Noel-Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2013 to further understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student success, student retention, and new student enrollment. We also examined current campus practices for marketing, student recruitment, student retention, and college completion. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:
Nearly 70 percent of prospective, college-bound high school students have looked at college websites on mobile devices—even more among students from abroad—but only about half of college sites are mobile-optimized. See our 2013 E-Expectations Report, E-Expectations report on international students, and 2013 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report.
When compared to incoming female students, incoming male students appeared to have less self-discipline and to be less interested in receiving help. See our 2013 National Freshman Attitudes Report and Freshman Attitudes Report for Two-Year Colleges.
In this year’s satisfaction reports, we examined the satisfaction of adult learners, traditional-age learners, and graduate and undergraduate online learners, including many differences by topic and institutional type. See our 2013 National Online Learners Report, 2013 Adult Learner Satisfaction-Priorities Report, and 2013 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report. Also see the 2013 Report: Online Student Readiness and Satisfaction Within Subpopulations.
I have been involved in enrollment management for more than 40 years, both as an enrollment manager on campus and as a consultant for Noel-Levitz. During that time, I have seen changes in higher education that are nothing short of revolutionary. Shifts in access to higher education, the gender and ethnic composition of classes, the number of students attending college, and technological innovations are just some of the sweeping changes that have made higher education an increasing force in the social, economic, political, and cultural life of our country.
While many of these changes have been positive, change is often not easy for many in enrollment management. For all the ways in which higher education has propelled us forward, we sometimes resist and even fear the changes brought on by ensuing generations of college students.
However, if there is a lesson I have learned from my own campus experiences as well as consulting with hundreds of colleges and universities, it’s that adaptation is not an option in enrollment management. Change and succeed, or resist and stagnate.
Right now, we’re seeing more changes than I ever recall in enrollment management. Student demographics, financial circumstances, technological advances, and political pressures are all bearing down hard on colleges and universities. These changes are too big and sweeping to be avoided, and too powerful to be resisted. Simply put, enrollment managers have to adapt.
While every campus is different, the following nine strategies have helped many campuses not just stay ahead of these changes, but use these changes for their advantage in recruiting and retaining students.
Co-written with my colleague Michael Lofstead
“Email is dead.” This notion that email was on the way out has been around since we did the first E-Expectations study years ago. The conventional wisdom has been that, as teenagers embraced text messaging and social media, they would leave email behind.
The reality is quite different, however. The E-Expectations project has charted email use and preferences among college-bound high school students for years, and while there is a slight reduction in email usage, it is still frequently used by the vast majority of students.
We are nearing the end of the first semester, or quarter semester, and you may be wondering…. Have your students received the resources they needed and wanted during their first semester? How can you ensure that they have been made aware of the tools they need to be successful during their freshman year and beyond?
Assessing freshman students early in their first term allows for proactive interventions, but first-year students can also undergo significant changes in attitudes, outlook, and motivations during that first term. A mid-year follow-up assessment allows for future planning of outreach and focused activities at the end of the first term and into the spring period.
By assessing students at the mid-year, you can identify the areas where students say they need assistance and specific resources that they want to learn more about—such as getting involved on campus, assistance with writing, and getting connected to a tutor. You can also determine students’ plans to transfer at the mid-year and perhaps take steps to retain them.
Co-written with Michael Lofstead, Senior Consultant, Noel-Levitz
How can you maximize the responsiveness of your direct marketing campaigns? You can start by giving students more opportunities to respond.
That’s a simple answer for an admittedly complex subject, but it’s also a strong philosophy to follow when it comes to campus direct marketing. The more opportunities you give students to connect with you, the greater the chance they will reach out.
As I have written before, direct marketing should be a process and not an event. When we work with college campuses through Noel-Levitz Direct, we conduct coordinated, creative mail and email campaigns throughout the year. We also devise strategies for connecting with fresh prospects as much as possible. The key is to develop marketing campaigns that build awareness of your campus, engage prospective students, and maintain a steady flow of students who apply and enroll.
It’s also important to branch out and augment traditional direct marketing methods with new initiatives that support and work with a college marketing campaign. For example, Noel-Levitz Direct conducted a campaign for a four-year private university that added another option for increasing campus brand awareness and lead generation: retargeting through paid interactive ads.
Continue reading “Incorporating new strategies to increase response for college direct marketing” »
Online learning has been growing steadily in recent years. According to the 2012 Survey of Online Learning conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, more than 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year. Thirty-two percent of higher education students now take at least one online course.
As more students enroll in online courses, how satisfied are they with their experiences? I recently partnered with Dr. Mac Adkins of SmarterServices to examine not only whether students in online courses were satisfied, but to examine satisfaction levels by student subpopulations.
One of the most interesting observations came from looking at the responses by age group. Given that younger students have grown up in the Internet era and that technology is such an integral part of many of their lives, you might expect that younger students would be the most satisfied with online learning. Instead, our results showed that satisfaction increased with age level.
The blue bars represent the percentage of students who said they were satisfied with their overall experience. The red bars show how many students in each age group said they would re-enroll in their current online program if they had to do it all over again.
You can read more about these findings in the full report, Online Student Readiness and Satisfaction Within Subpopulations, which also examines the readiness of students for online learning by age group. I will present a session on November 21 with Dr. Adkins at the Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning. If you have any questions about how you can better assess your online learners and improve the quality of their experience, please e-mail me and I will share strategies that other institutions are using right now.
After visiting hundreds of campuses over the course of my consulting career, it always surprises me how many campus leaders don’t think of student retention as a primary driver of their enrollment success. Many times I have had people say they are interested in both enrollment and retention, as if they are two separate things. When you think about it, retaining your students until graduation or completion is likely the most impactful driver of your overall enrollment success, not to mention a financial boon to your institution (as it costs more to recruit a new student than retain a current one). In addition, retaining your students and helping them to achieve success is perhaps your strongest marketing message to communicate the value of your educational programs.
As you know, college student retention isn’t simply about retaining first-time, full-time freshmen. It’s about ensuring that all students are continually making progress towards their educational goals and persisting until completion and/or graduation. The way students successfully matriculate through their educational programs has significant impact on the overall enrollment health of your institution.
As college and university leaders and marketers, we contend with an environment that is out of control. It is, at least, out of our control. Economic trends, social changes, and the prevailing political climate are powerful factors affecting our ability to recruit and retain students, yet we have little or no influence over these factors. This fundamental truth underscores the need for educational institutions to be flexible, nimble, and attentive to the winds of change.
Institutions that turn a blind eye to the environment and meander blithely wherever the road leads are likely to encounter unpleasant surprises. We navigate in an environment where maps are dynamic, and reliable institutional “global positioning systems” are simply unavailable. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu offered this warning more than 2,000 years ago: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are headed.”
How does an institution establish its identity in a changing environment? Fortunately, there are core marketing principles to help shape any strategic enrollment plan that remain unchanged from year to year, decade to decade. One example is integrated marketing, which is the unified and synergistic implementation of institutional messages and media in sharp contrast to sporadic, ad hoc marketing efforts. In addition, central for those involved in an institution’s strategic enrollment planning (SEP) initiative is the concept of market positioning, the intentional selection of key features and benefits that define the institution’s brand in a competitive context. (You can learn more about SEP at the Noel-Levitz website.)
Even if you are unfamiliar with the term “paid interactive advertising,” you have almost certainly encountered this type of advertising online. Two of the most common forms are sponsored Google AdWords ads that appear at the top or right of Google search results, and the ads on Facebook that run along the right column or in your news feed. Paid interactive ads are growing in popularity, and for good reason, as they provide a highly targeted and cost-effective way to generate awareness and trackable leads. I often recommend them to campuses as a way to attract prospective students and bump an institution into view for key SEO terms and the school’s name.
More often than one may think, I encounter resistance to recommendations to invest in paid interactive advertising from campus members who are incredulous that anyone would click on such an ad. There seems to be a universal dubiousness from that one person in the room who believes, because he or she would never click on such an ad, no one else would either.
However, recent data on prospective students tell us otherwise. In the 2013 E-Expectations Report , 30 percent of the respondents said they had clicked on an online ad for a college.
You may have been following along with my daughter Kylie’s college-search journey through my blogs in the past. My last blog discussed our experience with her initial registration, orientation, and advising experience in May of her senior year of high school. Well, the adventure continues, with Kylie beginning her freshman year at a Midwestern, four-year private liberal arts college within driving distance of our home.
Kylie received her roommate matches (she is in a triple) at the end of July and was on Facebook within minutes to see her new roommates. The three girls connected through texting and were soon getting to know each other with the help of technology, a full month before they would meet face to face. That opportunity to interact and share their expectations for living together helped to increase the comfort level Kylie had for move-in day. (I don’t know about you, but I had one very awkward phone call with my freshman roommate before I moved in, and it took us a long time to feel comfortable together!)
Kylie received regular communications from the college in the month before she was expected on campus. Not only did these letters and postcards serve to share what she needed to know in advance of arriving on campus, they also continued to communicate enthusiasm about welcoming her to the college, which helped to build Kylie’s excitement. As her parent, I also received several communications, but more on that in a future blog.
Move-in day arrived on a hot, August Saturday, but the college paid careful attention to making the process go as smoothly as possible. As we drove onto campus, students with signs pointed us in the right direction and gave us welcoming waves. Campus staff confirmed that we were in the right place and directed us where to park. The residence hall staff greeted Kylie warmly and provided her with her welcome packet. By the time we returned to our car a few minutes later, a team of students had already swooped in and carried all of Kylie’s belongings to her top floor dorm room. (Too bad this is a service that is only provided to incoming freshman; I am sure we will miss it on move-in day next year!) These personal touches combined to ease our anxiety.