To recruit students in your own backyard: Go bold

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To recruit students in your own backyard: Go bold

Did you know that 70% of students attend colleges within 100 miles of home, even in today’s mobile and globalized world?

I shared this same statistic in another recent blog post that outlined four commonalities among colleges and universities that had achieved transformative enrollment results despite challenging markets. My first observation about these exceptional performers: They ensured that they saturated their primary enrollment markets, in addition to broadening their scope.

Most colleges think they’ve exhausted their opportunity in their primary market and are looking further afield. While entering into new markets can be appealing and shouldn’t be discouraged, nearby and existing markets will always present more efficient and cost-effective enrollment opportunities—even in markets with particularly challenging demographics.

For that reason, enrollment leaders should be bold in their own backyards: bold in the sense of seeing the true market opportunity, bold in pursuing every last possible name from list sources, and bold in pushing their enrollment teams and their external partners to perform at true best-practice level.

Expect more opportunity in your current markets

One of our clients, a medium-sized private university in the South, wanted to explore the use of predictive modeling to target prospective students at the top of the enrollment funnel. They purchased approximately 165,000 student names from within their existing markets to include in their recruitment outreach, all of whom matched the institution’s targeting parameters. Once they had purchased the names, they ran them through a model that identified about 13,000 students to exclude from outreach.

Instead of excluding these students from recruitment marketing outreach, the vice president of enrollment included them as a separate segment and measured subsequent enrollment activity separately. Ultimately, 63 of those 13,000 students enrolled and generated approximately $900,000 in first year net tuition revenue.

Using predictive modeling helps increase likelihood of enrollment

Applying this type of predictive modeling to recruitment outreach is a relatively common practice in enrollment marketing strategy today. At EAB, we also frequently use similar predictive modeling further down the enrollment funnel and find it particularly effective to help prioritize admitted students for personalized outreach. However, while finding efficiencies is critical everywhere within the enrollment management discipline, our experience teaches that the top of the funnel is not the right place to create limitations.

Exhaust all efforts to identify your right-fit students

It’s no surprise that the tactical components of student name buying—like accuracy, timing, and list source—are important to hitting enrollment goals. However, what might be surprising is just how stark a difference it can make when the tactical pieces are done at best-practice level, compared to just “good enough”.

We often see colleges unintentionally bypass nearly half of the available students that match their targeting parameters in their current markets. These students aren’t deliberately excluded from outreach; they are individuals that were never identified as prospects in the first place, because of less-than-optimal management of list sources and data.

Only purchasing names once a year, incomplete list sources, and overly aggressive filtering can decrease number of best-fit students available for outreach

Tactical elements aside, challenging your college or university to be bold may require re-examining fundamental aspects of your targeting strategy. Consider the test score parameters, for example, of the small private college in the illustration below. You can see the difference in average SAT scores of enrolled students relative to when their enrollments were contacted in their search campaigns.

Earlier contacted students had higher SAT scores

At first glance, it appears that the search programs have delivered great results in terms of high-quality enrollments. However, seeing that the average SAT scores were 60 points lower for enrolled students who were not included in the search campaigns suggests the targeting test score parameters may be too high. As a result, the school is likely missing out on potential enrollments in their sweet spot.

Another example is major selections. While it certainly makes sense to only contact students that have indicated interest in a major you offer, consider that between sophomore year of high school and the point of application, nearly 60% of students will change their major of interest.

Many students end up switching major

Getting targeting right is critical to the effectiveness of your recruitment marketing outreach. It requires consistently solid execution on hundreds of small tasks. Individually, any one of them may have a negligible impact—taken together they become highly consequential for the success of recruitment efforts.

Demand high performance in your campaign execution

Engaging the right quantity of right-fit students at the top of the enrollment funnel is critical. Yet, that alone is not enough to drive enrollment outcomes. Enrollment leaders also need strategies in place to drive down-funnel conversion to application and enrollment.

Saying that schools can do a better or worse job of that may be stating the obvious, but the scale of the effect is sometimes underappreciated. I’ve seen plenty of cases where colleges were blanketing their primary markets with recruitment-marketing outreach but still only getting a fraction of the enrollments that they otherwise might.

Take for example one of our current partner institutions, an inclusive private college in the Northeast with a total enrollment of fewer than 5,000 students. To deal with an increasingly competitive local market, they significantly boosted search in their primary markets to 100% saturation, only to see ongoing, persistent declines in enrollment.

Freshmen enrollment declining

Their response to that challenge was to focus on conversion rate on search campaigns: the proportion of searched students who inquire, apply, and enroll. This institution began working with EAB Enrollment Services and applied our 6 proven ways to boost college enrollment. The result was a 52% increase in the size of their entering class and a 22% increase in net tuition revenue—in just one enrollment cycle and without increasing the number of students they were searching.


Think bold to enroll more students. We’ll show you how.

Watch our on-demand webinar to learn how a goals-first approach to recruitment-marketing investments can have a transformative impact on enrollment outcomes—and see real-world examples from your peers.

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