Didn’t meet your graduate enrollment goals? Here’s what to do next.


Didn’t meet your graduate enrollment goals? Here’s what to do next.

4 ways to revitalize your graduate and adult learner marketing strategy, from a former university CMO

If your institution fell short of its graduate enrollment and net tuition revenue targets last fiscal year, you’re not alone. In our recent survey of graduate enrollment leaders, 50% said they missed their enrollment goals. And it’s no surprise. Enrollment targets continue to rise despite strong headwinds from the growth of stealth shopping among prospective students, staff shortages, and skyrocketing digital media costs.

A key component of an effective enrollment management practice is a healthy enrollment funnel. Regularly examining your funnel and addressing problem areas–using the process below–is a first step towards meeting your institution’s enrollment goals.

1. Diagnose your funnel’s “pain points”

In my experience as a former university CMO—and now, working with dozens of institutions as a senior director and principal on EAB’s Adult Learner Recruitment team—I find that ineffective enrollment funnels often fall into one of two camps:

  • A “leaky” funnel: While the institution may be generating leads on their own or with a digital agency, those leads are low-intent and fail to convert to applications and enrolled students. A lead-to-enrollment conversion rate of less than 1 to 2% indicates your funnel is very leaky.

Take a close look at your funnel to identify where you might be losing students and implement changes at those key points to keep students engaged. For example, if you’re losing students prior to application, test marketing messages that create more urgency to apply. And consider implementing more application deadlines to introduce more periods of urgency throughout the enrollment cycle.


  • A “narrow” funnel: Less of an enrollment funnel, this situation looks more like an enrollment “straw.” If your conversion rates range from 10 to 20%, your marketing funnel might be too narrow at the top, meaning you aren’t reaching as many students as you could be. For example, you may be focusing only on recruiting current seniors or alumni. Diversify the top of your funnel by investing in targeted digital advertising, list buys, and paid search, and new lead sources like Appily Advance. The key is to ensure you’re tapping into a variety of sources and monitoring how each of those sources is performing. How many leads are each of those sources generating and how are they converting across the funnel?

2. Make your nurture campaigns work harder

Once you’ve taken a close look at your funnel and identified where you’re losing students, turn your attention to your nurture campaigns. In my experience, there’s almost always an opportunity to improve nurture campaigns. Consider the following when evaluating your nurture strategy:

  • Build student personas: Does your team have a clear sense of the kinds of students they hope to and will most likely recruit? What factors most often motivate your students to go back to school? What are they looking to get out of your program?
  • Speak to student needs: Ensure your prospective students are at the center of your ads, website, and other marketing materials’ key messages. Consider: does our messaging prioritize students’ needs and interests, or are we only conveying information about our program? If your right-fit students are working parents who need flexibility and student support services, are those messages elevated throughout campaigns?
  • Adjust to students’ unique timelines: In the early days of nurture campaigns, we sent emails based on our own internal calendar (newsletters always went out on the same day each month). Today, with the rise of technology-enabled nurturing, your outreach cadence should reflect where students are on their timeline, not yours. Students progress through the decision process at different speeds: some may sprint to a decision, selecting a program in weeks or months, while others take longer, juggling family and work priorities. The “sprinters” need more information up front, while the “snails” need consistent outreach over a 1-2-year decision timeframe.

3. Prioritize conversion when deploying internal resources

As you might be feeling on your own campus, graduate enrollment teams are facing significant staff shortages and burnout. In our recent survey of graduate enrollment leaders (conducted in partnership with NAGAP), 68% of survey respondents indicated they have unfilled roles in their department. These unfilled positions, coupled with workload and unrealistic enrollment goals, have (understandably) increased stress levels for graduate teams across the country. More than half of our survey respondents reported they are extremely or very stressed at work, up from 49% last year.

These staffing challenges require a very intentional approach to allocating your internal resources. We recommend deploying internal resources for the one-on-one advising and support needed to yield applicants while letting a partner scale the top-of-funnel lead generation and full-funnel nurturing. When working with our Adult Learner Recruitment team, partner institutions are supported by a team of lead generation experts, copywriters, web designers, digital marketers, content strategists, data scientists, campaign data managers, and others focused solely on the activities your team are rarely staffed to support.

4. Don’t set it and forget it

The more marketing and enrollment teams can be operating in lockstep with deans and other leaders, the better. Set up quarterly meetings between deans and marketing and enrollment teams to review goals and progress towards those goals. During these meetings, consider questions like:

  • What are our the lead and application numbers we need to reach our enrollment goals?
  • How are we doing against those goals?
  • If we have a gap towards our goals, what interventions should we take to close those gaps? How do we prioritize the actions that will have the greatest impact?
  • What staffing support do we need to reach our goals?

Revitalizing your enrollment marketing efforts is no small undertaking, and the steps above are only part of the puzzle. As always, consider my team and me a resource to help with all aspects of your marketing, recruitment, and enrollment strategy.

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