For many colleges and universities, maintaining or increasing enrollment has been an ongoing challenge. (And the recent COVID pandemic did not help the situation.) When enrollment figures are stagnant or down, there is additional scrutiny on recruiting efforts.
This additional pressure can be addressed by first taking a step back and seeing what information you have available around recruiting and admissions. Then, those involved in recruiting and admissions – along with your institution’s marketing and communications team – should closely analyze that data to determine what’s working and what’s not. From there, necessary changes can be made.
Who are You Recruiting?
To successfully recruit students to your college or university, you need to understand the demographics and characteristics of the students you want to target. Key questions may need to be addressed:
- Is the university using any equity measures to balance the incoming class? If so, what are the measures and what are the targets?
- What are the demographic and characteristic trends of past and/or current students? What gaps need to be filled?
- Once we know what students we want to target, do we know where to find them? And once we find them, do we know the best way to reach them?
Keep in mind that answering these questions could result in changes to your current recruiting and admissions process – from geographic location to method to message. In addition, students have become more sophisticated and have certain expectations. You must figure out how to meet those expectations.
Before moving on, we want to recognize that every institution has students who apply and enroll without going through any of the typical recruitment process. There usually aren’t a lot of students who fall into this category. These students may or may not be part of your target demographic, but their characteristics should still be included in any trend analysis of current students.
Changing the Approach
As previously mentioned, answering those key questions can result in changes to your recruiting and admissions efforts. It all must be done smartly.
Location, Location, Location
It is helpful to know where recruitment has been successful in the past and then build new programs off that knowledge. Is the area local to your institution still fertile recruiting ground? Have you determined where your targeted prospective students are located? Remember, you must go to the students and not wait for them to come to you.
The Medium is the Message
How you are reaching out to prospective students is just as important as where you are reaching and what you are saying. The world has changed and so has the latest generation of students. Putting on events and visiting local high schools may no longer get the job done. (Or maybe they do!) And, given the current day and age, hopefully you are already embracing digital and social media to reach your targeted demographic. (Nowadays, you are likely better off investing in YouTube ads than magazine ads!)
The Message Itself is Important Too
While knowing how to best reach your prospective students is key, you must also make sure the message you are sending hits home as well. This means crafting a specific message for a specific audience (and even for a specific medium). In a world full of distractions and shorter attention spans, it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to be seen and heard.
Let Marketing & Communications Be Your Partner
While it is important to know where and how to reach prospective students, as well as what to say, the burden to figure it all out doesn’t reside solely with those in recruiting and admissions. It is important to partner with the institution’s marketing and communications team. They have the knowledge and resources to ensure that the right message is put out in the right channels.
If your school determines that events are still an effective way to recruit students, the marketing department can help you coordinate those events. They can also work with you to make any necessary changes so that the event’s effectiveness can be maximized.
Having a clear, easy-to-navigate website is only one part of utilizing your college’s website for recruitment purposes. Consider using a chatbot. Chatbots can provide instant interaction – and satisfaction – and have been successful in addressing student concerns around admissions. Many students are comfortable dealing with chatbots and may even come to expect this level of service.
Chatbot technology typically takes time to set up, and it has a cost associated with it, but it saves hours of time when operational. The marketing team can help research the right chatbot as well as help with implementation.
As mentioned before, it’s crucial to ensure your recruiting message hits home with prospective students. To do this, you’ll likely need to generate personalized messaging. This is the first step in creating a unique, personalized university experience for the student. Doing this requires background knowledge on the student. This data is generally captured by recruiting and admissions but can be supplemented by market research. In addition to helping with the research, the marketing and communications department can then work with you to craft the right messaging for each student or student segment.
The Almighty Dollar
We would be remiss if our discussion did not include budget considerations. After all, almost any recruiting effort and process is going to cost money. So, the recruiting/marketing spend must be explored and analyzed. Some questions that can be asked:
- How much is spent on recruiting events?
- Are these events fully attended?
- How many students enroll as result of these events?
- What are we spending to recruit from local high schools?
- How many students enroll as result of these efforts?
- Where else are we spending our recruiting/marketing dollars?
Analyzing where the recruitment dollars are going and what the results have been will show you what is effective and what is not. (A good metric to measure is ‘dollars spent per admitted student.’)
Knowing where your recruitment dollars are going will also help you revise your budget in response to market forces. For example, competition from online universities is greater than it’s ever been. More and more students are opting for online classes and online universities. What are the demographics and characteristics of these students? Where are they getting their information on these online universities? Not only will it cost money to do the research to answer these questions, but the answers you derive will then direct where and how money is spent to best reach these students.
If a college or university is going to achieve and maintain success, its recruiting and admissions efforts must be as productive as possible. This means knowing who you need to recruit, where to find them, and how to reach them – all while keeping an eye on the money you’re spending trying to accomplish it all. By partnering with those who handle your institution’s marketing and communications, you are expanding the resources, knowledge and skills available to maximize recruiting efforts and increase enrollment.