Our Regional Director Team here at Carnegie visits hundreds of colleges every year and meets with enrollment leaders from all types of institutions nationwide. Over this past year, one of the most consistent themes we heard during these meetings was how much less predictable the traditional enrollment funnel equations are these days. When it comes to being able to look at inquiry, application, and even admitted student numbers as an indicator of what deposits will look like come May 1, the landscape has changed dramatically. X no longer leads to Y, and Y no longer leads to Z. Competition, financial factors, population trends, and easier multi-school application options, among many others, are all playing a part in this trend.
But the solution is not simply doing “more.” Many schools report that doing things to generate large volumes of additional inquiries or apps for the sake of increasing numbers at that stage of the funnel has not yielded measurable differences in their enrollment numbers, with many staying flat—or worse. Rather, to impact these numbers (and to use the old cliché), the answer often lies in working “smarter.”
So what’s the magic formula? Simply put, there is none. But there are some things you can consider at each stage of the funnel to make a difference.
Build awareness at the prospect and inquiry stage
- Does this sound familiar? Purchase big list > do a mailing to big list > follow up with some e-mails to big list > look just like every other school to big list. This process needs to evolve. Are you building awareness for your institution through online channels to students and their parents in advance of these efforts? Audience targeting options available today (SSON, IP targeting, keyword targeting, etc.) let you hone in on the right audience more effectively and earlier in the process than ever before. And this layer of a strategy can put your school in a much different place in the minds of those students and parents when it comes time for them to receive communications from colleges galore.
- Reach larger and/or more relevant audiences easily and differently. A standard envelope with your college’s logo on it can have its place (check out #collegemail on Twitter to see if you like that place or not). And the cost to accomplish that is nothing to sneeze at. Many schools have shared with us that their ability to reach the right audiences early, in different ways, and for less money has gone a long way towards enabling them to apply new strategies at other stages of the funnel. So the question becomes, can you accomplish this top-of-the-funnel reach while generating the same (or a greater) return for less money? Which then frees up dollars for new things. The answer for many schools has been “yes.”
Increase engagement from application through deposit
- Does the term “stealth applicant” still make you cringe? Google studies show that 87% of edu “converters” don’t do so on their first visit to a school’s website. They are leaving before telling you who they are! And for everyone that eventually comes back to identify themselves or apply, how many are not? There are two options here: control and continue the conversation with them after they leave your site, and/or do all you can to get them to identify themselves on those initial visits. There are tons of things you can do to accomplish both. First, Retargeting. If you’re not doing some form of Retargeting currently, stop reading now, address that, and come back. Particularly in the fall during application season and spikes in website traffic, Retargeting is critical to impact your numbers and address stealth apps.
- Are you still guessing on May 1? What if you had a much better sense, much earlier, about how many of your accepted students intend to deposit and enroll, don’t plan to, or still don’t know? As a colleague of mine put it when her daughter went through the process: “We knew a year ago where she was going . . . May 1 was just when our bill was due.” You can run engaging campaigns to get earlier feedback on a student’s intent that allow you to address each audience differently—focusing extra attention on the “still don’t knows.”
There are tons of ways to do things differently, as the shapes and predictability of enrollment funnels change. I hear the saying “it’s a numbers game” very often. I disagree. It’s a strategy and differentiation game. Carnegie works with hundreds of schools to help them reach their enrollment goals in this changing landscape of college recruitment and admission, and we have strategies and services that help at all stages of the funnel. But perhaps most important is for schools to simply take a step back and evaluate how different their approach is than in years past. Some updated materials, an enhanced website, or tweaks to a communication flow won’t cut it. The entire process and strategy needs to be audited. And it often doesn’t require the elimination of tried-and-true practices—just some new or different layers to the overall plan.
Best of luck this spring! And to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today.