For many years, the gold standard in school admissions offices was to have a well-defined and universal tier of admissions professionals. Most schools, no matter whether they were independent, faith-based, or otherwise affiliated, followed this same model. The director of admissions oversaw all admissions and enrollment responsibilities, with other employees (like an admissions assistant or admissions counselor) contributing to the overall function of the office. The goals tended to be universal as well – first priority: hit student enrollment goals. Second objective: perpetuate a thorough and organized admissions and enrollment process.
But times have changed. In recent years, schools have realized that the work of creating and executing strategic enrollment plans, and the work of creating and executing the admissions process are actually separate processes with separate goals. In many cases, they’re even separate roles.
Why are schools hiring separately for enrollment management and admissions roles now? What is the advantage to doing so?
The defining of enrollment management as a separate role is borne from several key factors. Some reasons are school specific – like pressure to increase the number of enrolled students. Others are industry specific – such as the influx of data around the local economy, demographics, educational options, and how those relate to the school’s admissions funnel.
When enrollment management is separated from admissions, it has targeted objectives:
- Data-driven planning and decision-making
- Inquiry management and lead nurturing
- Student retention
Let’s explore each of these in more detail.
Data-driven planning and decision-making is the hardest and most critical step for an enrollment management professional to take. Moving to a data model requires a massive undertaking around trend and competitor analysis, local market analysis, and school community data trends. But, as if that weren’t enough, it also means holistically changing the culture of a school to one that moves in accordance with key metrics.
Many schools find themselves laden with assumptions or extrapolations instead of data, presenting a natural challenge to an enrollment management professional. For example, if your data shows that retention is an issue and exit survey information with families points to financial difficulties as a key factor, this is an incredibly important metric to parse and discuss. It’s difficult to do so though, if a school’s culture negates data with anecdotal or assumptive comments.
“Well, we haven’t had anyone complain about tuition for years,” says one.
“That’s true, and I think we should keep looking for more information,” says another.
All of a sudden, the director of enrollment management finds themselves at an impasse. That’s why changing the culture of a school to a data-and-metrics-first institution is so vital – not only for enrollment management, but for the health and wellness of every office, department, and classroom in the school.
Data about the school’s local community is highly critical to an enrollment management role. Identifying target families or groups, and developing data points and trends around those groups is a smart way to focus a school’s marketing and recruiting efforts. Evaluating the role of price and financial aid in the school’s enrollment and retention trends allows administrators to make smarter decisions about marketing and school positioning, whether on the website or during a school tour.
Inquiry management and lead nurturing used to fall squarely to the director of admissions, but in a school that has both admissions and enrollment management directors, the responsibilities of inquiry management and lead nurturing are often divided among them. Given the overall focus on data that surrounds enrollment management, it only makes sense to extend it to inquiry management and lead nurturing as well. This phase of the enrollment and admissions process is the most precarious for schools, as families are most likely to drop contact with the school prior to having submitted an application. The ideal process brings together the metrics-driven actions of inquiry management (initiated by the enrollment management professional) and the communication and human parts of the admissions office.
The way this looks in execution obviously varies by school, but for example, the enrollment management team has identified a significant portion of local families who have not been marketed to. Based on demographics and trends data, they believe these families would respond well to messaging about competitive academics. The school develops a targeted Facebook/Instagram ad to run for two weeks, runs the ad, and receives 23 inquiries as a result. Of those 23 inquiries, they determine eight of the families are top priority contacts. The admissions team works in tandem with the enrollment management team to prepare a lead nurturing stream (comprised of emails, phone calls, and school visit requests) to bring at least eight of the 23 families on campus within a month’s time. Once a family applies and enrolls, the enrollment management team conducts an entrance interview or survey to establish a data baseline to evaluate later for retention, trends, and other important metrics.
Student retention is the responsibility of every administrator, faculty, and staff member within a school. But retention should be of particular interest to the enrollment management role. Why?
According to Don Hossler, a senior scholar at the University of Southern California, “The factors that influence enrollment are seldom responsive to quick turnaround strategies. […] Careful and realistic long-term planning to achieve recruitment and retention goals is key.”
In other words, the things that affect enrollment also affect retention. Because the two are linked so closely, it’s vital that the enrollment management team takes special care in knowing the retention influencers, trends, and metrics over the short and long-term at their institution.
The new era of enrollment and admissions responsibilities being separate but tied together is here.
As we speed closer to January, I wish you a very happy new year and a successful 2019-2020 enrollment season!
If you have any questions or would like to hear how FACTS can support your efforts, feel free to contact me or a member of our team.