Climbing Gear: How to Scale the Enrollment Cliff, Part 1 – Innovative Search and Travel

Higher education has faced many challenges over the years. But this feels different. The college recruitment landscape is changing physically … and not just because of the lasting effects of COVID-19 on enrollment. In the coming years, there is simply not going to be enough traditional students enrolling in our colleges and universities. The “Enrollment Cliff,” or “Demographic Cliff,” which has been fundamentally documented by every reputable research and higher education consulting firm, is now a reality.

Capture Higher Ed stands with you at the foot of this generational precipice … where declining enrollment and fierce competition for students are the market norm. In our blog series, Climbing Gear: How to Scale the Enrollment Cliff, we will outline how being intentional with your recruitment strategy and using the right tools and messaging at the right time will help you ascend the cliff and achieve your enrollment goals. In Part 1, we examine student search, market expansion, and travel.

Digital Natives … Connected and Curious
Generation Z

Gen Z kids start their college search earlier.

While fewer in number, the students you are competing for these days are members of Generation Z — digital natives who are connected and curious about their future. They want to make a measurable impact on the lives of their community!

More integrated while at the same time more independent than other generations, Gen Z will begin their college search journey earlier. This means institutions wanting to grow leads and generate inquiries require a well-planned, highly measurable recruitment plan that includes an informed search name purchase strategy, an integrated digital marketing plan, and a focused outreach and travel plan for admissions staff.

Finding and Identifying the Right Students

While the Enrollment Cliff has reduced the number of students graduating from high schools, the growing number of test optional institutions have slowed the pace of students taking standardized tests. This makes search much more complicated! While some colleges and universities are moving back to requiring tests, many more are making their test-optional changes permanent. The result: when it comes to lead generation, the days of purchasing millions of names is over.

In this environment, the best approach is using predictive analytics, combined with modern and traditional marketing solutions, to generate institution- and program-level interest. To connect with this generation of students, you must focus on personalization and meet students where they are. This means the digital channels — the ones your future students are using at any given time — will determine your search strategies.

When it comes to lead generation, the days of purchasing millions of names is over.

As an institution of higher education, you are expected to create meaningful relationships between your admissions teams and prospective students earlier in the process. The notion of sending a search-related email to a high school freshman might scare many of you. It shouldn’t. Students and their families are researching colleges and universities much earlier now. Just look at your web traffic and compare it to the number of names you purchased. They are not nearly the same … and most of institutions still experience high levels of stealth applications.

You need a behavioral intelligence platform that can identify those visitors and deploy resources to help create meaningful relationships. Using marketing automation — powered by artificial intelligence, informed with the history of previous successful search campaigns, focused on current enrollment goals — is the best way to ensure search success.

Finding New Markets

Complicating the effects of the Enrollment Cliff for colleges and universities has been the migration of students throughout the United States. Areas in the Northeast and Midwest are losing prospective students at a higher rate because families are moving west and into the south.

An effective search approach harnesses the power of market trends, data analysis and predictive modeling to identify the zip codes around the country that have students who are more likely to apply and eventually enroll at your institution. Understanding the actual and aspirational geo-markets (and specific segments) you need to target can help you find the pockets of students that will help you reach your enrollment goals.

Predictive Analytics

Use predictive modeling to find new markets.

Spending time and resources on new markets, whether regionally or nationally, always has inherent risks. However, the risks can be mitigated through the use data. An integrated digital marketing plan builds required brand awareness and nudges students through the enrollment process.

Typically, before sending counseling staff into a particular high school for a visit, you measure activity around inquiries and applications from that school. But what if you’ve never been there? What if the school you are interested in is not a local or normal travel territory for you? Digital marketing and the use of social media channels can help you determine where those pockets of potential students are. Allowing your digital assets to begin the relationship with students and their families frees your counseling staff to focus on areas with greater return whether it’s making phone calls, texting, or traveling to that area.

Again, as an enrollment leader, it is important that you have the tools necessary to manage these concepts. Having access to a platform that manages all your digital assets, measures your outreach, and can identify where more prospective students are is important to your success and managing your budget.

Traveling Smart
Travel Feature

Is traveling to high schools and college fairs worth it?

Every digital marketing plan involves the concept of “meeting the student where they are,” which is on social media or in a digital format like your website. But let’s not forget the importance of face-to-face interactions when developing those important relationships. For the past 20 years, a constant question in enrollment offices has been: “Is traveling to high schools and college fairs worth the time and effort?” The answer is “yes” … but only when it is done strategically and with purpose.

We all know where our feeder schools, cities, and counties are located. But what about your secondary, tertiary, and developing territories? As an enrollment leader on your campus, you are always looking for ways to identify where you can find ways to make that connection between your campus and that prospective student. Travel is a great way to accomplish this and support your digital strategies.

Many institutions have reinstated full travel schedules, hired regional recruiters to cover more ground, and have traveling road shows. While travel is not back to normal because things have evolved over the past two to three years, it too needs to be managed as well as your digital strategies.

Measure, Optimize … Measure Again

As we stare up at the face of the Enrollment Cliff, making every interaction you have with a prospective student and their family members meaningful is the most important part of the recruitment process. Students and families today are on a student decision journey. There are more efficient and effective ways to market to them — strategies based on real-time behavior, not post-time, student-reported data.

This is where Capture’s platform becomes the most powerful tool in the higher education enrollment arena. It’s your base camp for climbing the Enrollment Cliff.

When you need better lead generation for your enrollment cycle, having the best data, informed by a prospective student’s behavior, and backed by marketing automation and data science, is essential. It allows you to:

  • Purchase search names easier
  • Identify and develop new markets
  • And focus your travel budget more effectively

Don’t manage four or five different tools for this. Capture’s Behavioral Intelligence Platform is one platform that brings all your digital assets together, integrates them with your CRM, and ensures you and your team will get the job done.

In Part 2 of Capture’s blog series, Climbing Gear: How to Scale the Enrollment Cliff, we will cover innovative strategies for campus visits and online Tours, tips for using dynamic content and digital advertising and much more.

By Christopher Harris Ed.D., Senior Enrollment Strategist, Capture Higher Ed