Rethinking Admissions To Increase Enrollment
In a high-level presentation to VPs of Marketing & Admissions, Rob Westervelt, formerly of George Fox University, presented the challenges GFU faced and the 7 Success Principles they applied to successfully grow admissions 37% in a single year and enroll three consecutive record Freshman classes despite lower inquiry and application rates.
As many schools might well understand, George Fox University was facing:
1) Decreasing College-Bound Population
2) Increasing Price Sensitivity
3) Increasing Competition
4) Changing Demographics
5) Declining Value Of College Education
6) Limited Resources
7) Increasing Regulations
To meet the challenge, Rob tossed the typical strategic plan and applied the following principles (for a recording of the webinar presentation, click here):
>> Adopt a prescriptive vision, values, and brand promise.
Rob emphasizes prescriptive instead of descriptive and that this is NOT another mission statement that would fit you and every other competitor school. He recommends a manageable number (read: memorable) of values. He recommends developing a promise that summarizes the primary value your school delivers. From this promise, create a messaging map for each department, put them in front of everyone each week, and make sure it drives decisions across campus.
>> Focus on controllable factors.
When considering the above challenges faced, it's pretty obvious that a school has almost no control over these. Instead of these factors, leaders should focus on what their team is doing and how to improve.
>> Make the most important thing the most important thing.
Rob was adamant that any strategic plan needs to address the most important thing: enrollment. He advocates reallocating resources in budgets such as:
1) Reducing the university magazine editions while increasing social media posts
2) Eliminating consultants
3) Reducing mailing budgets by focusing on students who have a higher probability of enrolling rather than national mailings as well as sending better/more impactful pieces rather than frequent mailings
4) Reducing advertising if it can't be tracked or linked directly to enrollment
5) Eliminating ineffective positions
6) Eliminating university events that don't directly impact enrollment
7) Reallocating advancement funds (making the case that admissions professionals are actually the best revenue raisers on campus)
8) Eliminating travel budgets/costs
9) Eliminating conferences
10) Reducing VP discretionary budgets
>> Develop strategies, not plans.
Rob explained that plans focus on processes while strategies focus on the outcome/result. He said strategies are about one-sentence outcomes (e.g. align marketing and admissions resources, focus on high probability freshman, make admissible visitors the gold standard, build awareness then search, sales training for staff, leverage athletics, etc.)
He again emphasized that the most undervalued staff on campus is the admissions counselor, sharing that many in the industry tend to think they are interchangeable and replaceable, but in reality, they are bringing in millions of dollars in revenue. In return, we should consider carefully how much are we investing in them. (For more on training your enrollment team, click here.)
>> Crystallize the problems and the outcomes.
Make sure everyone on campus is crystal clear about the problems and the reasons for making change. Similarly, make sure everyone is clear about the impact of the strategies on outcomes.
>> Get the right people.
Rob mentioned Good To Great and the concept of getting the right-fit people "on the bus." He also shared how GFU re-evaluated several positions in marketing and admissions and how the necessary roles in admissions are evolving into more data-driven roles.
>> If it’s a core business function, do it yourself.
Rob explained that, while it may be difficult to implement quickly, moving things like data analysis and search function should be moved in-house to retain control, adapt quickly, and test constantly.
To listen to the full recording, click here. If you'd like to talk with one of our enrollment experts to talk specifically about how these strategies can be used to produce sustained growth at your school, contact us!