Enrollment Management: Navigating Disruption to Achieve Success
Jan 10, 2019
Gone are the days when strategic planning was an annual discussion, limited to a couple of days so that each department could put together their budget rationale.
Today’s highly effective colleges and universities are implementing strategic planning processes that are on-going, inclusive, and data-driven because this provides them with a competitive edge and increases their ability to increase enrollments and revenue.
Welcome to the Age of Disruption
We have all seen the articles and the reports.
There are fewer high school graduates. Competition is increasing and intensifying. Society is questioning the value and cost of higher education. The corporate world is screaming that graduates lack the skills necessary for a professional career.
Oh, and let’s not forget that local, state and federal government can impact your institution too. (Excelsior Scholarship or Tennessee Promise, anyone?)
Then there are those internal factors that influence your institution’s ability to pursue opportunities and ward off threats successfully. For example, the acquisition or loss of critical faculty and staff. A shift in financial resources. Partnerships. Technology.
You get the point.
Colleges and universities that are consistently achieving their enrollment and revenue goals get the point too – which is why they have processes in place to capture and analyze this information. And from that information comes more effective strategic plans and actions that make the institution more successful.
The more effective institutions take a proactive approach to strategic planning. They look for factors that may impact them, and they use whatever time they have to develop appropriate responses. This approach leads to more efficient use of their resources and improved performance.
On the other hand, the less effective institutions either turn a blind eye to internal and external factors that impact them until they find themselves in the midst of a storm. At that point, there is no time to plan, and their reactive approach tends to waste resources and the inability to achieve their goals and objectives.
The Right Strategic Process is Key
On-going. Inclusive. Data-driven.
The follow strategic process is highly effective because it is an on-going data-driven process that involves all key stakeholders. This process brings opportunities and threats to light in a more timely manner within a process that allows the key stakeholders to be included in the analysis and development of recommendations which saves time while also placing your organization in a proactive position of strength rather than a reactive position of weakness.
'Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.'
~ George Santayana
Developing a Strategic Analysis
Developing a strategic analysis is a critical first step in the process because it allows you to learn from and build off your success and failures. The types of questions you should address are:
- What have we done, to date, that has been effective? Why?
- And what have we done that has not been effective? Why?
Make the time to review past actions and results so you can make data-driven modifications that significantly improve performance.
For more information on the questions, you should be asking and answering to support your planning process, download our Marketing Plan: Strategic Planning Questionnaire.
Develop Your SWOT Analysis of Today
Having worked for more than 30-years as well as taught marketing at the undergraduate and graduate level for the better part of the past decade, I can confidently say that the SWOT Analysis is critically important but is all too often misused and abused, if not wholly ignored.
A clearly defined SWOT analysis drives strategic decision-making by clearly identifying what internal resources (strengths) you will leverage to turn opportunities (external factors) into a profitable reality. And a SWOT can identify what strength(s) will be leveraged to ward off threats (external factor). A SWOT also can determine what internal factors (weaknesses) you need to correct or downplay.
And don’t fall prey to the common mistake of listing off outcomes rather than strengths and weaknesses. For example, ‘well known, respected institution in the community we serve’ is an outcome – dig deeper and identify the internal factors that produced this outcome.
When you have also developed a SWOT analysis for your competitors, you can use it to determine how to differentiate your institution from the competition. Or, how you can defeat your competition by leveraging your strengths versus their weaknesses if warranted.
Your institution’s goals must be in line with your institution’s mission. They are the answer to the question “What is a success for our institution?”
Developing goals is a valuable step in the process because the discussion brings clarity to those in your institution – and that clarity helps reduce wasted resources while serving as the foundation for a culture that is proactive as well as willing and able to make decisions that in line with and supportive of the institution’s goals and vision.
And remember, as the leader of the institution, you want to develop a culture where everyone can and does make these types of decisions because it keeps you out of the time-consuming role of granting permission and making everyone else’s decisions for them.
Develop a Value Proposition
Your institution’s value proposition is the emotional and functional benefits offered at the institutional, program/service level. For example, ‘With more than 95% of graduates becoming President/CEO of a business with more than $100 million in annual revenue within 5-years graduation, the ABC University MBA program provides business professionals with 5 or more years of director-level experience with a solid foundation of experience and expertise in finance, organizational development, leadership and communication, strategic planning, marketing and sales along with the critical thinking skills needed to successfully lead organizations.”
The value proposition is is important because it also ensures your entire institution is on the same page when it comes to the value delivered.
Keep in mind that the value proposition needs to be appropriate for each of your key stakeholders – from prospective and current students to alumni, faculty, and staff, partners and others.
Develop Brand Positioning
Your brand positioning addresses the promise you make to your key stakeholders – this includes what your institution, programs/services stand for and your institution’s vision and ‘personality.’
Is your institution a more traditional conservative institution that is focused on academic rigor, seat-time and producing ‘critical thinkers’?
Or is your institution a cutting-edge institution that focuses on providing easy access to higher education and helping students with real-world experience earn prior learning credits to complete their degree through a self-paced online curriculum that utilizes the latest ed tech?
Or is your institution something else – and if so, what?
As you can tell from those examples, brand positioning can have a significant impact on who you target, what programs you offer and how you make those programs available.
Develop Marketing Objectives
Where goals are the more significant, broader statements about where the institution wishes to be, the objectives are specific, measurable ways that support achievement of the goal. Think of it like this – ABC University’s goal is to be the largest university in the United States. And the appropriate objective for this could be that ABC University will have 500,000 undergraduate students enrolled full-time by December 31, 2020.
They want to be the largest and their measurable, specific objective that would prove they have attained their goal is the 500,000 undergraduate students enrolled full-time by December 31, 2020.
Please notice that the objective is specific, measurable – and it should also be achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Develop Marketing Strategies
Strategies are different than tactics, though they are often confused which can lead to wasted resources.
So, a strategy could be ‘enter new markets’ or ‘sign new partners’ or ‘target new audiences/segments’ whereas the tactics could be ‘perform market and competitive intelligence research to identify a new market that offers the greatest opportunity for success’ or ‘hire enrollment/admissions representatives that have extensive experience serving US Military students.’
A better way to think of strategies vs. tactics, strategies are the “what” you want to accomplish and the tactics are the “how” you go about fulfilling that what.
Develop a Marketing Action Plan
This step in the process is where all tasks and milestones across the institution are mapped out so that [ex] the people in curriculum development understand what needs to be completed by specific dates so that other areas within the institution can do what they need to do to ensure a prosperous new program launch.
Organizing Your Team
Inclusive. Having the right representation in your process is key to success on several levels ranging from accessing the correct information to gaining insightful recommendations based on the data as well as buy-in and support for the strategic initiatives agreed to at the conclusion of the process.
What Positions Need to be Involved and Why
You need the right people at the table, so this will vary based on your institution’s organizational structure but here is a list to start with and the reasons why you should include them.
- Board Chair
- Chief Academic Officer
- Chief Financial Officer
- Chief Technology Officer
- Chief Enrollment/Marketing Officer
- Faculty Representative
- Staff Representative
- Student Representative
- Alumni Representative
- Prospective Student Representative(s)
Yes, that’s a rather lengthy list – but you want to have your key stakeholders represented and involved so that you can benefit from their insight and perspective while also gaining understanding and acceptance which will improve your ability to go from planning to executing your action plan.
What Information is Needed
Every position listed above represents a critical functional area that has valuable data needed for this planning process.
The CFO should address financial performance and explain the causes of success and failure, strengths and weaknesses. The CAO should discuss the performance of existing programs and the status of programs in development with insights into the enrollment numbers as well as research that addresses the effectiveness of the experience for the key audiences such as students, faculty, staff, the community, etc.
The CIO should address the performance of existing technology as well as plans for upgrades and new installations including the business case for the investment, goals, and objectives tied to the institution's vision. Other topics could include the findings of any user satisfaction/experience research.
For example, the ‘student representative’ might be the president of the student government and what they bring to the process is insights into what issues are critical to the larger group they represent.
The CFO can bring insight into costs and profit margins so the discussion regarding pricing strategy can be more than the typical “…this year we will increase tuition by 3%.” The CAO can discuss schedules for new program launches so that other areas can address training and promotional issues.
The Value of Utilizing Outside Expertise
Not necessarily. However, having been on your side of the desk, working for several universities throughout my career, I have seen the value of engaging outside expertise in this process.
The first benefit comes from the fact that you do need someone dedicated to planning and managing the planning process. It is a full-time job for the period it lasts. And, considering the workload of most people on your team, they don’t have the bandwidth necessary to do both effectively.
Beyond bandwidth, another value of outside expertise is they provide a neutral view and bring no internal bias to the process.
Once you enter the actual planning sessions, another benefit is saving time and effort in preparation for formal planning sessions. They will address the location and related needs such as set-up, equipment, food, and beverages, etc. They also will also develop the agenda with your input and then work with participants to ensure they are prepared to participate in the sessions.
During the planning sessions, because they are unconnected with your institution and therefore outside the hierarchical structures of the institution, they can adequately address any personal, political and emotional issues that may exist. The facilitator is also able to keep the sessions focused on the topics, timelines, and objectives while also balancing participation between the extroverts and introverts.
Lastly, once the actual planning sessions have ended, the facilitator can continue to manage the process to make sure assigned tasks which are part of the action plan are completed on time; and, address and offer solutions to any issues that arise. Also, the facilitator can manage to-do lists and ensure that all participants receive that information promptly.
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.