3 Strategies for Enrollment Success

How a Women’s College Defied the Odds and Raised Undergraduate Enrollment by 42%

When Sweet Briar College announced it was closing in March 2015, it created a ripple of fear through women’s college administrators. We know because we lived it. (Luckily, Sweet Briar rallied!) Faced with the competitiveness of admissions, the demographic decline, and the uncertainty of single sex institutions in the national market, how could a women’s college expect to sustain — never mind grow — enrollment?

And yet this one did. At the time, the Calculate’s founders worked as 2 members of the college’s Marketing & Enrollment leadership team. There, we worked with our colleagues to develop and implement a plan that ultimately increased undergraduate enrollment by 42%.

How? By blending traditional outbound with evolving inbound marketing strategies; by employing a system based on the steps of assessment, research, and targeted response — one that led to the institution’s largest incoming class in four years.

Like all enrollment strategies, what we did was complex and multi-faceted. Here, we share 3 strategies that were employed for enrollment success.

#1. Create a Website that Works for Enrollment

You’ve seen the old model: a website that is text heavy, full of academic jargon, and hard to navigate. That’s what we had and it was time to blow it up and start over.

Our focus was to build a site that served the marketing and enrollment needs of the institution. The text was re-written to be informative and lean; the design, light and airy. Most importantly, the site’s architecture was strategic and designed to work for recruitment.

How? Through:

  • Conversion opportunities, including strong calls to action and "Learn More" forms on every main and academic page
  • Language to inspire action and enhance SEO
  • Responsive design which is crucial for today’s student population who use mobile far more than desktop. In 2015, one-third of all traffic to this website comes from a mobile device.
  • Content management — to maintain control of the site
  • Analytics — to continually review, assess, and update

Results!

  • In the first year of the new website, the institution garnered 5,600 "Learn More" forms from prospective students seeking information. These forms were funneled to the appropriate admissions office, the student entered into the CRM system, and the cultivation launched.
  • 37% of applicants communicated with the school through "Learn More" forms, converting 54% to either enrolled, deposited, accepted, or admitted status.

#2. Digital Search: A New Way to Find & Cultivate Prospects

We used to spend a lot of money buying names but the yield was low— really low. At first, we tried some expensive targeted digital marketing through a third party. The idea seemed good, but it didn’t work, primarily because the firm stopped paying attention once the campaign was launched. We knew we could do better, so we created our first digital search, targeting a specific academic program via Facebook and Google AdWords.

We learned that success came through:

  • Authentic and active language
  • Engaging photos that tell a story
  • Use of demographic research to target prospects via interests and trends
  • Landing page for each ad with useful data (success story, job projections, etc.) and conversion opportunities
  • Constant monitoring and adjustment of language and images

We knew we needed to reach our target audience by being authentic and engaging, and by studying the demographic research. We built the ads accordingly and then watched the effectiveness of each one to see what was working best. We continued to make changes throughout the life of the campaign, maximizing the yield.

Results!

  • Enrollment for one of the institution's online master's programs was quickly filled via digital search. The campaign, costing $6,200, reached 250,412 prospective students, 4,622 of whom clicked on to the landing page. This yielded 138 conversions, which immediately met maximum enrollment.
  • A digital campaign for an adult bachelor’s program (one that had traditionally struggled with enrollment) budgeted $2,500. It reached 105,329 prospective students (2,053 of whom clicked into the landing page), and resulted in 36 conversions.

#3. Keep the Best of Traditional Marketing

Not wanting to "throw the baby out with the bath water," the enrollment team integrated the best of the "old" with the best of the "new." A strategic blend of traditional with digital forms created a comprehensive, far-reaching campaign.

The institution’s brand was strong and authentic, ideal for a suite of TV commercials that employed emotional storytelling. The team also used billboards, bus wraps, and mall banners. While these traditional methods don’t allow us to track effectiveness as easily as digital strategies, they do provide an opportunity to target and reach the ideal audience. In this case, the media buy for the TV commercials focused on shows popular with the student demographic. Billboard and mall placements matched behaviors of parents and students.

One of the benefits of digital marketing is the ability to quantify efforts in real time. That being said, an effective campaign will work to reach its audience wherever they are – watching TV, at the mall, or on their phones.

Final Thought

The fact is, the world is changing faster than any of us can keep up with. Because there’s no way to master it all, Calculate is focused on mastering this one piece: targeted digital marketing and website effectiveness for higher education.

As it evolves, so will we. After all, recruitment of the next class is just around the corner.

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