Enrollment Management Strategy: Focus Your Team

The admission funnel is a time-honored concept in enrollment management strategy, symbolic of how a potential student goes from initial interest through various next steps until finally enrolling.  I have dim memories of a long-ago conference presentation by an earnest vendor who was selling predictive modeling before it was commonplace.  He said:  “the funnel is dead; with our modeling service your recruitment funnel will be a cylinder.”  I don’t believe his company is still in business.

In a previous blog post I wrote while working at Credo, I focused on misnomer of the funnel, the idea that more at the top means more at the bottom.  Moving students from one funnel stage to the next requires intentional, planned activity supported by the right data and training.  This was true before the global pandemic and remains true during and after we move out of this period of profound disruption.

Changes in the Funnel

The way the funnel works has certainly changed.  Fewer students start at the inquiry stage, for example, jumping right to an online application based on their own research into and knowledge about a campus.  The buyer’s market means more students apply to more colleges, making yield rates drop substantially.  I started as an admission counselor in 1980 and we worried about our 65% yield from admitted to enrolled.  When I finished a 27-year career at that same institution, we were enrolling the same number of new students, but our yield had dropped to the mid-30% range.

Amidst this change, some things remain constant including the need to move potential students from initial interest to deeper exploration in order to enable a final decision to enroll.  Admission teams travel, host in-person and virtual campus visits, maintain a thorough communication flow, present a compelling website, share success stories of alumni, profile faculty and engage key campus partners in the recruitment process to help potential students move “down” the funnel towards enrollment.

Stolen From Fundraising

Admission teams benefit by learning a key concept from their fund-raising colleagues elsewhere on campus to aid them in their funnel management.  Moves management, a deliberate, systematic and comprehensive set of activities to move a donor from one level of giving to the next, has been practiced by advancement professionals for decades.  Picture an advancement office approaching a capital campaign and in search of major donors.  One source of major donors is those regular givers who have substantive resources but have yet to make substantive gifts.  When research confirms the presence of these resources, the advancement team begins strategy sessions for potential major donors to consider ways to help them move from their current level of giving towards a major campaign contribution.  Strategies include targeted communication, reconnection with a favorite faculty mentor or coach,  encouragement from a classmate who is a major donor, and other efforts both to learn what motivates them to give and position someone (chief advancement officer or the president) to make the ask.  These few sentences might describe a process measured in years.

Key principles of moves management evident in this description include:

  • Knowledge of the potential donor including connections, influencers and priorities
  • Mobilization of the right people to help
  • Knowledge of the desired next step
  • There may be steps that the advancement officer needs to take as a result of the interaction as well, but the primary idea is motivating the donor to take the next step.

Applying to Enrollment Management Strategy

So how does this apply in the world of enrollment management strategy?  Here are a few examples:

  • Tour guide – student ambassadors should know enough about a potential student to connect (hometown, intended major, other interests). They also must know where the prospect is in the funnel so they can help facilitate the next step. Assuming the tour goes well, imagine a tour guide closing the experience by saying: “as we walked around campus it seemed like the aspects of college that are important to you are part of what makes us unique and valuable.  This sure seems like a good fit for you, I hope you are planning to apply (if that’s the logical next step).”  This requires careful training and good judgment so that it is communicated in a genuine manner.  The training should include when not to say something like this if the student does not seem like they are resonating with the campus experience or might be a good fit academically or missionally.  This applies to virtual tour guides during times of disruption as well and perhaps even more so, given the absence of the normal sense of community and abundant interactions with faculty, staff and other students.
  • Faculty member – our research on the factors and people who influence potential students highlights the importance of perceptions of faculty. In preparation for a campus visit encounter, a Zoom meeting, or a targeted phone call, the admission counselor who knows the potential student well should give the faculty member both information about the student and set them up for success by previewing key decision factors or, in marketing terms, dominant buying motives.  For example, if the decision hinges on student and parent perceptions about getting into a graduate or professional program, the faculty member should be primed to share both statistics and stories of this kind of success.  The faculty member should also know where the student is in the funnel and be ready to encourage them toward the next step.  For more information on this partnership, read my previous white paper called The Faculty Factor in Recruitment.
  • Admission counselor or student caller – moves management suggests each call should include a quick review of key facts about the student, review of notes of previous conversations (which presumes both a good CRM and the discipline use of it), advance compilation of a few questions to ask/topics to discuss and a reminder about the next step we want the student to take (apply, complete the application process, visit, visit again, visit virtually, talk with a faculty member, submit their FAFSA, pay a deposit, sign up for new student orientation). This is not scripting like acting out a role in a play, but some intense training including role playing and key talking points will make this much more impactful.

This moves management way of thinking should also be a key accountability tool for the admission team as well as individual admission counselors.  In the advancement world, moves management strategy sessions go donor by donor to review progress, next steps and, if necessary, mid-course corrections to strategy.  While the numbers are bigger in the world of the admission counselor, the same principles should apply so admission counselors are held accountable toward key moves management metrics like application completion rate, % of applicants/admits who have visited campus, etc. as part of the college’s enrollment management strategy.

Why Does This Matter for Enrollment Management Strategy?

Advancement teams are hoping to move donors from one level of giving to another, perhaps turning a $5,000 donor into a $50,000 donor or even more depending on resources.  The stakes may seem smaller for recruiting a new student, but given net revenue per student, four years of enrollment, and a network of potential connections with other prospects if the student has a good experience, the stakes may be bigger since an enrolling student can be a “gift that keeps on giving.”  Here’s some quick math from one of our campuses to illustrate this point:

  • 300 new students/year
  • 5 admission counselors
  • $14,500 net revenue per student
  • 60 new students/counselor

That’s $870,000 in net revenue per counselor!  This doesn’t factor three more years of similar revenue for those who persist.  As one of my former VP colleagues used to say to his cabinet colleagues, “admission counselors manage 60 or more $100,000 accounts.”

How do you make the shift to moves management in enrollment management strategy?  Gather the right data, both collectively and for individual students.  Make it accessible to admission counselors through the right CRM.  Train them well to apply it to their daily routines including sharing it at the right time with campus recruitment partners.  Train these partners on the concept (and keep training them) and create a culture of accountability around the consistent practice of moves management to bring a level of intentionality to the challenging task of recruiting students.

Want to learn more about how Fuller Higher Ed Solutions can help you develop your enrollment management strategy?  Contact us today!