"There was never a 'golden age'": Optimizing the enrollment cycle

“If you’re thinking it or wondering about it, someone else is as well, so ask away!,” said Rich Whipkey, Founder & Principal of Waybetter Marketing, to kick off Optimizing the Enrollment Cycle, from Search to Financial Aid Modeling to Yield Strategy, the late but engaging session that he moderated on Tuesday, October 31st at AACRAO SEM.

For this session, Whipkey was joined by Ray Tatum, Vice President of Enrollment at Georgia-based Brenau University, and Kristen English, Director of Admissions at Kansas-based Newman University, two panelists who offered insight into their experiences throughout the enrollment cycle.

In the Beginning, There was Marketing

First on the agenda: a trip back through history, starting with a glance through Newman’s early 1900s “Ten Reasons Why You Should Choose Sacred Heart College” campaign. Founded in 1933 as Sacred Heart College by an order of sisters, Newman has 1,200 undergraduate and 900 graduate students.

Brenau’s contribution to this historical field trip: a short ad that explains why it changed its name to Brenau — “the old name was too long” — and a typewritten piece that went into the “Peculiar Advantages of Brenau.” (No, one of these reasons wasn’t headmistresses who turn into peregrine falcons.) Founded in 1878 as Georgia Baptist Female Seminary, Brenau University has a total enrollment of 700 undergraduate and 2,200 grad students, with in-state students accounting for 88%.

This exercise was entertaining, but also made a solid point: “There was never a golden age,” summarized Whipkey. “Enrollment management has always been tough. The tools have changed, but our challenges remain.”

The All-Too-Familiar Struggles

Brenau and Newman commiserated with the audience about common struggles, focusing in on undergraduate enrollment being consistently below goal with low yield on admitted students.

The reason for this struggle? There were a few key ones. Namely, over-reliance on athletics and discounting; no system in place for affordability and merit aid, an institutional fear of change; and the wrong search marketing partner, one who was too expensive, too generic, too many incomplete and “soft” applications.

“When I came to Brenau, I noticed right away that the problem wasn’t our application. Applications were being submitted, but students weren’t matriculating,” shared Tatum. Brenau was losing these valuable prospective students somewhere, and it was happening before or after the application.

Getting Personal

Newman and Brenau made one key change, and the results were impressive. Specifically, Newman University saw a:

  • 55% decrease in apps
  • 31% increase in deposits
  • 31% yield (up from 13%)
  • 43% more non-athletes
  • 75% decrease in cost per deposit
  • 7% melt (their lowest ever)

Brenau University saw a:

  • 63% decrease in apps
  • 44% increase in enrollment
  • 20% yield (up from 13%)
  • 80% decrease in outside marketing

What was that one change? Personalizing their recruitment and enrollment marketing. “Now what we’re trying to do is be authentic to who we think we really are from the very beginning of our relationship with the student,” summarized English.

The good news: Your institution can be authentic, personalized and targeted, too, and you’ll likely find the perfect recruitment and enrolling partner to turn this strategy into action at the next AACRAO meeting or conference.