Day 1 is in the books (well, except for the cocktail reception) for the 2009 Noel-Levitz Conference. Despite the budget challenges and travel restrictions faced by many colleges and universities, this year’s conference has attracted over 1,250 attendees … surprising, given the difficult economic climate.
I decided to attend sessions starting with the big enrollment picture and strategy to funnel management, and social media.
Here are the highlights:
Managing Enrollment in a Down Economy
Higher education was in the midst of a leverage bubble well before the economic meltdown last fall, this according to Kevin Crockett, president of Noel-Levitz. With a decline in real purchasing power as marked by wage growth and tuition growth outpacing inflation, families levered up with debt to fund education. Over the last decade alone, non-federal loan sources have grown from $3 billion to $19 billion as students financed an ever increasing gap between aid and price.
In the fall 2009, Noel-Levitz forecasted a 10% shift of students between high- and lower-cost education providers. But, with some recent data 100 Noel-Levitz clients this shift maybe less than anticipated for 2009. A cohort of private institutions reported a 4.5% increase in the admit rate, a 2% drop in yield rate, with confirms down .9%. The number of students filing FAFSAs increased by 10.3%, and the discount rate has increased 2.3%. All numbers represent the change from June 2009 versus June 2008.
Crockett sees the following trends shaping up for the fall 2009 class:
- Private colleges appear to be experiencing the greatest enrollment pressure
- Community college enrollments are up, in some cases to uncomfortable levels in terms of serving the increased student demand
- There is anecdotal that out-of-state enrollment is under pressure at four-year publics
- It appears that graduate programs are also experience very mixed enrollment results
- The remainder of the summer will continue to be volatile as families contend with the first college bill coupled with tighter credit markets
For schools concerned about ‘summer enrollment yield melt’, he recommended the following intervention strategies:
- Make sure you are following up on financial aid awards in a timely fashion and tracking student response to their aid awards
- Prepare to manage increased student appeals for financial aid
- Monitor student borrowing patterns and develop a strategy to respond if families cannot access traditional credit sources
- Accelerate the first payment and deploy counseling resources for those families who miss this important milestone
- Proactively schedule financial aid appointments with families (both new and returning) whom you deem to be at the greatest risk
Crockett closed by discussing the positive impacts of the current down economy and business cycle. The current environment provides an extraordinary opportunity for institutional change and renewal. In good times, inefficiencies build-up and leadership defers hard choices. Risk taking will increase. Changes that people wouldn’t have considered in better times will get a second hearing. And finally, strategic enrollment planning will become central to institutional survival. Oh, and it just so happens, that Noel-Levitz offers a service for that!
The New Admissions Funnel, and Why It is Important to You
Taking a monolithic view of the enrollment funnel and managing by aggregate conversion and yield measures is out. Managing multiple funnels is more accurate and effective way to model your enrollment according to Noel-Levitz vice-president Kent Hopkins.
Why is the old enrollment funnel approach out? Response rates to prospect campaigns are not a true measurement of search responders. Today’s stealth applicants make conversion meaningless, and application completion wasn’t measured.
Given how students are – and are not – entering the funnel, enrollment managers should model the pipeline by three primary channels:
1) a ‘prospect to enrollment’ funnel (students that you identify through list purchases)
2) an ’inquiry to enrollment’ funnel (students that contact you directly based on brand awareness)
3) an ‘applicant to enrollment ‘ funnel (for stealth students who engage beginning at the applicant level)
Your funnel analysis should be analyzed further to look at behavior within markets, programs, or by student cohorts. Communication plans should be segmented to match the behavior of the funnel, rather than a one-size fits all approach.
Finally, Hopkins noted that colleges and universities are not keeping pass with the online expectations of students. Much of the discussion was on web site functionality and online communication tools. Unfortunately, no discussion on search engine marketing to help students actually find you online.
Join the Conversation: Social Media in Higher Education
The final session of the day was a little disappointing. The presenter Mark Greenfield, Noel-Levitz associate consultant and director of web services at the University of Buffalo was prepared and knew his stuff.
I found the presentation reinforcing the selection of online tools over strategy. Many non-higher education examples shared and the topics ranged from the latest YouTube star to net promoter scores. No discussion on participation levels (not everyone does it) or how students participate. There is a lot of data on this but it wasn’t part of the presentation.
In one example, Greenfield noted that MySpace is still relevant. Why? Because he asked people on Twitter about it. That’s like asking Kool-Aid drinkers if they like Kool-Aid.
He made the point that social media is about dialogue, not pushing the same enrollment marketing playbook through a new medium. Social media is more about reputation (what you do) versus branding (what you say).
Mr. Greenfield will put his slides online for download at: Markgr.com/noellevitz2009