What Does It Take to Engage Students and Meet Your Goals?
Conference season is in full swing for recruitment-related events. We just had our National Conference in July (our first in-person since 2019), which attracted more than 1,000 campus professionals. And like many of you, we are gearing up to attend NACAC in September (where RNL’s Dr. Raquel Bermejo will be presenting).
One of the things that became very clear at the RNL National Conference was how much campuses find it challenging to build the pools of inquiries they need and keep engaging those students throughout the funnel. There are so many ways to reach students and so much competition for those students that many institutions feel overwhelmed and underpowered as they try to reach their goals. These challenges are top of mind at the upcoming 2022 NACAC conference as well—their theme is RESILIENCE, which is both a testament to the hard work of enrollment professionals like you the past two years but also to the daunting challenges we continue to face.
So what can be done? First, my advice to you is don’t panic. I have been in your shoes on campus and I now work with dozens of campuses (and my colleagues with hundreds) managing these challenges. There are solutions and successes to be had. Here are three critical keys that have helped our campus partners overcome their enrollment challenges and create new ways to achieve their enrollment goals.
1. Build a bigger pool of students at the top of the funnel by taking advantage of ALL your available resources
The enrollment cliff and the rise of test-optional policies mean that enrollment managers have to cast a wider net for students. That requires expanding the sources you use to build your pool and finding the right balance of sources, spend, and results to align with your enrollment goals. Here are ways that RNL give our campus clients access to the biggest pool of potential students in higher education.
- Digital advertising—In our 2021 E-Expectations Report, 70 percent of students said they clicked on digital ads. Those numbers will almost certainly grow each year, and digital advertising will become an increasingly important part of building your pool. Our enrollment strategists and creative teams are helping campuses deploy highly targeted digital advertising campaigns that help build more and more volume at the top of the funnel.
- Search Engine Optimization—SEO is the flip side of paid digital. Again, our E-Expectations research shows that 69 percent of high school sophomores use search engines to find prospective colleges. And while they search for school names, they also search for majors, career interests, locations, and other key terms. We ensure that our clients rank high on those searches because those inbound organic leads are often highly interested prospective students.
- New quality name sources—Test-optional policies have disrupted enrollment pools, and that’s why RNL developed our own proprietary source of millions of student names. Our Prospective Student Network has allowed our campus partners to not miss a beat with building their search campaigns.
- “Smart” traditional sources—Traditional sources are still going strong! The key today is finding the smartest approach to integrating those traditional methods with the new and next ones so that you have a diverse, balanced, and robust way to find the prospective students you need.
2. Engage students and parents with the technology and channels they use every day
Multichannel and omnichannel are buzzwords used a lot in recruitment, but what does it mean to have a truly omnichannel engagement program? That means that your recruitment messages are reaching your audiences in the channels they are using, wherever they are viewing them, and whenever they want to see them.
That also requires your search campaign to be tech-savvy and use the latest tools you have at your disposal. For the search campaigns we build, we make sure they use tools such as:
- Digital communities for students that connect them to prospective and current students, building their interest and connection with campus.
- On-demand videos that be viewed anytime, anywhere.
- Text campaigns that prompt key actions at critical enrollment junctures.
- Visual caller ID that brands your incoming calls so students and parents know it’s you and will pick up.
Create full-funnel comm flows for students AND parents
It’s also critical for your communication flows to adapt to where students are at in their enrollment journey. For instance, we have smart comm flows that will drive toward applications, deposits, and finally enrollment so that you maximize yield. You simply cannot afford to have students drop out of your pool because you didn’t align your messaging with their goals and communicate those messages persistently and convincingly.
Parent engagement is also a must, and it has to be real engagement, not an afterthought. In our 2022 College Planning Report, 68 percent of students said parents were enrollment influencers—by far the most-cited influencer by students. That’s why we partner with CampusESP to turn parents into enrollment champions. (Parent engagement will also be the subject of Raquel Bermejo’s presentation at NACAC, I highly recommend you catch her session.)
3. Optimize with the right analytics and CRM management
I have written how analytics should drive action, and my colleague Josh Robertson has discussed how analytics can focus your team’s time. When it comes to recruitment campaigns, you need analytics to:
- Be smart with your recruiting. Where should you focus your search efforts? Which students seem most likely to enroll or are engaging the most with your outreach? How can you uncover new markets that could provide enrollment pipelines? These are all ways analytics inform and optimize a modern enrollment campaign.
- Forecast and optimize. Enrollment managers hate surprises, because usually when you’re surprised, you have lost valuable time to adjust. That’s where analytics play a big role, helping you forecast your campaigns and optimize their enrollment impact. It also can show which channels and messages are performing the best so you do more of the actions that will produce enrollment results.
- Put your CRM to work. Your CRM is incredibly valuable to the success your campaigns. All of the personalization, segmentation, and coordination you need for a modern enrollment campaign is almost impossible if you do not optimize your CRM. This is an area of importance we have been emphasizing with our campus partners, whether they want to use CRMs like Slate or let RNL manage their CRM.
The time to engage is now
Are you ready to build your next great class? We’re here to help. Talk with us and we’ll help you put the best sources of students, technology, and analytics to work for your institution. Contact us today and we’ll set up a time to talk with you about your goals and challenges.