Desperately seeking Mo’ne

Ten years ago, the higher ed enrollment marketing funnel was driven by outsourcing pre-qualified lead generation. Fast forward to 2015 and behold the growth in middle school career shadowing, college fairs, and first generation family financial aid counseling.

At the end of the 2014 Little League World Series star pitcher Mo’ne Davis got the call of her life. Mo’ne is only in 8th grade but already she has new learning and earning options. Head Coach of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team Geno Auriemma acknowledged the 13 year old’s athletic prowess with a congratulatory phone call. A few days later Auriemma was hit with a recruiting violation – go figure. “That’s the world that we live in” said Geno Auriemma in response to the NCAA ruling. It is indeed.

Beyond intercollegiate athletics, colleges and universities are driven by higher ed economics to recruit the best academically and financially prepared students – the strongest and most talented cohort that can actualize student success. In the world of big data analytics, enrollment experts correlate core drivers for insuring the right fit between the student and the school’s unique campus culture, academic focus, and distinctive student life experience. In practical terms, this means capturing and analyzing longitudinal enrollment data, which predict timely program completion, conversion yield, retention, persistence, and transfer rates.

Ten years ago, the higher ed enrollment marketing funnel was driven by outsourcing pre-qualified lead generation. Today it’s a whole new ballgame. Schools now co-source carefully planned and flawlessly executed enrollment campaigns – targeting market-specific populations. Early on in the funnel these co-source partnerships focus on selective enrollment goals – an incoming student cohort most likely to succeed. Fast forward to 2015 and behold the growth in middle school career shadowing, college fairs, and first generation family financial aid counseling – reaching out to 8th graders like Mo’ne.

From a proactive marketing perspective, it seems like overnight “word of mouth” admission campaigns morphed into sophisticated social media networking efforts. Many of these colleges and universities can now create their own brand of social media enrollment communities to get better and timelier feedback in order to inform prospective students. Today, cohorts of 17 ½ to 22 year olds take to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when faced with complex and difficult decisions about higher ed aspiration, enrollment, and career advancement goals. Leveraging social media enrollment marketing presence, competitive institutions draw in prospective students on user friendly, 24/7, asynchronous enrollment and customer relationship management systems – with a portal for every pillow in residence halls once incoming freshman and transfer students arrive on campus.

The deployment of video in the enrollment process was highlighted in a September NPR story on Goucher College in Baltimore. We learned that Goucher reportedly has shifted away from the traditional application process in favor of student made videos explaining the reasons why they want to attend Goucher, and how the college can help them achieve their higher ed aspirations.

It’s no surprise that admissions is typically the first place a student makes contact with the institution and this sensitive process should be guided, informed, and shaped from the first moment of inquiry, application, deposit, enrollment, retention, persistence, graduation, career placement, and professional and graduate school acceptance rates. Gone are the days of boarding a yellow bus to visit campuses. Virtual tours utilizing the latest in video and multimedia technology engage prospective students to see and “feel” the hustle and bustle of campus life in real time.

Through affinity-based psychogenic research, academic and admissions staff put their ear to the ground through the creation of high impact employer career advisory boards. These employer advisory boards provide the connections to ensure students gain industry-relevant knowledge, critical thinking and communication skills, and professional career opportunities after graduation.

At the end of the day, rising student default rates drive parents to measure the net value of a college education – after adjustments for tuition discounting and financial aid leveraging. Parents and students want to listen to authentic testimonials and learn about independently verifiable gainful employment and graduate program results. Given an often fickle economy, students and families want to know that the program major and career occupation is likely to provide a ROI (return on investment), ROS (return on scholarship), and ROL (return on learning).

Managing Director Bob King at Collegis Education believes that it’s becoming more critical to readjust student attainment practices in order to generate enrollment growth. The once overlooked non-traditional student is going to be an essential population for growth. Colleges need to explore new strategies that optimize enrollment digital tools, and not rely on conventional marketing practices that may have worked in the past.

—James Martin and James E. Samels, are authors of The Sustainable University (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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