May 1st is the day many enrollment officers dread. In fact, many of the attendees at the recent SACAC/PCACAC conference were unable to talk or see beyond that date. But the date has come and gone, and now enrollment professionals across the country are looking at a number on their report and wondering…what next? Whether your team nailed it, almost’ed it, or missed it by a mile, the issue really is the same — what comes next and how can you do better next year?

Admissions offices that have the most long-term success are the ones we call “learning organizations.” These teams are the ones that are constantly assessing, testing, and applying what they’ve learned to refine their approach. Eschew the urge to point a finger or play the blame game and start by simply asking some clarifying questions.

  • What did you learn this year?
  • What do you want to change in the future?
  • What should you eliminate?
  • What is producing the greatest ROI for your school?
  • What activities are really just that, activities, that reflect a “doing what we’ve always done” mentality?

Answer these questions and you’ll already be ahead of the game when you’re talking with the president and your fellow cabinet members about the status of enrollment.

But what comes next?

 7 Tips for a Better Enrollment Year

 1 – Breathe

Life has a rhythm. For things to be successful there usually has to be a period of rest, a refilling of the well. It’s true in nature, great music, literature, and certainly academia (sabbatical, anyone?). It’s time to pause, reflect, and plan for the next season. You and your team will be better for having taken a moment to collectively exhale.

2 – Out with the old, in with the new

Is a viewbook still a central part of your communication flow? Why? Is it truly to compel prospective students? It’s time to review this piece, assess it’s size, and determine what could make it a more manageable production. It’s also time to consider renaming it. Say goodbye to the viewbook and say hello to your new parent booklet. Students won’t miss the piece but parents will definitely take notice that you’re taking the time to talk to them early in the game.

Another benefit…you’ll be saving on the cost of production and freeing up long-committed viewbook dollars for more effective methods of reaching your future students.

3 – I can’t believe I ate the whole thing

No one likes feeling bloated. Neither does your inquiry pool. Old school enrollment played the numbers game by increasing the inquiry pool to guarantee a successful yield at the end of the funnel, but that’s not very sustainable or efficient. Less is more.

Large inquiry pools give admissions teams indigestion by forcing counselors to focus on process instead of people. I work with schools that are getting 400 students in a freshman class from 5,000 inquiries. It reminds me a little of small town hospitality. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, join me sometime at Johnson’s in Siler City, NC  and I’ll show you how this restaurant treats a few quality customers that are able to get a seat in the restaurant each day until the hamburgers are all eaten. (And in this case, you’ll be happy that you ate the whole thing!)

4 – Reduce Applications to Increase Enrollment

The same schools that have small inquiry pools have small application pools. One of our new clients last year was getting 400 students from 1,500 applicants. We learned something from them. There is majesty in simplicity. It works.

Focusing on response rates and being able to tell your peers at your sister institutions that you’re receiving 14,000 applications is just about beating your chest and nothing else. Tell your president that applications numbers are going to lower next year so that you can give more attention to bringing in the right students (and try not to go too white in the knuckles). The best presidents will understand this type of relationship focused “recruiting” is sure to help the school’s retention efforts in the long run.

5 – Get search rolling (and rolling, and rolling, and rolling)

Student Search is a not a moment in time. Ideally, search should be conducted as a rolling process. The first touch to a prospective student’s family should be on their timeline and not around your big mailing in February or August. Some of our best campaigns last year were dropped around the holidays, a big “no-no” to more traditional enrollment managers. Roll with it.

6 – Free up your budget

So you’ve chiseled down your viewbook, you’re retooling it for parents and no longer sending it to students. You’re winnowing your inquiry pool and working a better-fit applicant pool. Guess what…you’ve just freed up valuable dollars in your budget that you can use to try new approaches and initiatives to reach prospective students and parents, to actually enroll those students. Which new ideas are right for your institution?

7 – Get vulnerable

The most successful schools have the people that lean on us the hardest. They’re asking questions and they’re open-minded. They get vulnerable by letting us know they need help and are open about their areas of weakness. The two most engaged vice presidents we work with are garnering the highest response rates on their campaigns. They work us, we work them, and in return, we’re all successful.

If you haven’t done so, now is the time to bring in your outside partners and key team members and plan for the future. Plan an all day session or an overnight retreat to give your enrollment strategy (and the team that implements it) the opportunity to celebrate the successes and name the targets to tackle with fierce determination.

It’s May 2nd…there’s a whole new enrollment cycle a-waiting. H·A ThirtyOne is ready when you are.

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