Student recruitment… the “search for greener grass” strategy

Student Recruitment: how green is the grass in your yard?

Sometimes you can’t escape reading higher education RFPs for marketing services. And those RFPs provide interesting insight into the marketing challenges faced in both the public and private sectors and what people would like to do to meet them.

In the last 30 days I’ve read RFPs from a selective (but not Ivy League) private university and a large public university that were both planning to hire a marketing firm for assistance in meeting enrollment goals for traditional, residential students. Their problem: historically strong market areas were not producing as many students now as in the past. Their quest: where is the grass greener?

The goal: new students with more money

These schools did not want just any academically qualified students. The private university emphasized students who could afford to pay all or most of the sticker price costs. The public university wanted out-of-state students who would pay higher tuition levels.

And so with their traditional cultivation areas no longer producing the required crop, each place was about to embark on a search for greener pastures. Expand brand recognition and strength. Generate new inquiries. Enroll students from far away. Make more money.

5 Serious “Greener Grass” Problems

How many problems can we list with this “greener grass” strategy? Here are five that immediately come to mind:

  • Many schools have the same idea. Will California export enough students to meet enrollment goals everywhere else, and especially in the Northeast?
  • Is the budget large enough to support the imaginations at work here? More than one masterfully crafted brand campaign has floundered because the budget would not sustain the long-term effort needed to successfully cultivate brand strength in new markets.
  • Is a focus on “full pay” students realistic? Whatever the proverbial “ability to pay,” fewer families are willing to spend on high tuition for anything less than schools with top-tier reputations.
  • Most students go less than 100 miles from home for higher education.
  • Searching for greener grass might mean neglecting the home territory and leaving that open to traditional, near-by competitors.

5 steps for a “greener grass” student recruitment strategy

What elments of a “new” student recruitment enrollment strategy might work? Consider these:

  • First, make sure that the yield from your primary enrollment territory is as high as possible. Strengthen what you can to increase yield without additional tuition discounting.
  • Do a “pull power” analysis for your current academic majors. Calculate the percent of inquiries that apply and enroll for each major. With some exceptions (some majors are less likely to draw students from far away), programs with the highest “pull power” percents are the best bets for enrollment from new market areas.
  • Make sure the high “pull power” programs have really strong website information easily available for students who visit to learn more about them.
  • Starting in the high school sophomore year, conduct very focused searches for “greener grass” students around these strong majors, assuming that these are indeed the ones with open space for new students. The purpose of the search? Get students to visit the website pages for these programs. Make it easy to inquire from the academic pages. You’re more likely to get students to visit your website than to become an inquiry directly from your search contact. (Keep the inquiry form simple like this one at Creighton.)
  • Forget “full pay” and go for “lower than our usual tuition discount” scholarship students. Aim to improve the bottom line without creating an unrealistic financial barrier.

One absolutely essential point

Get those academic website pages in top-order for future students before you do anything else. That’s likely to help right in your own backyard before you even start on your Lewis and Clark expedition for new territories.

That’s all for now 

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