How to execute your next great enrollment strategy

How to execute your next great enrollment strategy

By William Kartsimas on Tuesday, April 3, 2018


The admissions game is evolving. Here’s how your institution can prepare for what’s coming.

Many of the tried and true methods of reaching students are still tried, but no longer true. And higher ed has now seen six straight years of declining enrollment nationally.

In my experience as an admissions and enrollment consultant, implementing innovative enrollment strategies requires taking on new technology, learning new ways to connect with prospective students, and most importantly, initiating a mindset reset for enrollment leaders and their teams.

Unfortunately, enrollment teams often find themselves off track on Day 1 of their new strategy. This tends to come from complacency developed since the last enrollment crisis, back in 2009—that complacency made for a difficult struggle for enrollment teams to suddenly adapt and thrive under pressures that some teams hadn’t experienced ever before.

Nearly ten years later, in the midst of a rush of new technology and transformation in higher ed, it’s time again for enrollment leaders and staff to dig in, iterate, and improve. And although great change management plans led by expert consultants can help any admissions office modernize and get back on track, teams don’t have to lose their way in the first place.

Here are three ways for enrollment leaders to stave off downward enrollment trends, overcome admissions operations complacency, and facilitate new ways of executing enrollment strategy.

1. Embrace new forms of communication

To reach today’s prospective students, enrollment teams don’t have to give up the billboards, print mailings, and mass emails of yore, but they need to obsess over new ways to answer the question, “What’s a better way to deepen relationships with prospects?”

Social media platforms have become the new front line of prospect engagement. Yet, many of the schools I work with haven’t warmed up to the role that social media plays in a school’s branding and in how a school attracts prospective students and develops awareness in the first place.

Embracing those platforms, particularly Instagram and Facebook, can start with dipping one’s toes in the water. Encourage designated staff to spend 30 minutes a day ramping up your institution’s Instagram presence. Within those 30 minutes, read posts by individuals in your market, post a new photo, send 10 new connection requests, and send 5 direct messages where you try out more authentic and personal styles of messaging. See what works and what doesn’t, iterate, and measure results along the way.

For this kind of mentality to be successful, enrollment VPs, deans of admissions, and enrollment managers must lead this change effort—and should involve IT leaders early and often.

How will your enrollment operations move to a world where students can apply to your school in one click? How will it handle a prospective student who says, “Alexa, send my test scores to the top 5 schools for exercise science?”

This is why it’s important to adapt and experiment now, bit by bit. Establish an Instagram presence, run a few Facebook ads, connect with IT to experiment with utilizing voice assistant technology. And explore new technologies that make new efforts more manageable. It’s just as important to find the right technology that helps recruiters manage their evolving workloads.

2. Thoughtfully implement new technology

Modern recruitment tactics and enrollment religion require a modern CRM. Prospective students demand that you demonstrate personal prior knowledge of their engagement with your institution; your institution demands (or should demand) that you get on the data-integration bandwagon.

Being thoughtful about implementation means getting everyone (including leadership) trained in how the new technology works, what capabilities there are, and what the goals and expectations of the implementation are.

A modern CRM can keep track of personal information gleaned from admission officers and student-staff members. As admission staff learn more and more about their prospective students, a modern CRM can curate and capture data that can be used later to personalize (and I don’t mean italicizing the first name of a form email) future prospective student messaging.

This personalization enables more authentic communications, and unlock the effectiveness of more kinds of communications—by mixing up your methods of communication, you’ll have different and cumulative ways to deepen engagement with a single prospect.

Though there’s still value in engaging prospects through informative mass email or text-messaging campaigns, more targeted communications via social media (or just more individualized emails) are how you can really show prospects that you know them—that your institution offers programs and experiences that closely align with their passions and goals.

And while students are increasingly willing to hand over their data for more personalized experiences, institutions must also be thoughtful about making those more personalized experiences meaningful.

3. Focus on execution by taking a hands-on approach

Your next enrollment strategy will be less about careful planning and big ideas, and more about execution, more about doing.

New technology and new generations of prospects mean the craft and practice of recruiting is changing, and managers and directors need to be just as up to speed as their staff when, for example, it comes to utilizing an Instagram campaign, or running a new analytics feature on CRM software.

This way, everyone on the team learns how to do the job inside and out, which assures that new expectations for new practices are set and understood by all. Then, leaders can get back to high-level strategy—and enrollment operations can deal with the rapid pace of change today, and can prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.

An Alexa voice revolution isn’t happening tomorrow, but you can start having conversations now about how your institution will utilize voice assistant and chatbot technology, at the same time enrollment managers and role players develop their adaptability and skill modernization at the ground level of enrollment and recruitment operations.

For more tips, insights, and perspectives on enrollment trends and technology in higher ed, check out our recent enrollment and retention blogs.

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About the Author

William Kartsimas

William Kartsimas

Senior Management Consulting, Ellucian

William Kartsimas has more than a decade of experience in admissions, enrollment management, and student success initiatives.