5 Student Recruitment Mistakes You Are Making That Hurt Enrollment

7 min read
October 29, 2018

student recruitment mistakes 

We do a lot of consulting work with colleges and increasingly we're hearing they are having challenges with meeting enrollment goals.  While some of that might have to do with the professional landscape, maybe even expectation, or flawed metrics, the truth is many of these schools are making very common mistakes.  I don't mean to scare anyone, but if you're struggling with your enrollment numbers this is a blog for you.  


Its often very hard to examine an operation from the inside.  Its always easier to do analysis on an organization that you're not emotionally invested in.  You're too close.  We are most certainly guilty of that.  But awareness of this limitation is key.  So in effort to offset these "blindspots" we create key performance indicators (KPIs) to tell us when things are off or have gone completely off the rails.  The problem is these are indicative of the symptoms and very rarely diagnose the problem or in this case the mistake being made.  If you're struggling to hit goal, have been setting increasingly more modest objectives in recent semesters, use this as an opportunity to do a self assessment.  These five common mistakes are very easy to fix, just make sure to not to share with your competitors.  

Doing What You Did Last Year

While the internet has made our lives more convenient and the world more accessible its also made it increasingly more distracting.  Things are moving at breakneck speed.  The technology we used last year isn't just antiquated but often inapplicable today.  As we sit with admissions and enrollment directors they often present us their blueprint from last year and show us how they plan to update it.  This inherently is flawed methodology.   


Historically, the admissions process was a seasonal one for schools.  You had a Fall and Spring open house, due dates for certain prospective deliverables, and a date at which decisions were made by all parties.  Although we know we need to do more than that to capture the attentions of would-be students in today's environment, we still work in this seasonal thinking...which is wrong.  Its flawed, if only because it considers how schools want to sell and not how, in actuality, their customers (the prospective students) buy.  


In order to avoid this deadly cycle, you must scrap the age-old blueprint and start anew.  I know change is difficult but its long overdue.  I'm not saying you'll need to eliminate semesters, (although there's plenty of evidence to suggest it,) but rather consider the purchase behavior of your target student persona and start there.  How are they consuming other large purchases?  Is it online?  How are they making those buying decisions?  Are they leveraging the internet for information or relying on the provider to educate them? If you need any more evidence that you might want to scrap your formula, think about how you'll purchase holiday gifts this year and how that might differ from last year... 5 years ago.  Quite different I'm sure.  

Not maximizing the power of your CRM

One of the most interesting phenomena we witness with some of our school partners is while most of them have a robust CRM tool, very few are maximizing its power or even using it at all.  When schools started investing in CRM, very little was known about how it could actually assist in reaching enrollment numbers or even how the powerful technology worked.  For most, these tools were dumped on departments from administration as a result of purchases the institution made to run a more efficient operation.  Whether it be lack of familiarity with the CRM experience, training, buy-in or absence of process, full implementation was never administered.  Opportunities were lost.  


As mentioned previously, prospective school buying decisions are made quite different than they were made in decades past.  Where credentials, history and legacy were major determining factors, today's students often value the schools communication methods paramount.  They're asking more in-depth questions about the educational process and the immediate as opposed to job prospects and the long-term.  And when I say communication, I don't mean an essay or research paper, they want real immediate real-time access, on-demand and around the clock.  What was a technological luxury a few years ago, a fully optimized, customized and efficient CRM is now essential.  

CRM can provide data about your prospective students affording admissions the opportunity to attract more and better students by building more meaningful relationships and help enrollment convert a higher yield by understanding what factors are currently most important to students.  The best part about CRM is the more its used, the more you know and the smarter and more effective your outreach becomes.  

Using your Key Team Members to Recruit in the Field

Unfortunately this is a huge mistake we're seeing far too many colleges make and its a mistake made out aggression rather than omission.  As an inbound marketer, I know the way in which we attract, convert and close leads has changed.  It used to be that businesses hired sales reps to "hit the streets" to drum up business.  Similarly, Admissions departments would deploy their best spokespeople to college fairs to sit at 8 foot tables handing out pamphlets.  Think about that... does that sound like the best use of your most talented resources?  Even if you somehow answered yes, think about it...is that even effective?   

Sure its always important to get in front of students but in today's technology rich society, that's unfortunately now just busy work.  Its a way to show administration how active you are but the numbers will rarely be on your side with regard to results.  Instead, focus on how your most important recruitment talent can be leveraged in the most important phase of lead nurturing...conversion. 


Developing new prospective student leads is a product of branding.  If you have a strong message and its positioned where prospective students will find it, you can develop leads.   Leads don't help you hit your enrollment numbers unless they convert.  They must schedule a tour, attend an open house, fill out an application.  These are the true and meaningful metrics administration care about and so should you. 


Here's a tip: your best field recruiters are current and recently graduated students.  Hire them.  Use them to communicate the value of the education they're gaining to their prospective peer group.  By funneling those leads to your conversion team "back at the ranch" you'll convert more leads, increase yield and close more students.    

Putting Your Hat in the Ring Too Late

Student recruitment and enrollment is extremely competitive.  However, one of common mistakes we see is schools are actually fighting the wrong battle.  Students are often won or lost long before they officially make a decision.  The mistake is competing for students when mulling college options.  This usually occurs in the junior year for traditional high school prospective students. However, the internet has given a prospective students (and their parents) an unprecedented research tool.   They don't just use it discover specifics about each college option but to ask awareness level questions very early on in the process.  How do I know college is for me?  How much money should I save to send my kids to college?  How do talk to my kids about the importance of a Higher Education?  These are real concerns and real queries.  Are you answering them? If so, you can generate leads and further nurture them in your school's direction.  

By creating content available on your website, video tools like youtube and social media, you position the institution as a go-to research resource for building a general awareness knowledge base about college as a whole.  Because students are likely still a year (or years) away from considering options, mentioning your school's academic programs, extracurricular activities, differentiating factors or even the institution's name isn't important at this stage.  They're just trying to gain information.  Be sure to offer them option to subscribe to your content for more information and to begin an on-going dialog.  By engaging leads at this level, you are able to develop a more comprehensive relationship. By providing valuable insight, you position the college as a thought leader in the prospective student's mind, a nice position to be in when the time comes for them to consider options.  Which leads me to my final mistake.   

Selling instead of Advising

I always found it curious why we have academic advisers but student recruiters.  Academic advisers help students choose a major and minor and hold them accountable for meeting all the requirements to graduate.  Conversely, recruiters do the same with prospective students, help them choose a college and help them get enrolled.  Why don't we call them prospective student advisers? It has a lot to do with the role we think the recruiter should do, sell.  The success of the school is largely put on the shoulders of admissions and enrollment to hit their numbers.  From a business perspective, we see them as revenue producing and thus in a sales function.  However, if you have read up to this point, you probably understand that selling students your college as an option is no longer a fruitful exercise.  


In fact, some may argue the informed buyer can no longer be sold.  If true, the roll of admissions isn't sales, that's a mistake.  Its relationship building, which is a marketing function.  Like any good academic adviser, admissions and enrollment reps must be stakeholders in the education of the students.  Help them understand the complexities of the huge decision they will likely make.  For most, this will be their largest to that point in life.  Whether its your traditional high school student, or non-traditional working adult student, they all have the 1's and 0's about your college at their fingertips.  However, one thing they're likely missing is someone who can help advise them through this process they've likely never experienced.  

Digital Student Recruitment Case Study



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