Using Recruitment Research to Drive Enrollment

Bob StewartVice President, Graduate and Online SolutionsJuly 27, 2021

As I have continued to meet with enrollment and marketing leaders over a surprisingly busy summer, one thought had kept popping into the back of my mind: it all starts with research. The conversations that I have often include thing like “we just don’t know which programs to focus on” or “we think this program could be an enrollment driver, but I’m hesitant to risk it” or just the simplest but in many ways the most spot on “I just don’t know where to start.”

This led me to host a session at the 2021 RNL National Conference on “Making Research Work.” The session was as close to a conversation as you can do in a conference setting with my longtime friend Theresa MacGregor, Executive Director of Graduate and Professional Studies at Jacksonville University. I encourage you to watch the session (see below), but if you don’t have time, here are five things to keep in mind as you plan your next set of strategic moves:

1) It all starts with knowing your market.

One of the things I’ve seen time and time again is that schools want to have a very targeted enrollment plan with really lofty goals, but they have no idea of the market they are in and the demand for each of their programs within that market. If you have a program that, market wide, that is producing a total of 100 students a year, the chances that your program will produce 150 students is almost impossible. So when people think of “recruitment research” I think they often think of working with leads, applications, etc. – but it really starts with a wholistic view of the opportunity for program growth within your market (and deciding if you need to expand said market).

2) Recruitment research also begins with understanding the educational expectations of today’s students.

Our recent Graduate Student Recruitment Report details exactly what students are expecting both in recruitment experience and in the classroom (F2F, virtual, or otherwise). The report makes clear just how important modality of learning is – and how giving students options in their learning process is so critical. Forty-eight percent of all students responding in our survey want a hybrid learning environment and 32 percent want fully online. We know that students will immediately look elsewhere if you can’t accommodate their learning preference – and so building your recruitment research plans includes understanding of your current modalities and features match what students demand.

3) Start to measure everything you are doing – then benchmark against yourself first.

There was a time when tracking your application, admits and enrollments (and cancels) was enough for success (and sometimes even doing these things was a stretch). But now it’s vital to track lead origin, speed to lead, conversion rate, conversion speed and velocity along with the traditional funnel. Competition is fierce – 73 percent of students are applying to two or more schools, and 83 percent of students will enroll at the first school that admits them (more data from the Graduate Student Recruitment Report). Understanding these aspects of your own funnel FIRST and FOREMOST is mission critical, and benchmarking against how you did will only drive you to be better.

4) Secret Shop Yourself

I can’t stress enough the idea of secret shopping and auditing your own processes. It’s one thing to see the plan laid out in print, it’s another to experience where key aspects of your conversion practices miss the mark. I always make my kids or my dogs the student, so when I see the emails, texts, or voicemails come through I know exactly what it is. But this will be so incredibly helpful for you to see what is happening throughout your funnel. I recently sat in a meeting with a particularly savvy enrollment leader talking about these issues. I noticed that he was fiddling with her phone. When her head popped back up she said she had just inquired to her institution. By the end of the meeting, there was only an auto-responder email. Try this in your own team meetings and see what happens. It can be a great conversation starter.

In another case, I tried completing the application at the institution at which I worked and become bored and quite distracted before I made it to the end! It was a real eye-opener that made me realize what a roadblock we had in place in our application. If a mortgage company can pre-approve me in 5 questions, why do we put 50 questions in front of someone?

5) Study the RNL 2021 Graduate Student Recruitment Report and pass it around your campus.

I had to get a plug in for our recruitment research, right? With that being said, well before I was ever affiliated with RNL I was downloading and sharing the research with my team and my campus. But knowing what students expect, how they expect it, is like having the answers to the test as you build your process. We recently hosted a webinar “Ten Things Your Need to Know to Successfully Recruit Today’s Graduate Students” focused on the report that I encourage you to watch.

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About the Author

Bob Stewart

Bob Stewart is an enrollment management professional with 15 years of experience in higher education. As vice president of graduate and online solutions at RNL, he works with colleges and universities to optimize their recruitment...

Read more about Bob's experience and expertise

Reach Bob by e-mail at Bob.Stewart@ruffalonl.com.

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