New Study Identifies Opportunities to Improve Student Recruitment
Jan 05, 2016
Closing gaps and addressing weaknesses in your student recruitment process can improve performance in critical areas such as lowering the cost to enroll new students, increasing the conversion rate of an inquiry to a new student, and increasing retention rates. Read on to learn what some of the more common gaps and weaknesses are along with some tips for closing the gaps and improving performance.
“We need more leads!”
This is one of the most common statement made by marketing and enrollment leaders at colleges and universities across the country.
But in all too many instances, it’s not really accurate.
You see, for many colleges, the process of generating, qualifying, prioritizing and converting an inquiry into a new student has room for improvement. There are gaps and weaknesses in the process – and it’s those gaps and weaknesses that are causing enrollment goals to be missed.
That’s why we spent the last few months studying how colleges were leveraging their own resources – human and marketing technology – in order to deliver an experience that allows them to effectively and efficiently recruit new students.
The focus was on two key elements of student recruitment – how simple is it for potential students to request information about a degree program, in this case, the MBA, and what the potential student experiences in response to that request for information.
In the first phase, requesting information, we visited the college’s website and searched for a “Request Information” link or form on the home page and the home/main page of the MBA program. We then evaluated the request form and any automated communications the submission of the form triggered – Thank you page and/or automated email.
In the second phase, we kept a diary of any communications received from the institution and evaluated the communications based on timing, frequency, channel (email, mail, phone, other), messaging and call to action.
In both phases, results are scored on a scale of “1” to “5” with “1” being considered “Least Desirable” and “5” being considered “Most Desirable”. The first phase is worth up to 25 points, and the second phase is worth up to 20 points.
We’re still in the early stages of gathering and analyzing data but here are a few interesting discoveries for your consideration.
“83% of home pages and 42% of program home pages lacked ‘Request Information’ access” And a ‘Request Information’ form could not be found on 17% of the sites visited.”
Colleges aren’t making it really easy for prospective students to find a ‘Request Information’ form on their sites.
Now, some may argue that a “Request Information” form on the web site isn’t how their institution generates leads – they may argue that most potential students will head over to Google, type in something like “online mba Baltimore” and wind up on a landing page or a program page.
And in some cases, that’s very true. But after interviewing and surveying hundreds of potential students that were searching for the right program to enroll in, it’s been our experience that some will go to your home page, some will go to your program page and some will end up on your landing page.
And, to be perfectly honest, if your site lacks this feature, you really can’t accurately estimate how many inquiries and leads you are missing out on.
Which is why we looked at both the home page and the program’s main page.
And what we found was many colleges are missing the opportunity to place a simple link on these pages that will take the potential student to a web form.
Your goal is to make it as fast, easy and convenient as possible for the individual visiting your site to obtain accurate and relevant information. So where is your ‘Request Information’ form?
A good deal of our work over the past few years has been focused on helping colleges improve their recruitment process – and that means auditing their process from generating a lead to enrollment in the student’s first course. As with all processes, there will be gaps and weaknesses – and our role has been to help the enrollment and marketing teams fill in the gaps and either strengthen those weaknesses or develop processes that avoid the weaknesses.
So what are the common problems – and how can you fix them?
“50% of Request Information forms had more than 5 fields and most, if not all fields were required.”
How many data fields is the right amount for a web form – especially a web form that will be used by non-students as their first attempt to communicate with you?
Obviously that’s a question best answered through testing but for the moment we are going to focus on [a] shorter is better than longer, and [b] ask for what you really need to get things started rather than what you want.
With that in mind, we recommend that at this early stage in the relationship with a potential student, you should ask for:
- First Name
- Last Name
- Program of Interest
- Desired Start Date
There are some exceptions – and again we recommend testing their inclusion to see what, if any impact you see on submissions.
These fields may include “Phone”, “Military Status”, and “International Student”.
Why “Military Status” and “International Student”? Some colleges assign inquiries and leads based on these factors so it’s valuable to identify this information early because it impacts who is assigned the inquiry and what messages/content is shared with them.
As for “Phone”, we suggest a little more thought go into this than is usually exhibited. Why? Well, do you want their home or work number? Do you want land line or mobile? The first impacts when you should call (time of day, days of week) and the second impacts whether or not you can also use text messaging.
Beyond that – there really isn’t anything else you need right now.
We are not suggesting that you don’t need more information in order to qualify and prioritize the leads – but what we are suggesting is that you need to build trust and the more data fields you put into that form, the higher the chances are that they abandon the form and turn to a competitor that isn’t asking for so much information right at the start.
Remember, every contact is an opportunity for you to ask for and capture new, valuable data that can help you determine if the individual is qualified and likely to enroll – so plan for them and take advantage of them. If someone wants to tell you their life’s story right away – you’re prepared to ask and capture. And if they would rather ‘wait and see’, you prepared for that as well.
“42% of colleges did not have a ‘Thank you’ page.”
You just received an information request form and thanks to technology, you have a couple of options.
You can re-direct them to a ‘Thank you’ page.
You can send them an automatic email.
You can, assuming you have the technology and the staff, feed that information into your CRM, run it through some basic business rules that assign the lead to an enrollment specialist and have that person make a phone call to that prospective new student.
For our purposes, we recommend all three, if possible, or, at the very least, a ‘Thank you’ page followed by an automatic email.
The ‘Thank you’ page provides the potential new student with immediate confirmation that what was submitted was received. That’s why we recommend your ‘Thank you’ page should use the data that was just provided by the potential student in order to show that the transfer of information was successful and that your institution is prepared to provide fast, easy access to accurate and relevant information.
What’s an ideal ‘Thank you’ page? Again, test to find out but here are a few suggestions.
- Personalized greeting – show them you captured their name!
- Confirmation of their stated program of interest and desired start date
- Confirmation of their email address
- Tell them what to expect or what to do next – and that should include making certain that your emails will make it to their Inbox rather than Junk folder.
We also suggest that you test an option to provide more information in order to help you better serve and assist them. If you go down this path, we would recommend testing how much you ask and how it is presented (multi-page or single page).
But remember, the key here is to get what you need and clearly set expectations for next steps. That’s why we recommend acknowledging the receipt of the data and confirming with them the exact data because that builds trust. And establishing expectations regarding who will do what next so forward progress can be made.
We recommend telling them an email is coming and asking them to make sure it will be delivered to their Inbox. We recommend providing the name and contact information of their assigned enrollment counselor and we recommend instructing them that if they don’t receive that email from their assigned enrollment counselor with a specific time frame, they should email or call that person ASAP.
There may be other options based on your institution’s unique situation but for the most part the goal here is to confirm the accurate transfer of information and set up the next contact. Too much will overwhelm them, too little leaves them guessing – avoid these extremes.
“83% of automatic emails failed to confirm the data submitted or recommend next steps.”
Again, every contact is an opportunity for your institution to build trust and help the potential student determine if you offer them the best solution for their needs. And it provides you with the opportunity to gather more information so that you can prioritize and qualify the lead.
Yet most emails are failing to confirm data or recommend next steps – and this is a lost opportunity for you.
We recommend using the email to confirm data received, share the name of their assigned enrollment counselor with contact information and explain next steps (who does what, when). And we would suggest restating the request for additional information to better serve them, if appropriate.
”17% of colleges failed to follow up with the inquiry and 33% made only 1 attempt in 2 weeks”
This is a telling piece of data and when you add this together with what UPCEA reported in 2015 regarding the reduction in marketing department staff size – “Total (marketing department) staffing has decreased in the past 15 years from 7.7 in 1999 and 8.4 in 2006 to 6.1 in 2014.” – you can begin to see the recipe for disaster.
Colleges spend a good amount of time, effort and money to attract new students but they aren’t effectively or efficiently qualifying, prioritizing and nurturing them.
”67% of colleges used only 1 communication channel in their recruitment process and 58% failed to mention the program of interest submitted on the web form.”
Small staff sizes has motivated many to focus solely on automated drip email campaigns – but we were surprised that the email content wasn’t all that focused on what little was known about the individual. We received emails that still referred to our “…interest in our graduate programs…” rather than the specific program we selected on the form.
The key to success is an effective process for gathering, storing, analyzing and utilizing data so that you can deliver the right information to the right person at the right time via the right channel in order to help them make the right decision to either move forward with you or someone else.
And this will also provide you with the data you need to qualify and prioritize the leads so you can then focus on those most likely to enroll and be retained through graduation.
This requires well planned processes that include asking for and capturing the data you need to constantly improve performance.
Remember, not all inquiries are qualified leads. A great deal of time and resources are wasted on those that will not – and should not enroll in your institution.
And remember that your goal isn’t to enroll all that inquire – it’s to enroll those that will succeed and graduate.
What data do you need right now, at this stage, to determine if the inquiry is qualified? What information do they need right now, at this stage, to determine if they should move forward with you or if they will be better served elsewhere? What can you test in order to improve efficiency for both you and the potential student? How can you improve performance so you are lowering costs and achieving your goals?
If you would like help answering these and other key questions, please contact me – we will be happy to provide you with the assistance you
Patrick McGraw is VP of Higher Educaton Marketing Services and has more than 25 years experience in market research, competitive intelligence, business intelligence including database marketing and CRM, strategic planning, brand development and management as well as operations/campaign management. His work has consistently helped his clients and employers develop and implement more efficient ways to attract and retain profitable customers, enter new markets and launch new products. His areas of focus include the education, hospitality, travel and tourism, hi-tech, telecommunications, financial services, and retail industries on both the agency and customer sides.