Like many business programs around the country, enrollment in our online MBA and other graduate business programs was steadily declining when I first joined the enrollment team at Nova Southeastern University’s Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship. The highly competitive Florida market, coupled with rising costs to recruit graduate students and growing student preference for MBA alternatives, meant recruiting and enrolling students had become more challenging than at any other point my career.
We had to make big changes—and quickly.
In 2018, we partnered with EAB’s Adult Learner Recruitment division to increase the number and quality of leads and ultimately, reverse four years of enrollment declines. In my experience at institutions both large and small, bringing in external support is often met by skepticism across campus. My time at tuition-driven institutions (and the many hours I spent in the classroom with my undergraduate accounting professors) reinforced the importance of carefully monitoring the return on each of our investments. And with all eyes at Huizenga focused on growing enrollments, it was especially important that we were deliberate in our calculations and communications about the ROI from this new partnership.
Here are a few of the questions I fielded from campus leaders—and how I approached the answers.
How are you calculating ROI?
Are you monitoring the right recruitment KPIs?
Use this step-by-step guide to find out.Get the Guide
Anyone who has passed a business 101 class knows the basics of calculating ROI. But it was still important we communicated proactively about the inputs we considered when doing so. Luckily, our team at Huizenga had created a culture focused on data and eager to understand the return on the students they were recruiting. We started by calculating the cost of partnership, including the cost to purchase names from test taker lists, one of multiple key sources EAB uses to identify and target prospective students. From there, we set a baseline of how many students we would need to enroll through EAB’s marketing campaigns to break even.
In 2019, EAB generated more than 450 applications and about 230 enrollments for our College—a 6:1 return on our investment according to our baseline. As our applications grew, we had to account for additional operational costs to process and follow up on those applications. While we did not need to hire additional staff to support the growth in applications, others enrollment leaders might and some of that salary should be attributed to partnership cost.
How do you know we wouldn’t have received these inquiries anyway, without a partner?
EAB reached tens of thousands of prospective students we wouldn’t have otherwise. But we knew some EAB-influenced inquiries likely would have come to Huizenga without the partnership, and we wanted to factor these inquiries into our ROI calculations. To do so, when we were looking at the institutional inquiries who also received EAB marketing on our behalf, we attributed half of tuition revenue to our own marketing and recruitment efforts for inquiry pool students who applied within 60 days. We used the 60-day period as our benchmark based on the previous year’s data for inquiry to application conversation timelines, which showed that we could expect about half of our inquiries to enroll within that period. While these benchmarks will look different for every institution, it’s important to factor your team’s ongoing work into your ROI calculations.
As we continued to quantify the value of our partnership, it was critical to have previous years’ data from before our partnership—such as time to conversion data—as a benchmark. Data from previous years enabled our team to determine just how much of an impact the partnership had on our enrollment pipeline (as compared to the impact of our own marketing and recruitment efforts in years prior).
How does student quality compare? How does retention compare to our historical students?
Not only did we want to reach more students and increase leads, we wanted to invest in attracting best-fit prospects who would enroll and graduate. Our EAB partnership bolstered our targeting capabilities, allowing us to both cast a broader net and focus on reaching students who have higher test scores or GPAs than our standard inquiries.
We were also able to better engage and nurture those leads throughout the funnel thanks to new multichannel marketing campaigns in which every subject line, every image was selected by an expert based on a careful review of best practices and data. Like many institutions, we wanted to enhance our strategy due to the changing dynamics in the marketplace. As we began to recruit more competitive students, we found that the students EAB had reached and recruited on our behalf retained at a higher rate than the students we had reached and recruited on our own.
Why should enrollment teams take a rigorous approach to calculating ROI?
Our team at Huizenga was very deliberate in our ROI calculations. But the time and effort required to calculate and communicate about ROI allowed us to justify our investment to stakeholders on campus and reinvest year after year. And Huizenga has continued to reap the benefits of these investments. Even amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, Huizenga exceeded its Summer 2020 enrollment goal by nine percent.
Long-term investment in adult learner recruitment is especially important because adult learners’ journey to enrollment is often longer than the typical undergraduate’s journey. Nurturing prospective adult learners from awareness to decision can require months or even years of savvy marketing. As budgets tighten, it’s especially important to understand and be able to justify adult learner investments. But it’s also important to continue to invest strategically to set your institution up for long-term enrollment growth.
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