Seven ways to understand your prospective student pool using conversion benchmarks

Anne MonroeSenior Vice President, Client Experience and EngagementDecember 15, 2016

How healthy is your pool of prospective students for 2017? Are you on track to achieve your enrollment goals? Our latest set of recruitment conversion benchmarks can help you better understand the quality of your pool now–and throughout the cycle–and can help identify possible strategies to take now to close any gaps.

Accurate prospective student conversion data is the key.  Below are some specific suggestions for how to use peer institution benchmarks to take your prospective student conversion to the next level.

1) Be sure to track separate student populations in your institution’s conversion rates. As the latest data from Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s 2016 Recruitment Conversion and Yield Rate Benchmarks demonstrate, different types of prospective students convert and yield at different rates, so it is no longer possible to use a “one-size-fits-all” tracking approach. We recommend that four-year public and private campuses should, at minimum, be separately tracking freshmen and transfers, in-state and out-of-state, international, traditional and nontraditional-age, and campus applications versus applicants from third-party services. In addition, applicants whose first contact is the application (stealth applicants) should be tracked separately from those who are inquiries before applying.

2) Develop more accurate enrollment projections using your institutions’ conversion data from previous years. Look back at your own internal conversion rates first, even before examining external benchmarks such as those from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. By examining your institution’s historic conversion rates at each stage of the cycle and for each type of applicant, you can better predict where your future enrollment will end up as each week of the admissions cycle unfolds. For effective internal benchmark comparisons, we advise our client institutions to store and analyze three to five years of comparative data. To more fully understand how to use this historical trend data to predict and influence enrollment, see the table and illustrations on pages 2 and 3 of the Ruffalo Noel Levitz white paper, 7 Categories of Admissions Data to Guide Decision-Making.

3) Strengthen your recruitment strategies by using peer benchmarks to identify strengths and challenges/opportunities. This will allow you to keep building more efficient and effective programs for student recruitment and admission. For example, in places where you see that your conversion rate is significantly lower than peer institutions, you may need to initiate new activities aimed at raising your rate. Or, in cases where you see that your rate is above a given benchmark, you may decide to build on that area as a particular strength of your admissions/recruitment/marketing program.

4) Measure conversion of students from your search purchases to assess your effectiveness in drawing them to your institution.  The days of the convenient “response card” are long gone, but institutions still need to assess the return on their investment in search name purchases—specifically, the percentage that convert to inquiries.  If your conversion rate is lower than peers’, you may need to step up your early contact with all, or a qualified portion, of the search pool.  Coverage rate (the percent of enrolled students who were in the search campaigns) should also be calculated.

5) Pay close attention to stealth applicants. Stealth applicants are here to stay but they can wreak havoc on your projections if you don’t monitor their rates of conversion separately.  This trend also has implications for colleges that receive applications via third-party application services, where admit rates may be high, but yield rates are lower than for applicants that were in your inquiry pool.  Some strategies to consider:

  • Treat the stealth applicant pool as you would treat inquiries.
  • Place greater emphasis on purchased names and other inquiry sources as a way to identify prospective students.
  • Develop the metrics to track these various “routes” by students into your final enrolled cohort.

6) Explore the influence of campus visit days on your conversion and yield rates. If you aren’t doing so already, track not only visitor volume, but also the conversion and yield rates of those who visit.  You can then compare the visitor benchmarks in the Ruffalo Noel Levitz data to your own rates for converting campus visitors to applicants, your own yield rates on visitors, etc. (You should also be looking at different types of events separately. ) Tracking campus visitors separately allows you to test the impact of any improvements you make in how you attract and host/inform prospective college students and parents who visit.

7) Take your recruitment conversions to the next level. The external benchmarks from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, and internal benchmarks at your institution, cannot explain everything that is happening. Because your institution’s students are unique, it’s important to keep finding and tracking factors that influence your institution’s conversion rates, based strictly on your own data even where outside benchmarks are unavailable. While this process may sound time-consuming, the payoff is often worthwhile: to more accurately predict enrollment for each term. For example, consider tracking the enrollment likelihood of your applicant and admitted pools each year compared to the enrollment likelihood of previous years’ pools through such means as predictive modeling or the financial needs and academic credentials of this year’s pools compared to previous years’ pools.

Questions? Want to discuss your conversion data with an expert?
For further information or discussion, consider arranging a complimentary telephone consultation with one of our consultants for enrollment management by sending us an email or calling 800.876.1117.

About the Author

Dr. Monroe has been with RNL for more than 10 years, now serving as the senior vice president for client experience and engagement at RNL. S he previously led the recruitment consulting division at RNL, and...

Read more about Anne's experience and expertise

Reach Anne by e-mail at Anne.Monroe@RuffaloNL.com.

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