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Five Steps to Improve Your Enrollment Strategies in Higher Education

Enrollment Management Best Practices | Enrollment Strategies in Higher EducationUpdated 10/23/2023

Since COVID-19 wreaked havoc on every facet of life, colleges and universities have experienced an enrollment decline of about 1 million students, which is more than 5 percent in a little more than two years. Enrollment strategies in higher education have never been more critical for institutions that are working to attract the right students, balance academics with the needs of the market, and focus on long-term student success. In this challenging landscape, our Higher Education Call Center Services have been instrumental in assisting institutions to bridge the communication gap with potential students.

The proper use of enrollment management best practices can be the difference between full classrooms and empty ones. Our Higher Ed Call Center Services have been pivotal in ensuring that institutions maintain a steady line of communication with students, addressing their queries and concerns promptly.

Facing such a complex and daunting challenge and uncertain about what the future holds, you should consider focusing on creating a more effective strategic enrollment management plan. You need an SEM that better serves students, more clearly identifies goals, more accurately measures success, and maximizes institutional resources. Our Enrollment Call Center Services play a crucial role in this, offering tailored solutions to meet the unique needs of each institution.

Are you developing your first strategic enrollment management plan or reevaluating SEM for your next term? 

Follow these five important steps to a smarter strategy. 

Five Steps to Better Strategic Enrollment Management

1. Be student-centered. When schools attend to the needs of their students, they help ensure their own success. The best SEM plans use market research and student feedback to guide the decision-making process. The very start of enrollment management best practices comes down to knowing and understanding what your students need.

Begin by offering programs that students want and that are supported by industry needs. Focus on flexible and convenient class schedules and promote services that will help students succeed. 

Look holistically at the structure of your institution to determine how the policies, procedures, and culture of the school either help or hinder students’ educational goals. Explore what changes can be made to facilitate the whole student experience.


2. Let data guide decision-making. Intuition and hunches can lead to valuable insights about what your institution needs, but that information should always be backed by solid data. Developing a disciplined data-driven approach to decision-making should frame how your institution plans for student success. 

Enrollment, demographic, and occupational trends can help schools get a snapshot of their current student body, understand the regional market of potential new students, and target the demands of an evolving workforce by anticipating what programmatic needs lay ahead. 

Competitive analysis can identify the local and national competitors for your school’s program offerings, uncover areas of opportunity for new programs, and shape how you respond to market changes. 

Also, as we’ll explore next, use data to measure your success by tracking all essential information. Look at inquiry statistics, student enrollment, and attrition rates to understand what’s working, what’s not working, and why. Successful strategic enrollment management is a moving target, and data is essential as you refine strategies and goals.


3. Leverage metrics for accountability. Establishing and maintaining a successful strategic enrollment management plan is a group effort and accountability is key. Establish clear objectives, identify responsible parties, and measure their success and the overall program success by agreed-upon KPIs. Periodic reviews will help keep teams on task, allow for an easier exchange of information, and provide room for plan tweaks and updates. All the enrollment management best practices in the world will not help if your team isn’t aligned on goals and performance metrics.


Utilize key metrics like enrollment deposits, housing applications, number of FAFSA submissions, and orientation registrations to gauge the health of your enrollment compared to the previous year. Gaining assistance from those departments and holding them accountable will help realize the team effort it is to bring in a new class each term.


4. Use technology to improve efficiency. Technology tools that improve operational efficiency ultimately improve the student experience. Cutting red tape and helping all departments communicate effectively allows students to focus on learning more and navigating the administrative web less. Explore inquiry generation tools, CRM solutions, case management tools, and social media platforms to encourage communication flow and the smooth exchange of information. 

Leverage existing technology and access to new technology to remove repetitive steps for students, troubleshoot issues, and reduce the resource expenditures of staff. For example, how might sharing information between the bursar’s office and advisors help students? Between your recruiting team and the financial aid office?

Most importantly, standardize the use of these technological tools. Of course, technology is only as good as the information in it. Hold the campus accountable for keeping updated and accurate records for each student with whom they interact. This standardization will provide the clearest picture of what to expect with your enrollment.


5. Engage employees. As with any organizational goal or business effort, your employees can be your greatest resource. Engaging employees at the very beginning of the strategic planning process will help them feel invested in the results and more fully committed to the plan’s success. Ask opinions, seek input, and let faculty and staff assist in establishing program goals. 

Many times, after an exercise such as this, staff and faculty may forget about the plan, or campus support loses momentum. As the plan is put into action, it is crucial to keep employees engaged through periodic updates and celebrate individual and group achievements. Provide monthly updates on application statistics to the faculty and staff senates. Promote admissions activities and visit events in a weekly email to campus leaders. Report to the support staff in the enrollment management units with a monthly newsletter. The team-building benefits of employee participation in your SEM planning will carry over into other initiatives and can have a broad positive impact across an organization.

Get More Help with Strategic Enrollment Management Best Practices

If you’re looking for a shortcut to putting together an SEM plan for your institution, you can find out more about the different components of a strategic enrollment management plan and download a free SEM plan template that we created to ensure that your strategies for increasing student enrollment are informed by your current situation. 

We have partnered with hundreds of clients to help them reach their new student enrollment goals. 

If you’re ready to hear more, schedule some time for a quick, no-pressure intro call to discover if Enrollment Builders is a good fit for you. 

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1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/03/31/college-enrollment-down-recruitment-freshmen/