2 Commonly Overlooked Causes for Enrollment Shortfalls - And How to Fix Them
Aug 13, 2018
For several years now, you’ve seen the stories about a supply and demand crisis in higher education causing about 50% of colleges and universities to fall short of their enrollment goals.
You’ve read the reports about the incredible opportunities available with the adult audience and may have developed more programs and services for this audience.
And hopefully, you’ve even spent a little time learning how to leverage your institution’s strengths and resources to turn opportunities into reality.
But in all that we’ve seen, these 2 causes for enrollment shortfalls are rarely mentioned, if mentioned at all.
Cause #1: The President/Chancellor & Board
Last year, we asked campus leaders at more than 500 colleges and universities around the U.S. if they had a written strategic plan and a dedicated budget for recruiting, retaining and graduating adult students.
The response was small – but overwhelming with 60% responded with “No, we have no plan or budget”.
Well, accountability and responsibility start at the top, so forgive me for putting this out there – but it is the responsibility of the leader of the institution to make sure that there is a written strategic action plan that moves the institution forward towards its mission.
No plan. No budget. No reason in the world the president/chancellor should be allowed to remain in their position of authority.
And any Board that allows this to happen should be replaced.
Cause #2: The Enrollment Team
Let me share a story that’s based on several meetings I have had with increased frequency in the past 3 to 4-years.
I am sitting at a conference table. Across from me is the senior executive for enrollment management. To my left and right are about a half-dozen people that introduce themselves to me as “dean” and “executive dean” along with “…and I am responsible for enrollments for my programs.”
With all due respect, when everyone is responsible – no one is responsible. And that means that the introductions have identified a major cause for failing to achieve enrollment goals.
Most of these people have been with the institution, in their current role, for 5 years and they all spend the next 15 to 20-minutes telling me that they have not achieved their enrollment goals for degree completion or graduate programs in 5 years.
I ask if they have a written plan.
They admit they do not.
I ask if they have a dedicated budget.
They admit they do not.
I ask if they can describe for me their target audience, in detail.
Typically, the response I get to this question starts out strongly, with confidence and quickly drifts off to a mumble.
“Well, adults. Men and women. That work in nursing…..”
“Our target audience is over 25-years of age that are teachers….”
In other words – no, they don’t have a detailed description of their target audience. And without that, you cannot expect anyone to achieve their enrollment goals.
I ask how their current students heard of their programs, and what motivated them to enroll here versus other institutions in the area.
No one has an answer.
As the conversation moves on, it quickly becomes apparent that none of them have marketing experience. Most are extremely knowledgeable and talented in their program area – but holding them accountable for enrollments based on their lack of experience, plan, and budget is just simply insane.
The senior-level enrollment management person in the room typically has a great background in financial aid or academic advising – but marketing is not a core competency for them either.
The Solution is Simple – But Here’s One I Don’t Recommend
As my bio states, I have been working with colleges and universities for 2-decades. And what I have described above isn’t a new development – it’s been around since long before I showed up on the campus of a large public university to explain to the president and cabinet that if they wanted to achieve their goals, they needed to agree to a plan that included the resources necessary to make it happen.
But in the past few years, there have been more frequent instances of campus leaders contacting me because they had not achieved their enrollment goals in a year or more, and they wanted to improve performance and achieve enrollment goals moving forward.
They have no plan or budget. And when they start talking to various firms, they come across one that offers marketing, enrollment and retention services – sometimes for a fee, and sometimes as a revenue-share.
If you’re thinking about that path – don’t do it.
Here’s why this is a path to destruction.
The conversation will start on revenue share and you will be told that this will free up hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions because you will no longer pay for marketing/promotion, enrollment staff, and advisors not to mention the technology needed to make these areas really tick.
No phone system upgrades. CRM. Marketing automation.
A chance to increase your cash flow by 6 or 7-figures - seems like a fantastic deal, doesn’t it? But what typically happens when a deal is too good to be true?
Those that jump on this offer have enjoyed the increased cash flow until about the 12th month when the “partner” informs them that the enrollment goals won’t be met, and the partner model isn’t working so “…we need to renegotiate and make this a fee-based service…”
And at that point, you’re screwed. (That’s a marketing term, by the way.)
Now you are paying for a small group of people that are trying to serve multiple institutions along with yours at the same time. If they’re like most call centers, they have about a 100% turnover rate, so you can forget about “knowledgeable staff building relationships with your prospective students as they help them through their enrollment process.”
You most likely still won’t hit your enrollment goals – and the cash flow is gone.
Now your only alternative is to spend money you no longer have on technology and staff, so you can bring marketing and enrollment back in-house.
The Solution You’ve Been Waiting For
Bring the expertise you need internally and develop a written plan with measurable objectives along with the go-to-market plan detailing tasks, milestones, owners, and budgets.
Set up processes that allow you to gather the data you need to measure your progress and when you miss certain milestones, decide what action to take so you get back on track.
That’s what marketing professionals do, by the way. Hire one or get one on contract to work with you as an independent contractor/consultant.
Have them build what you need internally. Develop the expertise through hiring and/or training.
Select the technology and make sure the right people are properly trained to get the most out of it.
Develop the processes that help prospective students realize your institution and programs offer them unique value, so they can quickly move through their decision-making/selection process to enrollment, retention, and graduation.
Comments and questions?
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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.