Springtime has always been one of my favorite times of year on a college campus, and particularly in admissions. It’s a time for helping high school seniors and their families work through the grueling and stressful college decision process (a culmination of what is oftentimes a 12– to 18-month relationship development process). It’s a time for meeting new high school sophomores and juniors as they begin the wide-eyed adventure of exploring their college options. It’s a time when campuses themselves start to burst back to life with spring flora and fauna. And, from an administrative perspective, it’s a time to plan for the future; budgets, strategies, personnel adjustments, it’s all on the table for consideration.

So, as you enter into this all-important planning phase, in the midst of all the other on-going excitement and work to be done, I’d like to share with you some big picture strategies that will help you be a successful enrollment manager in 2022 and beyond.

1. Let the past and present inform your future

2020 and 2021 brought major shifts in the higher education enrollment landscape. Some of these shifts brought immediate financial burdens on many middle– to lower-tier, and mid-sized to small colleges and universities. Fewer students enrolled in college, particularly students of color, as well as first generation and lower income students.
Many students and families changed their college plans by limiting their geographic search of college options to stay closer to home, and affordability has become as high a priority as ever before. In many cases, this has led to students enrolling at institutions that they otherwise would not have chosen.
At the same time, we are witnessing a major shift in the national workforce. “The Great Resignation” points to a societal desire for individuals to improve their career prospects, and in turn, their overall quality of life.
These trends all point to future opportunities for colleges and universities in the coming years.

  • Adult learners and degree completion seekers will be on the rise. Do you have programs to accommodate them?
  • The transfer student marketplace is primed for major activity. Are you actively promoting your institution to prior-term prospects and applicants?
  • Graduate programs, licensure programs, and professional certification programs will be demanded in record numbers. What does your institution have to offer?

Finding ways to take advantage of market trends will set your institution up for sustained success in the years ahead.

2. Keep a multi-year focus

This one is especially important for the managers at small and mid-sized institutions across the country. We get it, your primary focus is to bring in this class this May (or June or July…or even August). But do not forget about fueling your funnel for the next two years’ classes, or you’ll find that you’re always playing catch-up.

If you happen to fall in the category of schools that sometimes considers sophomore-junior search an afterthought, this is the year to become more aggressive. Consider this: Spark451’s original research — based on feedback from thousands of college-bound high school students — shows that 50% of students started looking at colleges seriously by the beginning of their junior year, and that number jumps to 70% by the end of junior year. If you wait for senior search to truly engage a potential applicant pool, you’ve missed out on a majority of your potential audience.

3. Look for ways to narrow your team’s focus and improve efficiency

Your recruitment staff is the lifeblood of your institution’s enrollment process, and by extension, its revenue and financial stability. Yet too many enrollment managers view their counseling staff as little more than temporary workers who are to be ridden hard for as long as they can take it, and then replaced with a new crop every couple of years. There’s a better way.

Coaching your staff on the big picture processes behind the enrollment funnel, and collaboratively building key performance indicators to be achieved at each phase of the process will empower your team to not only take ownership of the results, but to develop their own best practices to reach those benchmarks.

Additionally, by tracking and analyzing the engagement of your prospect, applicant, and admitted student pools, you can help your team to focus their efforts on the segments of the populations where they can have the most impact. Some simple tools to help in this process include:

  • Prioritizing student engagement — focus on campus visitors, organic inquiries, and students met during recruitment travel.
  • Utilize student surveys to assess level of interest — reach out to dormant prospects and incomplete applicants en masse with quick two– to three-question surveys to determine who’s worth tasking your counselors to follow up with.
  • Track email and website engagement to help trim down your prospect pool throughout the year so you don’t waste time and energy pursuing uninterested students.

4. Secret shop your institution

Are your communication campaigns, printed touchpoints, and mobile platforms truly working the way you planned? Take the time to find out what it feels like to receive these items as a prospective student.

Create a seed email address using a test name. Inquire to your own school and track what you receive and when you receive it. Look at everything with a critical eye and try to momentarily forget your institutional knowledge. Be sure to ask yourself these questions when reviewing each item:

  • Does your website truly make it easy to inquire and apply?
  • Are your communications as inspirational as they are informative?
  • Do your materials explain “why” as well as “what?”

Also, closely examine that first printed communication — for more than five years, students have been telling us that they enjoy personalized letters most.

Finally, venture out on an unplanned admissions tour, or send a friend or family member who can have a supportive, but critical eye. Take notes and work to make real improvements. Try to value and train those student ambassadors, as they can have such a major impact on your admitted yield.

5. Break down silos, and build bridges

College and university campuses are notorious for being a collection of departmental bubbles, or “silos,” where everyone is consumed with their daily tasks, and no one really knows what’s happening elsewhere throughout the campus community. Breaking this mold is generally beneficial for any institution, but it’s particularly necessary for an enrollment management division.

As the frontline workers and the face of an institution, an admissions staff has a unique dual perspective that can be invaluable in pinpointing necessary improvements, as well as opportunities for expansion and growth. Connecting admissions with other divisions on campus can allow colleagues in academic affairs, athletics, buildings and grounds, and other departments to understand how their day-to-day work impacts the recruitment and enrollment process. Understanding how you’re all connected is key to finding cross-campus synergies and improving community morale and camaraderie.

6. Withdraw admitted students sooner than later

Okay. This is a continuation of #3. But it’s an important enough point to reiterate. Withdrawing an admit from the funnel is not always a bad thing, especially when that student has demonstrated a lack of interest and you want to avoid wasting any more resources on them. Sure, none of us like to hear that a student is selecting a different institution, but the reality is that you will only yield about 20% of your class.

Removing those students who are not interested, but have not officially withdrawn, will help your team focus on those students where you have a real chance. It will also help you, as a manager, to make more accurate projections about your class.

7. Learn to say “no”

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”
― Winston S. Churchill

Being focused on a set of goals also means eliminating distractions. So, when your president asks you to organize this May’s commencement ceremony when you should be focusing on bringing in the class, find a way to politely decline and help them to understand why your time would best be spent focusing on your primary objectives. What makes you a great enrollment manager is always at risk due to distractions on campus.

8. Align with trusted partners

If you’re facing any additional enrollment strategy challenges as you plan for the cycle ahead, our team of veteran admissions professionals and enrollment marketing specialists would be happy to help. Feel free to reach out today!