Ten enrollment roadblocks for graduate and professional programs: Part two

Craig Engel

Senior Vice President

November 7, 2011

Craig Engel discusses 10 issues that impact enrollment management for graduate students and professional students at universities and other institutions.
In this second post on graduate and professional enrollment, Craig Engel examines issues of funding, communication, and planning.

In my previous post on graduate and professional recruitment, I examined issues related to goal-setting, funnel management, and database management. In this post, I’ll examine planning, relationship building, communication, financial aid, and coordination.

Issue 6: Lack of a strong annual plan

Does your campus have a graduate recruitment plan? If it does, is it a macro plan developed by a centralized office, a smattering of individual decentralized plans developed by individual programs, or a combination of the two? Unfortunately, most campuses I have worked with lack any type of plan, or do not like the plan(s) they have.

How can you build a strong graduate recruitment plan? It needs to have these elements:

  • A situation analysis—an annual review of the mission, historical data, driving and restraining forces, and environment;
  • Goal setting—cumulatively, by the individual program, and by market segment within the program (e.g., domestic, international);
  • Strategies for goal achievement—every goal must have at least one key strategy and every stage of the funnel should have at least one strategy;
  • Action plans—the implementation schedule for the initiatives that support the goals.

There should also be one master plan that is in synch with the plans for individual programs—the whole equals the sum of its parts.

Issue 7: Little personal relationship building with prospective students

To get the graduate and professional students you want, you have to let them know they are wanted. Building relationships early is the best way to engage prospective students and move them toward applying and enrolling. In addition, you have to keep making those connections as they move through the funnel until you have secured their enrollment.

For many graduate and professional programs, this may seem daunting because of the size of the inquiry, applicant, and admit pools, but it is important to take this step with your most promising leads at least. Some ways you can build those personal connections include:

  • E-mails, phone calls, and social media contacts;
  • Personal notes to key inquiries and admitted students;
  • On-campus visits for inquiries and admits;
  • Interviews and meetings with faculty.

In addition, you should segment your communications to speak to the dominant buying motives of the students.

Issue 8: Communication management

Of course, personal relationship building requires well-organized communications. You need to have a communication plan that is coordinated with various programs and departments and touches students at each key stage in their enrollment decision process. Build a communication flow that provides students with information that is most relevant to each stage—resist the temptation to overwhelm students with everything all at once.

The number of communications is also critical. Often a graduate communication flow may be bottom-heavy, sending a variety of messages once the student applies, but not reaching students often enough early in the admissions cycle. When designing your communications, ask yourself two questions: 1) What is it a student needs to know in order to make a decision as to whether your institution is a good fit? 2) What is it that you want students to know that they may not ask? The answers to these two questions will make up the bulk of your message content throughout the funnel.

Issue 9: Scholarships and financial aid

Do graduate and professional students need to be fully funded to enroll? At the master’s degree level, the answer to that is a resounding no, yet many programs operate under that assumption.

Recent data from The College Board shows that loans account for nearly 70 percent of graduate student financial aid, with grants, work study, employer benefits, etc. accounting for 30 percent (see page 11 of Trends in Student Aid 2011). As employer benefits decline, institutions will need to discuss providing more merit and need-based assistance, but at this time, most master’s degree students exhibit a willingness to pay for the majority of their graduate education. At the same time, graduate and professional students have different needs and expectations than undergraduates, requiring a different level of expertise and sensitivity by the financial aid office.

Issue 10: Not enough coordination among faculty/graduate directors

Simply put, all of your efforts can be for naught if your graduate directors and faculty do not coordinate their efforts, especially if there is a centralized office for graduate enrollment. Coordination and communication prevent duplication of effort, decrease oversights, and unify campus colleges, schools, and departments in the graduate recruitment process. Graduate directors and faculty need to come together to:

  • Develop individual and a master graduate/professional recruitment plan;
  • Identify the responsibilities of the graduate admissions office and the individual departments/program;s
  • Create the print and online communication flows and also establish standards for communication, content, and follow-up efforts;
  • Commit to the use of data so that efforts can be managed, tracked, and evaluated;
  • Support and coordinate campus visit efforts.

These 10 issues provide an overview of the most common challenges to recruiting graduate and professional students. Addressing these can help you manage graduate enrollment much more efficiently and effectively, and can be the difference between getting the graduate students you have and the graduate students you want.

I would be happy to discuss any of these issues with you further. Just leave me a comment or send me an e-mail. And best of luck as you recruit your graduate and professional students for 2012.

About the Author

Craig Engel, senior vice president, works directly with campuses on the effective administration of their enrollment management programs. Offering over 30 years of hands-on experience in enrollment management, Mr. Engel's career has focused exclusively on...

Read more about Craig's experience and expertise

Reach Craig by e-mail at Craig.Engel@RuffaloNL.com.

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