Where many of its peers are struggling to meet enrollment goals in the face of demographic declines, Berry College—a small liberal arts college in Mount Berry, Georgia—has been experiencing record enrollment rates. These numbers aren’t due to coincidence or luck but are instead the result of strategic enrollment planning. In an episode of the EdUp Experience podcast, Berry’s Vice President of Enrollment Marketing, Andrew Bressette, sat down for a conversation with Jenzabar’s Vice President of Enrollment Marketing, Steve Kerge. The two discussed best practices for enrollment strategy as well as the mistakes institutions can make when actualizing their brand.
Below, we highlight four key elements of any successful enrollment strategy.
1. When It Comes to Enrolling Students, Be Proactive Not Reactive
Berry College isn’t the only institution turning to its data to inform enrollment strategy, but the college is taking a unique, proactive approach: It’s not waiting until the end of a cycle to gain an understanding of its strategy’s efficacy. To make sure they meet future enrollment goals, Berry College’s enrollment team asks their data, “What can we be doing now?”
Using last year’s data to inform this year’s strategy can be helpful in many ways. But because student wants and needs can change from year to year, the possibility exists that some of last year’s information might already be dated.
2. Identify and Embrace Your Brand
Institutions that are meeting and exceeding enrollment goals are those that are embracing their brand. The college landscape is competitive, says Kerge, and in that competitive landscape, institutions must crystallize their message. Kerge suggests institutions work hard to develop their value proposition, to identify what it is that “makes their school cool.” Students are interested in transparency, he argues. They want to believe that your institution is offering them something genuine.
This is certainly true for Berry College, which has several unique differentiators. The first is that, at 27,000 acres, Berry’s campus is the largest in the world. In fact, their largest major is animal science, and they offer students eight semesters of paid professional development as a part of their academic workload. These factors are front and center in much of Berry’s marketing.
3. Focus on Personalization
According to Kerge, the institutions that he sees succeed are those emphasizing hyper personalization. Today’s students have grown up online in a highly curated environment and have come to expect a certain level of personalization. The best way to draw a student to campus is to engage that student in the subject areas and activities that matter most to them.
Having the right data can help institutions ascertain a perspective student’s interest and tailor communications and marketing content to those interests. Once that student has applied and been accepted, personalizing communications or sending them to an information-rich, accepted student website can help persuade that student to enroll in the fall.
4. Create an Engagement Strategy for Parents, Too
One of the biggest mistakes institutions can make is not gathering or making use of parent data. Parents are huge influencers of a student’s college decision. If a parent perceives an institution’s value, you can bet they’ll convey that belief to their child.
Berry College hired a marketing firm to interview students and parents and identify what they believed made Berry unique. Authentic was the word the college saw most, especially from parents. That the college was able to convey a sense of authenticity to parents has no doubt helped them in their recruitment and enrollment process.
Putting in the Work to Get Results
One of the ultimate takeaways from the conversation was that there’s no quick hack to enrolling more students. Institutions experiencing enrollment declines need to do a great deal of soul searching to identify their cool factor. Hiring an outside company to help with this could pay huge dividends. Once they’re ready to rebrand (or reemphasize their brand), they need to make sure they have a good handle on their data, and this could require hiring an analyst. When they have a handle on what it is their recruits and parents want, tailoring branded, personalized communications will help you draw more students to apply and, ultimately, enroll.
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