Please enjoy this guest post from Rob Westervelt, a client we’ve worked with for several years. Rob is the Executive VP of Enrollment and Marketing at George Fox University. (A Whitepaper/Client Success Story is also available here for download and sharing.)
As unfortunate as it is, many universities sell themselves short primarily because they refuse to sell themselves.
Our president Robin Baker noted in a recent college magazine article that, “A lot of institutions look at marketing and admissions as the dirty work and that they shouldn’t have to sell themselves."
But for the past four years, research shows that fewer students are attending college. Christian colleges are no exception. Over half of the schools in CCCU missed their enrollment goals this year. Higher education admissions is more competitive than ever and colleges that don't utilize all the tools at their disposal are going to continue to struggle.
Some schools avoid using language like "sales" and "marketing." They think neither should apply to higher education. Oftentimes, this attitude is strongest in private and religious universities, the very schools that need sales and marketing the most.
As our president will attest, we don't hold this view at George Fox, which has consistently broken its enrollment records year after year, over the last four enrollment cycles. We haven't accomplished this by compromising who we are, what we offer, or even the value of our education. We increased the success of our enrollment program by approaching it with a different mindset.
Five years ago, we changed our enrollment processes to include sales and marketing techniques. We used market research to target the students who would most benefit from attending our school, and who would be the most likely to enroll. We increased our online presence, refined our messaging, and made data-informed decisions that increased admissions and decreased wasted funds. Perhaps most importantly, we trained our admissions teams in consultive sales in order to raise our contact-to-conversion rate. They learned to speak with prospective students on an individual and personal level, meet objections with statements of alternative value, and close prospective new students with finesse and integrity. What we learned is that good marketing helps people make good distinctions so that they can make better choices.
If you're like most higher ed admissions leaders, you know how much you are investing to get prospective students to your counselors' desks. But how much are you investing in your counselors? We've found that a lot of our success can be attributed to how much we've invested in empowering our counselors to present a compelling case for our university. Rather than investing more in the top of the admissions funnel, we are putting more attention at the bottom on the funnel. And this has made all of the difference for us.
I know firsthand how unconventional this all sounds, but by embracing these tools and techniques, we were able increase our enrollment without compromising our school's culture and values.
Next month, on February 8th, I'll be at the CCCU Conference in San Diego, CA. I'll be speaking more on this subject with my good friend Jim Allen at my session which is titled: "What Happened at GFU When We Moved From Admissions to Sales." If you're attending I hope to see you there!
- Rob Westervelt, Executive VP of Enrollment and Marketing at George Fox University.