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

7 Observations in Recruiting the Student-Athlete Today

QUICK EDITORS NOTE:  You may continue to choose to read this blog post or you may watch/listen to the post as a vLOG or Video Blog – 7 minute video.

Athletics is such a significant part of the lifestyle and culture of so many young men and women today, particularly in smaller rural communities. It’s a component of their social life. It should be of no surprise that many student-athletes in high school consider continuing their athletic experience into college, at least early in exploring college options. It may very well be a comfort thing. It’s what they know. And, depending on the school – and obviously the individual – the athletic accomplishments may suggest that college athletics is a real possibility for young Johnny.

Many colleges and universities have taken advantage of this culture over the last 15-20 years increasing the number of athletic programs on college campuses and offering junior varsity and even freshman programs. While larger universities have traditionally offered intramurals, smaller colleges may simply not have the population to manage that on their own campus, but they could increase opportunities and competition with other colleges. More importantly for many colleges, the increase in athletic programs is a way to increase enrollment, something desperately needed by many colleges both then and now. It makes sense financially for many and has proven to be quite successful.

So, how has this impacted the way admission offices recruit and interact with prospective students? First, let me take you back about 20 years to my experience being recruited as a student-athlete. Of course, we have to take into consideration that the internet was only known to Al Gore (that’s a joke folks), email wasn’t available, cell phones didn’t exist in mainstream population, and it was much more difficult to share video. But, the Pony Express still delivered out of Wahoo, Nebraska at that time delivering VHS tapes to my potential college suitors. Ah, the glory days of yesteryear.

But I digress.  Connecting with high school student-athletes is different. I stop short of saying it is any easier today just because we have the technology of cell phones, email, social media, and more. But with all that said, I reflect on my experience and share some observations.

  1. More young men and women today believe they can play college ball. Maybe this this is a simple result of colleges providing more opportunities. But, I also believe that the effort to use sports as enrollment has sent the message to many that they can play college ball even when many of them will never see a minute of varsity time.
  2. Personal and sustained contacts through the recruiting process still matter. In fact, I still contend that snail mail has grown in impact since email and social media took over. My senior year I received a personal note of some kind from my college of choice almost every other week. Students still like the personal connection, particularly with schools and coaches they like.
  3. Athletic scholarships are readily available! I tell many high school athletes, if you want to play, it’s likely that someone will give you a scholarship. The amount of that scholarship, however, can vary greatly.
  4. Entitlement vs. Opportunity. I say this with some trepidation. But, my experiences have increasingly witnessed parents negotiating – serving as an agent – with colleges rather than being thankful for the opportunity.
  5. Evaluating real talent is easier. Technology has had a tremendous impact. HUDL for example has put my freshman son’s highlights in the hands of family, friends, and ultimately college coaches. But also, the increased opportunities at colleges, suggest to student-athletes that they can and should dream bigger rather than limiting their opportunities to only what they know geographically due to what they get in the mail or see on tv.
  6. Smaller colleges and universities have a value proposition they may not have had previously. Due to increased opportunities, many young men and women see the significant value in the smaller college as a place to continue playing something they love. Consider the addition of men’s volleyball and women’s wrestling at schools in the Midwest.  Would a student have considered such schools if not for athletics? For some, it comes down to the decision of playing. I’ll go to XYZ College if I want to keep playing and I’ll go to ABC University if I choose to give it up. Personally, I don’t think it should be this way but I understand the mindset.
  7. Admissions offices are greater extensions of athletic recruiting. It’s more of a partnership today to meet common goals. I remember when coaches would forbid admission offices from contacting certain recruits. Today, coaches seek and often need the support of admissions to maintain the connection with a larger number of potential recruits. I’m sure this isn’t always the case, but I’ve seen it evolve at my institutions.

Bottom line is that things have changed. I’d argue it’s a buyers market for student-athletes right now at smaller NAIA and DIII colleges and universities. That being said, we all know that not everyone can play in college. College athletics is just like high school in that winning is the objective and players who contribute best to the team and winning will be on the floor, field, or competition space. Fortunately, students get to choose how important the opportunity to continue is to them. But, they also need to be prepared for when their number doesn’t get called. Fit is important!  Hopefully, they’ve picked the college in which they can transition smoothly to experiences that will translate into a great career outside of athletics. So, for my shameless plug….I believe we do this very well at Doane College.  We have many fine students who thought they would play college sports only to find that life after organized sports can be just as rewarding as the experiences on the court.  But, like most college athletic programs, we also anxiously await all football players with a 4.2 40 speed and a 42 inch vertical leap….who meet our admittance requirements of course.

For me, like many basketball players before me, I dreamed of playing in the NBA. Unlike my days in high school, I had no recruiters looking for my services after my college career. Looks like old man’s noonball for me!  Until next time…

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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

Recruiting International Students – 7 Lessons Learned (with many more to come)

Recruiting international students is nothing – and everything – like recruiting domestic students to college.  I’m the first to admit that the international arena is, or at least was, foreign to me.  And, like a lot of learning experiences, the best way to learn is to jump in with both feet and take in as much as possible.  I am far from an expert, but as I reflect on my international recruiting experiences over the last four months, I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned relative to what is both different and the same.  A bit of quick context, Doane College has a history of international recruiting (albeit not incredibly substantial at this point) and promotes internationalization of our students.  That said, our international presence on campus is quite small and has been considered more reactive rather than proactive.  So, when our President, Dr. Jacque Carter, encouraged us to make international recruitment (specifically considering a connection in China) a priority late last spring, the admission office had much to learn.  Once we learned we would most likely have 6 students from China in the fall, our internal team scrambled to learn and make this work for the college and students. We have an individual in the admission office who has experience with the I-20 and also a good resource on campus in our Office of International Studies but this was going to be a bit different to what we typically experience with international students.  In this case, we worked with an agent and the pace was much quicker with more on the line. Here is my quick reflection on the experience.

  1. Learn the lingo! I understood – in general – that there were additional different forms important to international recruiting such as the I-20.  But, I admit that I had not spent much time on that form, and therefore did not completely understand the importance.  The most important terms for me to understand and ultimately study to enable me to be effective were:  I-17, I-20, and F-1 VISA.  Specifically, we spent a good deal of time understanding and ultimately requesting modifications to our institution’s Form I-17.  It was out-of-date and did not reflect the approach we plan to take regarding international student admission moving forward.  It does now!  I look back on my first days in admissions over 15 years ago and remember the new lingo I learned back then as well.
  2. Determine the difference between an internal policy (or practice) and the law. Many institutions have created internal policies in order to minimize institutional risk relative to international recruitment.  This is important, but internal policies may need to be modified, particularly if they haven’t been reviewed in years or if they don’t match with an institutional direction.  It is possible that one of your greatest hurdles in recruitment is one that you created unintentionally.  On the other hand, understanding the laws that govern international student enrollment is critical to managing internal policy.  Whether it’s international or domestic, often our own policies can be a source of great frustration.
  3. Details are important. While this is true in much that we do professionally, I point this lesson out because of the many differences in international recruitment relative to what admissions offices deal with regularly.  It’s easy to take what we deal with every day for granted.  Whether it’s the language barriers or time zones (and not just 2 hours difference), it’s very important to plan and coordinate communication often with prospective students, agents, agencies, or partner institutions.  It’s not as easy as just picking up the phone at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Also, I had to remind myself that most of these students don’t have a college counseling office in their high school.  Nothing should be taken for granted and be very careful assuming anything.
  4. Find professional allies. I learned much through the experience, but it’s safe to say that I received two different answers from colleagues to questions on a regular basis and therefore it’s not always easy to know the correct or best path to follow.  As a result, it’s important to have some professional allies outside your institution that you can call and seek advice.  Higher education is typically a very collegial professional environment and international recruitment is a great example of this.  Keep in mind, however, that often there can be multiple answers and the options aren’t always black and white.  Again, professional allies are quite beneficial even in domestic recruiting whether it be listserves or your personal mentor.
  5. It takes a village. Most institutions have processes for domestic student enrollment that are well understood and have built-in on-campus collaboration.  For example, new student course registration, orientation, move-in processes, and simple paperwork are just a few.  It’s not necessarily easy to just infuse your international students into these processes without some level of modification.  Moreover, consider if you have 6 or 60 international students!  Even with just 6 international students, many offices must be collaborating in order to make the transitional experience efficient and effective.
  6. It’s still who you know! In my opinion, effective international recruitment still requires a key relationship to set anything in motion.  Without that relationship, the world just seems too big.  However, the right relationship can turn into a very promising partnership.
  7. The experience is very rewarding. I’m grateful for the experience I had this summer and look forward to an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with some Chinese partners while also looking to expand our international footprint.  Doane College welcomed six students from China this fall resulting from a new partnership.

I anticipate that our international recruitment plan at Doane College will evolve significantly over the next 12-18 months.  I look forward to this challenge and opportunity to learn, not only from our new partners but possibly from some of you out in the higher education world who have already parted the waters of the international recruitment sea.

Dr. Jacque Carter, Doane College President, with 6 international students from China.

Dr. Jacque Carter, Doane College President, with 6 international students from China.

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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 Marketing

Successful Social Media Requires You To Fight Your Fear

(Jim Braunschweig, Account Executive for JD Gordon Creative Labs in Sioux City, Iowa, is a guest blogger this week providing his perspective on social media, specifically the hesitation of higher education marketing to embrace and jump into the social media frenzy)

‘Social’ and ‘Media’ – two simple words easily defined and understood when they stand-alone. But together, these words take on a whole new meaning which we’re still trying to fully comprehend. While a definition for ‘Social Media’ exists, it still remains one of the most misunderstood, controversial, and (from the perspective of a business owner) the most complicated and feared strategies to implement within an organization’s overall marketing plan.

Definitions:
Social: relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other or doing enjoyable things with each other

Media: a particular form or system of communication (such as newspapers, radio, or television)

Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

Why do we fear ‘Social Media’? We fear it because it’s powerful. We fear it because we don’t understand it. But, most importantly, we fear it because as we’ve come to find out – we can’t control it, no matter how hard we try. Let’s be honest – the potential power which Social Media grants to any person who is able to ‘figure it out’ and ‘use it best’ intimidates us. No longer are the highest ranking individuals or most educated people in society able to decide the information that will be shared, control how it will be dispersed, or even whom it reaches. Ever since social media came along, the playing field has continued to level out so much so that nearly everyone has a chance to have their voice and opinion shared with the world, gain attention, inspire people to take action, and if it’s good enough, potentially make a global impact. When you think about it – how awesome is that?!?

But, now think about this… if all this is true (which it is, and there are plenty examples to back this up), then why aren’t more businesses, focusing more attention on how they can get the most out of their social media presence – rather than treating it as an afterthought – with little to no strategy or overall purpose for the content their creating, and the way in which they share it.

From my experience, the answer is simple: The business leaders and other professionals who have the authority to hire the talent, or allocate the funds necessary to implement a successful (not to mention measurable) social media strategy don’t fully understand what ‘Social Media’ is, and as I mentioned earlier – it’s just human nature to fear the unknown.

I apologize if that last statement came off condescending – I assure you I didn’t mean for it to come across that way. To be honest, I’m not sure if anyone ‘fully’ understands it, but what separates those who are successful (or will be successful) with Social Media and those who aren’t (or haven’t been) is the simple fact the ones we consider successful take action, experiment, and ‘play’ with social media – sometimes even making a few minor mistakes along the way, but they don’t let themselves be stricken with paralysis by analysis, nor do they stew on the bad things that could happen. Instead, they think about all the amazing ways in which these tools can help them connect, engage, and better understand their customers and clients, their wants and needs, so they can continually improve their product or service; which will lead to more raving fans, and ultimately, more business.

To be successful with Social Media requires organizations, specifically their leaders, to fight their fears – to be ok moving forward and learning as you go. For a great example of a Higher Ed Institution which has always been an early adopter to the new practices within social media and embraces the possibilities it has to offer I suggest you pay close attention to Texas A&M. Check out an innovative way they used Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and Twitter together back in 2011 to increase real life engagement through a scavenger hunt (Twitter was fairly new at the time). – http://bit.ly/TAMU_SocialMedia.

I could go on and on, and with Joel’s permission would love to do further ‘guest posts’ that go more in depth about how to use various social media platforms, discuss the capabilities of each, and share best practices for engaging with your audience in those spaces. But, for now, I’d just like to end this post with a sincere thank you to Joel for allowing me to be a part of his blog, and say that I know for a fact, Doane College is lucky to have a leader who fits the description of the type needed to help bring about change and implement a successful social media strategy.

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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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