature.  It’s the notion that a seamless and immediate transition from high school to college may not be the best approach to career preparation. While there may be some truth to that, I don’t believe too many colleges outwardly support this idea out of fear that a much greater number of students would ultimately choose not to attend college especially with today’s already frustrating college-going rates. Frankly, I’m not interested in arguing the value of a college degree in this post.  Instead, I’m interested in exploring the idea of the gap year under a different structure – a way to leverage the perceived value of that “real world” experience within the confines of a college experience and curriculum structure.

What I like about the gap year concept is two-fold.  First, I think it provides an individual time to get out of high school mode and really think about what they want to do in order to make the best college decision for him or her.  Rather than make a “safe” choice (or even too radical a choice), a little time in the real world might just ignite something within the student’s soul.  Second, I think students should try to find a job and work full-time for a period of time if for no other reason than to realize that minimum wage or even slightly better may not pay for that car they want or that trip they want to take; let alone paying for cable and utilities.

Now, consider a college that takes this gap year concept and makes employment a component of the general curriculum.  Here is my vision (albeit potentially oversimplified). A college requires second-year students to enroll in “Real World 200”.  Consider the following course requirements:

  • Students must seek and ultimately secure full-time employment.
  • Students must maintain a daily journal.  Content is focused on what they learn each day from experiences interacting with others, following orders, meeting expectations, etc.
  • Students must participate in a 2-hour course during each semester focused on discussion of the job, what they learn, what they like, don’t like and ultimately what it’s helping them to learn – finances, getting to work, etc.
  • Students must complete a course paper related to what they learned and how they will use what they learned to improve their college experience and opportunities in their final two years.

My vision is a full-year program providing 16 credits per semester (14 credits for employment and 2 credits for the course discussion).  Ultimately, the student’s grade is based on participation in the 2-hour course, securing a job, the daily journal entries, and a final paper.

I completely recognize that this concept has not been vetted to satisfy many reading this post.  While many may seek to identify reasons that this won’t work, I wanted to share my idea for bigger purpose – I’d like to encourage college faculty and administrators to consider looking at general curriculum differently.

There are colleges that approach learning one course at a time. There are colleges that don’t issue grades.  There are colleges that don’t have a general curriculum program.  Colleges are being challenged at local, state, and the national level to produce greater results to substantiate the cost.   Rating and ranking systems are being introduced to suggest that we can arbitrarily determine the quality of a college in comparison to all others.  I don’t see this pressure going away soon and while I don’t endorse government-created rating systems, I do appreciate the notion that education must evolve at a greater pace than it has.  And, this isn’t the responsibility of government.  This is our responsibility in higher education.  We should challenge the traditional approach to college education.  Is four years the right amount of time in college?  Does time really matter?  Are 16 credits the right amount of credits per semester?  Is a 2-semester system still the right approach?

Colleges and universities are in a dogfight with each other for students, particularly in the Midwest.  What if we embrace being different not just to be different but because different may produce better results?  Change is hard.  Change takes time.  Admission offices recruit students differently today compared to five years ago.  Recruiting offices are adapting because they must to secure enrollment objectives.  I believe there are many people like me in higher education (faculty and staff) who have day-dreamed about doing things differently, but unfortunately our lives get in the way and we quickly fall back into doing most the same way we’ve done it in the past.

For you dreamers out there, what do you think of my idea for a “Real World 200”, or better yet, do you have your own idea(s) that you believe would challenge the traditional methods of education and ultimately improve our students’ experience? Don’t focus on being realistic and conservative.  Some of the best ideas stem from being unrealistic and radical. Thanks for taking the time to read this post.  What is your idea?

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Uncategorized

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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Higher Education Marketing

College Marketing – Which half is working?

There is a saying in marketing, “I’m sure half of my marketing is working.  I just don’t know which half.”  Although this typically achieves a chuckle, it’s also very frustrating because it’s too often true.  Marketing is anything but cheap, so determining what works and what doesn’t seems very important.  And, to use a phrase I read just this week, “What you can’t measure, you can’t improve.”  Being a college admission guy I’ve come to love working with data.  I love to see if a strategy is working.  As a result, effective measurement techniques are important in determining success.  It’s not as easy when it comes to measuring higher education marketing success, particularly in the early stages of a campaign.

On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Doane College launched a branding campaign to influence enrollment objectives.  The campaign is the result of a great deal of research, discussion, and a greater understanding of our brand promise which led to our brand idea.  Our brand promise: Doane College is an exceptional college opening countless opportunities.  Our brand idea: College of…get a great Job, College of…fit in and stand out, College of…it’ll change everything.

From the beginning, I embraced both the brand promise and idea.  I felt the promise represented who we are, why we are different, and why it matters.  And, I felt the creative concept allows for the flexibility that we need being an institution that must appeal to high school students and adult learners.  To be clear, I’m not interested in debating the merits of this particular campaign for Doane College in this blog.  No, I’m looking forward and being the data guy that I am, I’m interested in knowing if it works.  I recognize that patience is required and much will depend on what we do to take advantage of the concept.  Obviously just creating the concept isn’t enough.  But, first things first.

In admissions, we have the funnel!  Similar to sales, enrollment managers determine the number of leads it will generally take to create a sale or a new student.  We identify action steps between lead generation and ultimate sale which help us to manage our activity to maximize our yield.  We can determine how many students visit campus.  How many apply.  How many are admitted.  How many leads are generated as a result of our NRCCUA and CBSS leads blah blah blah.  We have the luxury (that may be a stretch of the word) of knowing what works and what doesn’t.  But, how do we know if marketing is working, or better yet, branding which doesn’t always have a specific call to action?  How do we create metrics in order to modify our approach or hold the line?

I’ve argued that we can’t focus only on branding but our marketing needs to have some strategies that have specific calls to action linking to a URL or phone number or email.  These can be monitored to determine if the specific advertisement had an effect.  And, I do think branding can impact our enrollment funnel.  An example comes to mind particularly after reading an article yesterday.  The Dodge Durango and Ron Burgundy commercials are a huge hit for Dodge.  I read that Durango sales are up 36% in November which Dodge attributes to the partnership with Ron Burgundy – you gotta see these if you haven’t yet.

Unfortunately, Doane College does not have the Dodge advertising and marketing budget to make this splash.  What budget we do have must be used as effectively as possible.  Our ability to determine effectiveness is predicated on our measurement metrics.  Therefore, we are creating metrics and defining how we will monitor them.  In our case, without prior benchmarks with these metrics, we are creating our foundational benchmarks in order to measure progress moving forward.  This is an example of our starting point.

We want to increase Doane College’s “stature” in the market place – yes, sounds vague.  The idea of stature is ambiguous.  But rather than use that as a simple excuse to not do it, we are pressing to find a way to measure if our stature is increasing.  We plan to integrate components of the results of third-party rankings also with our assessment of media presence over the course of the year.  We will also monitor, track, and assess website traffic particularly on our current most visited pages as well as identifying pages that we would like to see more traffic.  We will monitor and track our social media presence.  And, finally we will utilize public opinion surveys.  We are in the process of creating a reporting document that allows us to monitor these measures and draw our own conclusions ultimately resulting in modifications to our strategies.

Higher education recruitment requires a multifaceted approach partnering enrollment offices, marketing teams, and leadership that is committed to connecting actions to measurements.  I welcome comments regarding measurement metrics relative to marketing/branding.  How do you measure your marketing efforts at your institution?

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