6 Student Search & Enrollment Marketing Strategies

Trent Gilbert Apr 18, 2024 Trent Gilbert VP, Student Search Solutions Persona The Experiential and Confident Visionary

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Adapt to Changes in Student Search With These Actionable Tactics

The landscape of higher education is undergoing profound changes. At a time like this, adapting strategies and processes is critical. At Carnegie, we’re adapting Student Search to better align with the evolving needs of the industry, and the reality that enrollment success includes retention and retention begins with recruitment.

By taking a look at where Student Search has been and what the challenges are in today’s market, we’ve developed six strategies to increase student enrollment and drive retention.

First, let’s review some of the obstacles these strategies can help you overcome.

Student Search has evolved in the past few decades. In the 90s and 2000s, it was all about leveraging emerging technologies (e.g., email, websites, smartphones) and list purchasing tactics to execute growth-focused, top-of-the-funnel strategies. This approach drove double-digit growth rates within the industry.

However, a shift occurred during 2013-2020, as growth rates began to fluctuate regionally, prompting institutions to become more competitive and implement new channel strategies in response to the changing landscape. In 2018, enrollment reached a peak, marking the onset of a gradual decline in overall undergraduate enrollment growth.

Fast forward to 2024, and we find ourselves in a post-pandemic world facing a set of unique challenges and opportunities. Competition has intensified as institutions expand their traditional recruitment territories to keep pace with growth at a time when the number of high school graduates is decreasing.

The values of Gen Z and Gen Alpha students are evolving, placing greater importance on authenticity and personalization in outreach efforts. Moreover, regulatory pressures, technological advancements, and geopolitical and economic issues are reshaping the higher education landscape.

Here are some key statistics that further illustrate the changing dynamics:

  • A million fewer test-takers in 2023 compared to 2019
  • 25% of Gen Z students discover schools through social media
  • The average discount rate for first-year full-time students in 2021-22 increased to 55%
  • 35% of college-aged students report distrust in educational institutions

A Shift in Philosophy: Focus on Yield

The enrollment marketing strategies that emphasized adding more prospect names to the top of the funnel during 2010-2018 are no longer sufficient in today’s landscape. We have to be more student-centric and market-mindful about Student Search. In this new paradigm, the focus is on increasing conversions at every stage of the enrollment journey. It’s about prioritizing yield by focusing on students with a greater propensity to take action from the start.

Because of the effort and energy we now must put into recruitment (e.g., year-round, multichannel, data-driven, multi-audience, highly personalized efforts), it’s more important than ever to yield (and ultimately, of course, retain) those students.

We must Search Differently by focusing on yield from the start.

A Shift in Strategies: 6 Tactics to Increase Student Enrollment

To thrive in this changing landscape, institutions must adopt a modern approach to Student Search. Carnegie uses an ecosystem approach, emphasizing the connectivity between marketing and enrollment strategies and adapting to the non-linear nature of Student Search today. We also focus time and attention on increasing engagement and conversions throughout the student journey.

Here are some key enrollment marketing strategies to focus on yield:

Strategy #1: Lead with market research

Recruit with purpose by using market research to inform prospect acquisition. A little bit of research can go a long way to identifying new market opportunities, or hidden pockets in your backyard and will lead to a better name-purchase strategy. When possible, take the next step of scoring those leads to understand which students are most likely to take action and prioritize your resources accordingly.

Strategy #2: Leverage student personas to personalize communications

Student personas are truly game-changing when it comes to capturing attention and building affinity with students. If you can narrow your messaging to elements that a particular student is more likely to be attracted to, think about how that will increase your engagement and conversion rates.

This is an opportunity to show your prospect and inquiry pools that you care about who they are as a person and who they can be as a member of your college community. Whether you use Carnegie’s institutional or national psychographic student personas, or another partner’s profile system, make the investment to get to know your students a little better, and you will see the results.

Strategy #3: Deploy agile campaigns

CRMs, digital advertising platforms, and customer data platforms are powerful tools that, when leveraged properly, give us ample opportunity to target precisely and leverage the behavioral data they provide in flight. Monitor your Student Search campaigns for the life of the campaign to identify opportunities to increase engagement and conversions. If your prospects are responding better to certain messaging, you can make meaningful adjustments to your campaigns while it is in action.

Strategy #4: Prioritize your resources with predictive models

Student Search demands a lot from us as enrollment professionals, so having any indication of what a student is likely to do helps us prioritize our time and energy. Using research to focus our name purchases is a great start, and you can use that same data to prioritize your territory management. Ask your Student Search partner about predictive models available for scoring leads and/or models that identify students most likely to apply.

At Carnegie, our engagement score leverages demographic, behavioral, and Carnegie proprietary data points, like student personas or website tracking data, to build a custom model that will tell you who among your inquiry pool is most likely to apply. We also partner with you to interpret that data and build a recruitment strategy around it. When you don’t have the resources to treat every inquiry the same, predictive analytics will give you confidence that you’ve made the best possible choices.

Strategy #5: Lean into end-of-funnel strategies

Enrollment management today is so much more than search response and application generation. We’re marrying smart marketing and enrollment strategies, meeting students with personalized experiences whenever they are ready to connect, offering them opportunities to visit, connect with students virtually, meet professors, attend a class (the list goes on)…and we’re doing it year-round. By the time we’ve gotten to the consideration stage of the student journey, we’ve invested literal years into their recruitment.

At this moment we should lean into the yield strategies at our disposal. Financial aid strategy is our best yield tool, and when done right, it should suggest an aid amount that is what a student needs to commit, not more or less.

Many people don’t think of financial aid strategy as a part of Student Search, but it’s certainly used as a recruitment tool, and we know it’s a top factor in student enrollment. So let’s consider how precisely we apply aid as another lever we can pull to shape the class, meet enrollment goals, and exceed expectations.

Learn more about the financial aid optimization process.

Strategy #6: Get your hands on all the data

As you consider new partners, ask about how often you have access to performance data and how you’ll be accessing your data. Ask what kind of insights are provided and what can be done with that data within current campaigns.

We think data is exceedingly important in Student Search, as such, we make sure clients always have on-demand access to reporting through live dashboards and can get insights directly from the teams monitoring and optimizing campaigns. Data that can optimize your digital campaigns can also inform your visit programs or your website content. Set up a strategy that includes rich data practices and expectations for how and when data will be used to optimize your Student Search.

Let’s Chat

Now is the time to adapt and position ourselves for Student Search success. Our suggestion: focus on increasing engagement and conversion, to ultimately impact yield. If you are looking for a Student Search partner, Carnegie can help.

Reach out and start a conversation about how you can transform your Student Search.

Carnegie is now working with with both Slate and non-Slate Campuses, to transform Student Search strategy. Ask us how!

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