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Building the Pipeline for a University? A Case Study in Increasing Enrollment

Aug 13, 2015 2:07:43 PM

When businesses talk about understanding customer choice, they’re usually referring to the purchase decision, but this is just the last choice in a longer decision journey. Understanding all of the choices made throughout the customer journey is vital to growing your business, and developing strategies to impact choices made earlier on can dramatically grow your sales pipeline.

All organizations have customers, and ultimately all business outcomes come down to a customer choice being made. Our friends who are marketers in higher education or who work in admissions offices for these institutions know this fact all too well! Their growth is deeply reliant on understanding how their customer – students – makes the choice of where to enroll.

Through Vennli’s work with a variety of for-profit and nonprofit education institutions, we’ve learned that marketers and admissions officers understand well the journey a potential student goes through before deciding to enroll at a school. They rely on extensive amounts of data and utilize a variety of metrics to evaluate and track performance as a prospective student moves from

  • becoming aware of a program by potentially visiting the program’s website to
  • gaining interest in a select number of programs by joining webinars or requesting information to
  • considering a specific number of schools and submitting applications down to
  • enrolling in the school of their choice.

More and more schools are coming to Vennli with the challenge of increasing enrollment. Despite the robust customer knowledge that exists, there are still valuable insights missing that would enable schools to build more effective strategies to grow enrollment.

Even when our clients have a great depth of knowledge about their prospective student pool, they still need a better understanding of choice. What truly motivates a prospective applicant to CHOOSE to apply or not to apply and a prospective student to CHOOSE to enroll or not to enroll?

Let’s take the case of a for-profit university with a strong healthcare degree program. After working with us to understand how their prospective students make the choice to apply, they successfully increased enrollment from 100 students to 275 students in less than a year!

Despite targeting individuals interested in healthcare, leveraging customer data to make informed decisions, and applying appropriate marketing efforts, our client’s school was consistently under-enrolled at the end of each new enrollment period.

Already having a deep understanding of the prospective student journey, they understood that most students who apply to their programs are qualified for admittance. Therefore, focusing on increasing the number of applicants (as opposed to focusing on converting those applicants to enrolled students) would be the most influential driver for increasing enrollment.

With this in mind, we dove into studying how students who had just applied to the program had made their choice. What drove them to submit an application to our client’s university versus a variety of other universities?

After interviewing and surveying individuals in the same area as our client’s school who were either considering a similar degree, currently attending, or had attended a similar school, we learned some critical information:

  • The Sweet Spot: Vennli’s software enabled the university to understand important differences amongst segments of applicants - based on age, ethnicity, and the type of degree they were seeking. Groups differed by what they perceived as most important or most influential when making the choice to apply.These insights enabled the team to take immediate action and begin targeting messaging specific to each segment based on factors most important to them. For example:
    • For applications between ages 25-34, the program focused on student’s access to quality hands-on experiences and cutting-edge simulation training.
    • For Hispanic candidates, the university focused communication on the easy access to and personal attention from faculty.
    • All segments of candidates found it important that the university be locally and regionally accredited. (Prior to this work, the program assumed that a national accreditation was more important.)
    • All segments also found it important that the program was affordable and that financial aid was available. As a result, the university adjusted strengthened how it messaged these factors accordingly.
  • The Competition: While there are up to 10 schools that potentially compete with this university, our research showed that prospective students most frequently considered only four of these programs.Unfortunately, these four programs were also perceived as performing better on some of the factors most influential to students’ decision to apply. This directed the university to dig deeper into what each of these competing universities offered that was more effective.
    • Our client’s university had the most positive perception among students seeking an associate’s degree between the ages 25-34. Bachelors’ candidates and other age groups had a more positive perception of the competition.
    • Students didn’t have any outright concerns about applying to our client’s university that needed to be addressed. However, unlike the competition, the school wasn’t as effective at talking to students about the factors most important to their decision to apply. As mentioned, this presented an opportunity to improve messaging to differentiate their program from the competition.

Armed with this knowledge, the university’s marketing team moved quickly to better emphasize what mattered most to students and create tailored messages to targeted segments of potential students. They updated their website and other marketing material with student-friendly language that emphasized information that was most relevant to the students’ application decision (i.e. financial aid, time with faculty, and hands-on learning experiences).

In a short timeframe, these efforts resulted in fully maximized enrollment in the next three enrollment periods! By understanding how their “customers�? made decisions earlier on in their enrollment journey, the university was able to focus strategic tactics where they’d make the greatest impact, ultimately growing enrollment and revenue.

Topics: General

Mary Claire Mandeville
Written by Mary Claire Mandeville

Director, Account Management

Mary Claire is driven to help individuals and organizations reach their full potential. In between receiving her BBA and MBA from the University of Notre Dame, this Oklahoma native spent a couple years in between working in Guatemala and Nicaragua for a social enterprise organization. Prior to joining Vennli, Mary Claire was VP of Business Development at a company in the solar industry. At Vennli, she focuses on developing the Chicago and Notre Dame markets.

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