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3 ways to improve lead conversion for adult and professional programs

Insights from Cappex testing results

October 12, 2022 , By Emily Upton, Vice President, Program Marketing for ALR and General Manager, Agency Services

Seemingly small changes in marketing can make a big difference in performance. That’s a lesson that I saw proved out again and again over the years that I ran EAB’s testing and learning agenda for undergraduate enrollment marketing. After two years of focusing on adult enrollment, I’ve been fascinated to learn what works best for this notoriously hard-to-find and hard-to-convert audience.

And one area where I’ve witnessed a rapid accumulation of interesting findings is Cappex for Adult Learners, which EAB recently launched to help adult-serving programs efficiently generate leads, starting with adult degree completion and graduate business programs.

Below are three findings that can help institutions optimize their own lead generation and conversion efforts for adult and professional programs.

Introducing Cappex for Adult Learners: Cappex matches institutions with qualified, high-intent inquiries. With 15+ years of experience supporting undergraduate enrollment, Cappex now serves adult degree completion programs and graduate business programs, too. Contact us to learn more.

Insight #1: Rapid response matters.

While speed to lead is by no means a new concept, our data illustrates just how important it is in adult student recruitment. When we first launched, we delivered adult degree completion leads to partner institutions on a weekly basis. However, when we shifted to a daily delivery schedule, enabling inquiries to be contacted more rapidly, we saw a 37% lift in response rates.

This data aligns with what we already know about adult learners. As EAB survey data has repeatedly shown, adult students are often balancing their journey back to school with many other priorities, including a full-time job or caring for family. Reaching out to students while your institution or program is still fresh on your mind can help you nurture and convert leads more effectively.

Takeaway: Contacting students at their moment of intent can significantly improve conversion. Aim to refresh lead data daily and have campaigns set up to start nurturing students as soon as they’ve inquired.

Learn How Cappex Helps Graduate Business Programs Generate High Intent Leads

Insight #2: Persistence pays off.

Our data also shows just how important it is for marketing to nurture adult students over a long period of time. When we looked at student response to marketing by the number of months since initial contact, we found, unsurprisingly, that most of the inquiries who respond to marketing do so within the first 30 days. What’s more interesting is that we continued to see substantial rates of response past the first month-and 10.5% of students responded at least six months after initial contact.

Percentage of Response by Months from Initial Contact

Adult Completers 1/1/2020 – 12/31/2021

Percentage of Response No Title Update 4

We know from EAB survey research and recruitment marketing campaigns that prospective adult students’ consideration period often lasts months or years. And while the data in the graph above is based on degree completer behavior, this lesson is likely applicable to graduate and professional students as well; a recent survey of EAB graduate students revealed that one in three had researched programs for more than 18 months.

Takeaway: Ensure your program has robust lead sources that can help you meet near-term and future-term enrollment goals. Develop “always-on” marketing campaigns that can help you nurture students throughout their journey and convert interest to action the moment students are ready to take the next step.

Insight #3: Understanding intent is key.

We also compared application behavior across a variety of lead sources, including Cappex leads, institutions’ inquiry pools, Phi Theta Kappa lists, and digital sources. We found that Cappex leads had the fastest average timeline between response and application, with students taking a median of just three days to apply after responding to a Cappex campaign. Furthermore, when we analyzed responder application rate across those same sources, we found that Cappex leads demonstrated strong performance overall, second only to institutional inquiry pools and outperforming digital sources by 49%.

We believe that one driving factor here is student intent. When prospective students register for Cappex, they provide information that helps qualify their intent, including their planned enrollment timeline, interest in a specific school, and program preferences. When EAB passes those leads to students’ preferred schools, that information helps ensure that students are serious about applying-which enables the accelerated time-to-application shown below.

Median Days Between Student Response and Application by Source

Fiscal Year 2022

Bar Graph of student response

Takeaway: Aim to include high-intent sources in your digital marketing mix, which can help you focus marketing spend on the students that are most likely to apply.

While the Cappex team has gleaned many interesting findings about how to best convert adult and professional students already, this is just the beginning. Steady improvements in marketing performance require consistent innovation, and I look forward to continuing to share the lessons we learn along the way.


Emily Upton

Emily Upton is a vice president for marketing and enrollment solutions and general manager for agency services at EAB with extensive experience in all aspects of creative, digital, web strategy, audience research and campaign development. Emily specializes in direct marketing recruitment campaign services for Higher Education clients. Her work supports college-bound populations through best-of-its-kind student success marketing campaigns that match students to right-fit colleges using collective power of over 300 higher educational institutions to generate insights.

Emily spends her day testing, analyzing, and refining strategic marketing plans and programs to help partners stay relevant and successful in a highly competitive market.

In her spare time, Emily enjoys reading, the outdoors, and international travel. Emily’s current favorite poem is A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and her favorite outdoor activity is kayaking. Next upon Emily’s travel destination is southern France.

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