By Martin Lind
According to a recent Inside Higher Ed article, the decline in college enrollments appears to be accelerating; with 2.3 percent fewer students enrolled on campuses in spring 2013 than there were in spring 2012, according to data published by the National Student Clearinghouse. Though the impact of those declining numbers will probably not be felt by top tier schools, less popular traditional schools may soon find themselves in the unfamiliar position of competing for students.
Schools new to the enrollment race may need to re-assess the effectiveness of their current marketing strategy. They also may need to start questioning whether their Student Information System (SIS) is the best platform to support the enrollment process. While an SIS is good at a lot of things, when it comes to enrollment management in the current – and worsening – recruiting environment, “good” may not be enough.
If a school competes with other schools for students, its enrollment management solution must provide that school with every advantage possible to compete effectively and win against schools that attract similar prospects. It needs to be effective at identifying right-fit students, reaching them quickly, and actively engaging them with personalized conversations about its programs. And all of this needs to happen within minutes of receiving the inquiry.
Here are some warning signs that your SIS is failing to earn a passing grade at enrollment management:
1. Your SIS can’t move fast enough to outpace the competition.
According to our clients and recent Velocify research, being first to reach the student prospect is critical when competing for students. In fact, inquiries called within the first minute are nearly 400% more likely to enroll than the average inquiry. Yet an SIS is not designed for speed. Only by quickly getting prospective students on the phone can the enrollment counselor and the prospective student best determine whether they are the right fit for each other.
Being the first to have that conversation can have a positive, lasting impact. Tricoci University agrees. “It makes a difference that we have the conversation first, before other schools, otherwise we risk losing the opportunity to have even that first discovery conversation with a prospect.”
2. It is getting in the way of meaningful conversations with student prospects.
Effective enrollment begins and ends with detailed, personalized conversations with prospective students. In Tricoci University’s case, using their SIS delayed enrollment counselor response times and sometimes even required admissions counselors to use sticky notes to keep track of follow-up required with the prospective student. This time-consuming, manual, error-prone process hindered Tricoci University’s ability to have productive discovery conversations with prospects in order to build excitement and enthusiasm for its programs. By automating the enrollment process, Tricoci University could focus on communications that engage, inform and motivate prospective students at every step in the process.
3. It can’t be easily customized to follow enrollment management best practices.
Those who have tried to add customized functionality to their SIS -- enrollment-stage workflow, inquiry prioritization, and distribution and redistribution rules -- know how agonizing it can be. Their efforts usually end in one of two ways: 1) the project gets bogged down by the significant amount of IT team resources (or SIS vendor consulting fees) needed to build the functionality from scratch, or 2) it gets stuck at the back of a long IT department request queue.
Guided enrollment management processes that are based on best practices should be set, automated and easily accessible to admissions management to update as needed. The right system should be capable of automating compliance updates from admissions and marketing regulations through template-based emails and text messages, scripts, call recording functionality, and materials from third-party compliance vendors.
The good news for traditional schools new to the enrollment race is that they are not alone. There is a significant amount of best practices research, technologies and other resources available to help an admissions department reinvent its enrollment operations and processes to be effective in a competitive environment.
Martin Lind, Velocify Education Vertical Director: Martin Lind oversees the business development, product marketing and thought leadership for Velocify’s enrollment management solution. A published author and in-demand speaker, he has led educational sessions on higher education marketing and admissions matters at APSCU, AACS, ACCET, FAME, FAPSC, DETC, EduComm and the Jenzabar Annual Meeting among others. Lind can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.