5 Step Process To Grow Student Enrollment with a One-Person Department

9 min read
March 06, 2020

One-Person Admissions Recruitment Enrollment Department

Believe it or not, having less resources in your recruitment and enrollment departments can actually be more of a gift than a curse. While you may still need to get action items approved, you're not dealing with a group dynamic and workplace politics play less of a roll in decision making. Only you can get in your own way. Unfortunately far too often, that's exactly what happens.


In order to truly maximize your resources, its important to understand just how valuable the resources that you do have are to you. The undisputed most valuable asset we all have, will always be time, its the great equalizer. No one can have more or less of it than another, but what you're able to do with it, is what differentiates you.


Getting a student enrolled in school takes a lot more touch-points than it used to ,but it doesn't mean it needs to take more of your time and effort. With the right process, you can maximize the resources you have and actually grow enrollment. You may not be able to compete with the large universities, or even the department down the hall but if you have a better process, you'll always win.

Invest on the Process, Not In The Process

The only way to scale enrollment without adding resources is to improve your process, but if you don't invest in development, your gains can only be marginal and hardly sustainable. I'm sure your school doesn't simply assign a syllabus and textbooks to students with hopes they'll become successful. No, there are assessments in the form of quizzes, exams and papers that are due to evaluate their understanding of the material.  This affords them the time to make adjustments in their process to achieve the academic goals their desire.


Similarly, we must be constantly stress testing our process, looking for bottlenecks, inefficiency in your lead handoffs and always aiming to reduce friction.  Doing all that might sound far-fetched when you barely have the time to complete your daily activities. But are those activities netting you the results you desire?


If you're stuck in the hamster wheel of the day-to-day, you'll never have the opportunity to analyze, test and improve. If you're not consistently evaluating your efforts, as we do in the classroom, you're missing a vital step. Here are two quick tips on how you can invest in the process, not on it.

  1. Ask yourself, how do I measure success? If you can't determine one semester's successes or failures from another, start by establishing bottom-line metrics and work your way backwards. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like Enrolled Students, Cost Per Student Acquisition, Yield are standard.  But for a small nimble operation you should also being measuring KPIs that might differentiate you from the big boys like lead response times and performance metrics like calls made, emails sent and tasks created.
  2. Get Proactive. To get on the path to scalable and predictable growth you must take control and that takes prioritizing proactive activity over reactiveIf you spend most of your day reacting to it instead of executing the plan you had for it, you're never going to reach your goals.  In fact, its impossible.  Plan each day and be disciplined about execution.  Plan time for reactive activities like emails, responding to phone calls and texts.  Be the master of your day.  

Stop Attending College Fairs

If you've been in student recruitment for some time, one tool I'm sure you're used to is college fairs.  Ask yourself though, how many have you attended over the years?  How many hours have you put into doing so, not just on-site, but in preparation and travel.  Why?  I get a number of answers when I pose this question to recruitment and enrollment professionals but the answers I get most often are "this is how we get most of our leads" or "that's just how we've always done it." 


My contention is that your attendance at college fairs might be the single most expensive activity you will cost your institution.  I don't just mean in dollar value, but in time with respect to the return on that investment, or leads.  Yes, leads are extremely important, as they add fuel to any recruitment and enrollment process, but they can't be viewed in a vacuum.  You must look at a lead as a function of the cost to acquire it.  We measure this with the metric cost-per-acquisition. 

CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) =  Total Investment / Total # of Leads Developed


As a one-person army, each moment of your day must be steeped in value.  So even in an environment with a low cost per acquisition, you must also factor in your opportunity cost.  Opportunity cost is defined as the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.  That's a fancy way of saying there's a cost or loss of something when you chose to invest in an activity like college fairs.  Think about what you could do with that time if you didn't have to attend.  While I understand this is an important source of leads, technology has made it such that it is no longer the only ways to do so. 


That leads to the other common reason schools invest so much time in college fairs and similar activities, "because its how we've always done it."  Do you still write letters in stamped envelopes every week? No, because technology has dictated that activity inefficient.  I'm not saying its not a useful activity but for a department with limited resources, I would suggest the following instead: 

  1. Consolidate.There is no reason for a trained professional to be on-site manning an 8 foot table at a college fair.  Instead, considering hiring a work-study to attend (if budget permits) or this could be a fun activity for an intern. 
  2. Reclaim. Use some of that time to refine your collateral materials, messaging and conversion path. 
  3. Measure. Marketing is a science, not an art, which means its successes and failures are based on data points not feel.  Establish your key performance indicators that determine success.
  4. Test.  As an academic institution you should know the value of testing.  In order to grow, you must consistently evaluate your process and test for weaknesses and opportunities.  Best practices suggest you make one change (variable) at a time.  If you notice any differences, good or bad, you can accurately attribute it to your test.  

Do What Entrepreneurs Do

Running a very small department or worst yet, a department of one, can be a whirlwind.  You're constantly being pulled in 1,000 different directions, putting out fires, putting in long hours, taking work home when you do leave.  It all can feel very...entrepreneurial.


As an entrepreneur for most of my life, I can certainly relate.  That feeling of perpetual motion however, is an energy you can harness positively by being resourceful. 


A mentor of mine once said that there's "always more than one way to solve a problem," a mantra, I live by.  The challenge for most schools is the academic environment itself.  It's designed to be structured, but being an entrepreneur requires a very unorthodox approach to problems, and not just solving them daily, but finding new a better ways to solve them in the future.  Here a few quick tips on how you can do that within your organization.

  1. Think Differently. Every semester, every prospective student and every day presents new challenge.  You may not currently look at your work day as a series of problems that need solving but they are.  We often however, get caught up in a pre-prescribed solution, the ole "this is how we've always done it" model and never question how it could be done better and more efficiently.  Instead think differently.  Starting with the most time consuming activities of your day, try to think of them as a problem you've consistently solved wrong.  How could a different mindset help you to create a better solution?
  2. Evaluate.  In order to come up with a better, more perfect solution, you must evaluate the problem and its current solution.  Grade its impact on your day.  Is it too time consuming?  Do you wish there was a better way? Is the problem truly fixed with this solution or are you making do with a temporary solution?  Is the problem even one you should expend time and resources solving at the moment? 
  3. Innovate.  Now that you've changed your mindset and evaluated the situation, comes the fun part. There are a million tools out there that can bring value to your recruitment and enrollment efforts.  Without  a doubt, the first thing I would suggest implementing, assuming you haven't already, is CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Even without a large budget, there are plenty of free versions out there that you can start with and upgrade as you scale operations.  While I know the tendency is to look for education specific tools, always keep compatibility in mind.  Technology and innovation should make your life easier.  If you're bouncing around from system to system, you're losing time and efficiency.  Consider the other tools you would like your nucleus, the CRM, to integrate with (like your application platform, project management system, email, text, phone systems, etc.) and how seamlessly they integrate before selecting one. 
  4. Document.  Documentation is perhaps the single most important step in developing any system.  The fact is, most processes only exist in one individuals head.  It can never be great if its not documented.  It might seem counterproductive to your own employment security, but by documenting what you do well and how you do it, you are better able to delegate operational tasks and train others using the manuals you're created.  This makes you more efficient with revenue producing activities like developing leads and closing students.  Your boss will like that and be more inclined to dedicate more resources to helping you achieve your scaling goals.    
  5. Scale.  Now that you changed your mindset, evaluated and improved a documented process you are ready for exponential growth.  Its actually not as hard as it sounds.  Your job has now become less about running around the hamster wheel and more about refining the process, looking for leaks and inefficiencies and executing flawlessly.

Forge Strategic Partnerships

One of the best ways to outperform your resources is to forge partnerships.  Think of organizations that target, but not necessarily compete for, the same students.  Just because you're trying to sell them on your school, doesn't mean higher education is the only product or service they're currently in the market for. 


So Why partner?

One great reasons is the share of information.  Data is an extremely valuable commodity.  The more we know about a potential student who might also be our partner's customer, we're able to develop a more complete student persona.  We often think of leads in terms of their academic and extracurricular attributes, but they are a whole individual and partnerships can help by sharing resources to better understand and target the right-fit prospective students.  


When done correctly, strategic partnerships can double productivity.  If you and your partner are working toward a common goal of attracting a common target, your efforts should double capacity for each organization.  This requires careful alignment and takes time however, which means in order for a good partnership to work, you must exhibit patience.  


What Partnership is right for us? 


Not every partnerships is a good one however.  It's important to understand the mutual benefit.  Although you might be getting the value you expected, if your partner isn't seeing the return, you jeopardize the relationship's integrity long-term.  Even if you have a good working relationship with your partner, make sure to outline the terms of your agreement and revisit it often.  


High school students are just beginning to explore their preferences in a number of consumable products.  Marketers from makeup, clothing, fitness centers, entertainment, driving schools and car dealerships become partnerships worth exploring. 


Parents can be extremely influential in the school decision making process and can exhibit unique consumption behavior when they're kids are preparing for college.  They invest and manipulate their savings and may require advice from a financial adviser.  Sometimes there's a need for them to address their health or life insurance.  If they're rising empty nesters they may consider downsizing their home, necessitating a realtor or purchasing extra security.  These all present low haging fruit opportunities for partnerships.  


Be Fearless

Those who say "there's no substitute for hard work" only say that because they've never questioned their own process.  The greatest threats to growth is fear of the unknown variable/alternative. Its only normal to rest in the comforts of familiar activities as the results are predictable. But, what if I told you, your current process is only 20% as productive as another? That might not mean much if you're reaching your quotas but would you feel the same way if you were only compensated for every student the school enrolled?  Today's students are a moving target and demand that you move your process to accommodate.  Be fearless in your approach without being reckless.  Use the information at your disposal wisely to guide your actions and in no time, you'll be able to scale your operation. 

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