College Admits are Down, and it’s March… Now What!?

Ben Arendt
Mar 19, 2021 Ben Arendt VP, Enrollment Strategy Persona The Confident and Curious Globetrotter

I don’t think I have ever been to an enrollment conference (remember those?) or recent webinar without hearing the predictable and familiar phrase, “it’s everyone’s job,” referencing the importance of the collective institutional commitment to enrollment. Cliché as it may be, that moniker might be more strategic now than ever before. 

Despite the speed at which campus stakeholders readily accept the idea that cross-divisional contributions to enrollment strategy are critical, far reaching tactical implementation hasn’t kept the same pace with that easy-to-support community sentiment. This is often evidenced by the reality that despite recruiting the class being “everyone’s job,” there isn’t an equal distribution of those with late nights losing sleep due to anxieties associated with the current state of the numbers—or lack thereof in some cases.

As we continue to trudge through the impact of the pandemic and imagine based on where things landed this past fall, it just might do all of us some good to balance the continuum of urgency and patience. 

To be clear, we don’t want “patience” to lead to indecisiveness. That said, we also don’t want “urgency” to lead to panic. Giving into the urgency of the moment can cloud our ability to properly situate those strategies that have already been leveraged and are truly maximizing resources towards integrated outcomes that do require time to play out, maybe even more time than in previous cycles.

Rethinking the Fundamental Questions to Guide Your Enrollment Strategy

In these moments where Year Over Year data points challenge our stated goals (reluctantly insert IPEDS projections that we hoped wouldn’t impact us here) we need to go back to those initial strategy-inducing questions that helped shape our plans in the first place. What is the institution optimizing for? For example, are there clearly defined net tuition revenue targets? Is it a desired market position? Perhaps overall enrollment increases are critical? Maybe specific program counts are needed to avoid the domino effect of declining matriculation? Could it be a broader representation experienced through purposeful demographic distributions represented in the incoming class? Likely, it’s a combination of all of these.

As we live in the current tension of uncertainty, there are some quick internal assessments you can make. Although there are many more that could be added, below are three key considerations intended to generate conversations as you think through your current reality:

  1. Is there an outsized impact the pandemic is having on your particular institution or your region? How has that disruption played a role in recruitment? To what extent has the same institutional energy in response to the pandemic, which ushered in technologies to accommodate campus closures (communications, virtual instruction, protocols, etc.), been comprehensively extended to enrollment and marketing functions? Put differently, can you maximize that all-in collective, collaborative energy and channel it into enrollment outreach?
  2. What are the current micro-conversions telling you? The traditional points of conversion, as important as they might be, do not tell the whole story. Make certain all of the engagement ports of entry throughout the enrollment ecosystem are being evaluated to develop ongoing, real-time strategies. Those attributions that reveal limited engagement need responsive strategies. Where can you meet students? What channels need more content? Micro-conversions (web traffic, social posts, content views, poll responses, CRM interactions, etc.) will give you clues.
  3. Are you ready to implement a DoorDash model? Literally go door to door? Okay, maybe not literally, but you get the idea. This could be the year where a zone defense doesn’t work. If recruitment is in fact “everyone’s job” then give everyone a job to do! This may include personal outreach to explain registration processes, financial aid awards, academic department outreach, one-on-one meetings (the less virtual as things improve the better), and regular contact with influencers. Then evaluate the activities and present metrics to justify widespread involvement.

Responding to the directive to “get one more student than last year” seems more elusive than ever before. Calibrate expectations, inspire participation, trust your hard work, and race through the finish line.

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