Replacing Your OPM: Using Data to Drive Enrollment Strategies

Holly TapperVice President, Graduate and Online SolutionsDecember 16, 2021
Replacing Your OPM

At RNL, our graduate and online team is often approached by universities who say, “We’re breaking up with our OPM, what do we need to know or do differently?” Our response is to conduct a readiness assessment aimed at determining what people and processes are in place to handle the critical tasks that they will be reclaiming:

  • digital recruitment and conversion strategies
  • digital teaching and learning methods
  • online student support services.

We can assist in providing these solutions as a stop-gap measure while the school builds their own internal capabilities, or we can provide consulting to help write job descriptions and communication flows to support the school’s effort to ramp up their own services.

Institutions can also opt for having RNL take responsibility for certain online programs and handle just those elements that they are not ready to handle on their own—inquiry generation, conversion, enrollment, learning design, or student success modeling—while the school focuses on the remaining tasks or on programs for which it is prepared to manage independently. At RNL, we have the technology and staffing in place to scale solutions across our nationwide marketplace while providing 24/7 service and transparency to our partners.

Most schools are not currently staffed for the kind of “all-hours” presence that online students demand. But the adult student market has changed, and higher education technology and processes are adjusting to the new expectations brought about by the pandemic and our increased reliance and comfort with digital media.

As I sat down to think about where to focus this blog, I returned to the questions that come up most frequently in the readiness assessments I do. Each of the following offers both insight into an enrollment management function and supporting data on what the online student market is demanding today.Consider this part of the “checklist” as you plan the processes associated with supplanting your OPM.

1. Need for speed

Replacing Your OPM: Inquiry Response Expectations

The online student expects immediate engagement and response to inquiries. In a 2021 survey that RNL conducted of 1,500 prospective graduate students, more than 70 percent of respondents said they expected a multichannel communication approach by the university in response to their initial inquiry within 24 hours or less. In fact, more than 60 percent of these prospective students expect a text message or phone call within an hour!

Why does this matter?Because more than 80 percent indicate that they will either definitely enroll or be highly likely to enroll at the institution that admits them first. This aligns with a 2019 study by Aslanian Market Research that indicated 61 percent of survey respondents will complete an application with the school that responds to them first.

2. A rise in consumer mentalities

Prospective students are making decisions based on program-specific information and outcomes rather than university brand. Websites must be optimized so that program details are rising to top level of a Google search. In fact, 71 percent of all related Google searches last year were for program attributes, not searches by university name. (Graduate Program Trends. Google. September 2020) As potential students are comparing these data across programs, 77 percent of them are applying to two or more programs.

3. A world that revolves around me

To truly engage students, you have to cater to them individually with personalized messaging and contact methods. The vast majority (86 percent) of prospective students expect to hear back from a university via personalized email, text message, and phone call throughout their enrollment experience.And more than 80 percent of students will actually enroll at the first university that gets them through the admissions process—emphasizing the need for a fast, yet individualized, approach.

Replacing Your OPM: Enrolling at first institution that admits

We also note that our survey of prospective graduate students indicates that their number one decision-making factor is the match between a program’s content and their own areas of interest. Why would we expect any different? These students have grown up in a customizable world. While this may seem quite daunting, there are a myriad of ways that programs can meet students’ interests (think: electives, concentrations, internships, etc.) that RNL is working with its partners to advance.

4. Meaningful connections

Students are accustomed to building relationships online. They desire authentic and genuine content. About 80 percent of students will watch videos from universities and hope to see topics around the areas of student experience, alumni support, and other customized content.And more than 80 percent of students indicated that virtual recruitment events were effective at moving their decision making forward—nearly as effective as face-to-face events.

Replacing your OPM: Virtual recruitment activities are helpful

Are you ready to engage and enroll more online students?

Enrollment management expectations are rapidly changing and the market is tightening and becoming more competitive. Keeping up with student expectations will drive enrollment growth and ultimately lead to improved strength in online programming.

If your school is considering an end to your OPM partnership, but is hesitant to move forward, I encourage you to reach out to one of our online consultants.We will help you analyze your own technology, processes, and capabilities using data-driven benchmarks to determine your strengths and needs.

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About the Author

Holly Tapper

Holly Tapper offers a strong background as a university administrator leading successful graduate programs, with extensive experience in online learning for nearly 15 years. Prior to coming to RNL, she was director of online operations at...

Read more about Holly's experience and expertise

Reach Holly by e-mail at Holly.Tapper@RuffaloNL.com.

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