Missing Unrealistic Goals
Sep 30, 2017
In one of my first meetings with university leadership, the Provost explained to me that he wanted to see a 15% increase in enrollments in the coming term.
When I asked “15% increase on top of what number”, he had no number.
At another college, the CFO dictated the goals with the following statement “In order to achieve our revenue goals, fall term graduate program enrollments need to be 500.” The spring term enrollments had been around 250. And the fall term goal was announcement in July, which was the start of the new fiscal year for the college.
Oh, yeah, and the marketing budget was reduced 10% over the previous year.
And in both scenarios, specific program goals were never set which led to a rush on the marketing department so each program chair and dean could demand their program(s) get priority – also known as budgetary support and promotional focus.
These are not habits of highly effective organizations – so what should be done and why?
SMART Goals Are Part of the Formula
We have all read enough about SMART goals – so why do so many skip over “A is for Attainable” and “R is for Realistic”?
And in defense of marketing and enrollment, when everyone in the institution is pointing their “finger of blame” towards these two areas, they have three fingers pointing back at themselves – because when the wrong goals are set, and they are neither attainable or realistic based on a variety of factors, the entire institution is at fault.
Key Questions to Answer
Few people know the size of their target audience because few have defined them well enough to really know who should be included or excluded in the count.
That makes the first key question to be answered “Who is our target audience, really?!?”
The next question is “How many of our target audience members are already enrolled at other institutions in our geographic market?”
Sure, they might transfer – but even then, they have unique needs and wants and expectations as a transfer student so you need goals, strategies, tactics designed for them. Treating them like a member of your target audience that isn’t currently enrolled won’t be effective.
Then you need to ask “Of those remaining, how many are interested in enrolling in a program we offer in the next [ex] 3-6-9-12 months?”
For that question, you’re going to need research because as soon as you start SWAGing, you are headed back towards unrealistic goal territory. You should be doing this anyway, on a regular basis, because there are a lot of other key insights you need to capture, analyze and use to develop and offer the right programs at the right prices via the right modalities with the right message, offers etc.
Once you have that insight, you then look at how many members of the target audience are currently enrolled in your institution and ask the following
- How many will we retain without any extra effort?
- How many more can we retain with extra effort – and is that effort the best investment of our resources?
- How many new students can we recruit by the deadline with our current resources?
- What impact would additional resources make? (And with this one, you need to specifically map out what the resources are, how they will be used, and what you project them to deliver.)
That’s when you go back to your SMART goals and address Attainable and Realistic.
What Are Those ‘Additional Resources’?
A few years back, the President and CFO of a public university informed me that they had found an extra $1 million that they wanted to invest in marketing, specifically lead generation.
I turned them down.
Because spending more on advertising to generate more leads is not always the best investment of your financial resources. Do you have the right programs? Are you offering classes at the right locations, times, in the right modality? You can attract qualified prospective students but if you don’t have what they want…
In this case, the phone system was antiquated and needed updating to handle the higher volume of calls. The CRM technology couldn’t meet the needs of the recruitment/enrollment team, resulting in numerous prospective students not being able to get their hands on the information they needed in a fast and easy way.
My point here is that sometimes marketing doesn’t need the resource – marketing needs a better program offering of unique, high demand programs not available elsewhere. Maybe they need more course availability – classroom, hybrid, online as well as days/times, locations. And maybe the price needs to be adjusted so that it’s seen as a higher value. (Of course, with that last one, the need might be programs with more unique, differentiated value so the higher price is warranted.)
Why Isn’t This Happening?
For too many colleges and universities, it’s easier to pull a number out of the air than it is to do the work required to size the market, identify the opportunity and produce an action plan with goals based on realistic outcomes.
What this creates is a stressful work environment with a great deal of turnover in key areas which weakens the institution. And with the turnover comes inconsistencies in servicing and communicating with your audience- which leads your audience to not only drop-out, but to share their dissatisfaction with others so that your recruitment efforts become less effective.
And what you have at that point is the opposite of the “Circle of Life”, you have the “Circle of Doom” because your reputation will suffer making more difficult to enroll and retain.
For anyone to set goals that are SMART, attainable and realistic require insight into your audience, competition and the market. For that, you need market research, competitive intelligence and the analysis necessary to turn the data gathered into actionable information and insight.
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.