4 Key Strategies for Enrollment Growth at Any Institution

Aaron Mahl, PhDSenior Vice President, Graduate and Online PartnershipsNovember 19, 2021
4 keys to enrollment growth strategies
  1. Develop a culture of investment
  2. Make a case for growth
  3. Invest strategically
  4. Remember your mission

Last month, I had the opportunity to welcome some of my colleagues to Cincinnati for one of RNL’s graduate and online regional workshops (we have been hosting these around the country, check our events page for our next workshops). It’s been a joy to be back in-person after 18 months of video calls interrupted by barking dogs and Amazon deliveries. I’ve been energized by the conversations and connections. The Cincinnati event was also meaningful to me since I live just outside the city and consider it home. So often we are welcomed to other cities as we visit campus. This time I enjoyed the opportunity to play host for the dozens of enrollment professionals .

At the event, I had the opportunity to speak at the closing session. Closing sessions are always a bit challenging. It’s the end of the day, the attendees had already absorbed some fantastic information from my colleagues and had a great meal together. To top it off, I was the only thing standing in the way between our guests and a happy hour.

My session was entitled, 4 Key Strategies for Enrollment Growth at Any Institution. Earlier in the day we delved into regional market data, discussed lead generation strategies, and learned from prospective graduate students in RNL’s most recent research. Armed with all this information, I felt it was important to step back and reflect on why institutions grow. When I think of our graduate and online partners who are winning right now, they have these four elements in common.

1. Develop a culture of investment

I started this section by sharing RNL research that indicated that the average marketing spend for graduate enrollment increased by 100 percent within the last 12 months. Think of that! Institutions understand that growth won’t happen by accident. Intentional investment must be made and maintained. The investment is not just in marketing spend, but in personnel and professional development.

This growth in investment is certainly good news for the institutions who made it, but it presents a challenge for those who didn’t change or reduced their marketing spend.

Creating a culture of investment is not just about spending money on marketing. It’s creating a paradigm and structure for investment. We’re often asked for our thoughts on decentralized vs centralized admissions structure. The reality is structure matters, but not as much as how the different areas of the university collaborate and connect around shared goals.

2. Make the case for growth

Assuming you have a culture that is structured for growth and investing in growth, now it’s time to make the case for growth. How do campus leaders do that? Thankfully, data is not in short supply in higher education. Between IPEDs data, bureau of labor statistics data, market research published by third parties, and vendors like Emsi and Burning Glass, there really is no excuse for not having supporting data as you make the case for growth. Here are a few questions to consider as you think through how to make the case for growth:

  • What data (organizationally and outside the organization) are utilized at your institution?
  • How is the data socialized? Who has access to it?
  • How is that data used for decision-making?
  • What data isn’t available to others? Where is transparency lacking?

Campuses that are winning have a culture of investment, but have also made a data-driven case for growth.

3. Invest strategically

When was the last time you did an audit of your investments? What’s working? What’s not working? What are you doing because you “think” it works, but you’re not sure?

Investing strategically not only includes investing in the right things but ceasing from investing in those tactics and strategies that don’t work. Campuses who win in this competitive environment have clarity on their investments, what works and what doesn’t, and plan accordingly.

4. Remember your mission

I finished our time together by reviewing four of the mission statements represented by the campuses in attendance. These mission statements shared some of the same qualities. They were inspirational, aspirational, they were about leadership, growth, and the bigger picture.

Not a single mission statement was confined to modalities, populations, even geographies. On the contrary, these mission statements were global and limitless in their approach.

Aligning your mission and enrollment growth strategy

Perhaps growing enrollment is really about our mission as higher education institutions. When we live in the ideal of those statements, we’re bold and inspiring. Our mission statements are challenging to live up to. In many cases, that’s why we work in higher education—because we want to be a part of something that’s aspirational, inspirational, bold, and challenging. How does your campus stack up on these four categories?

We can also help. Reach out to set up a time to talk and we can discuss how you can build a data-informed enrollment growth strategy that encapsulates these four key strategies.

Let’s talk about reaching your enrollment goals

We can help you reach your enrollment goals with any student population—undergraduates, graduate students, online learners, adult students, and more. Contact us today to ask for a complimentary consultation.

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About the Author

Aaron Mahl, Vice President for Graduate & Online Partnerships

Dr. Aaron Mahl possesses broad knowledge and experience in all areas of enrollment management including recruitment, retention, marketing, and the strategic use of financial aid. He joined RNL in 2013 delivering enrollment management consulting and...

Read more about Aaron's experience and expertise

Reach Aaron by e-mail at Aaron.Mahl@RuffaloNL.com.

Read More Blogs By: Aaron Mahl, PhD