Higher Education Marketing… Reviewing 206 High School Student “Search” Examples

New 2017 Project: Evaluating Direct Marketing in Student Recruitment

Today begins a series of posts evaluating the direct marketing efforts of 206 colleges and universities in 41 states to entice campus visits and admissions applications from a college-bound high school student. Most of this material was sent between October 18 and December 25 of the senior year. The list will grow as I’m awaiting a last collection of direct contacts between late December and January 20.

The father of our student reports that a much lower quantity of mail was received two years ago by another son with higher test scores than you’ll see below. Might increased competition be responsible for this?

In the last two days I’ve been through a massive amount of material sent to me. The overall analysis so far: the state of direct marketing expertise in higher education student recruitment is, to be kind, mixed. That’s sad. And it may reflect the increased desperation of some schools to find students in an increasingly competitive world. That said… much money is being wasted.

Caveats to start…

This is not a “scientific” study.

  • First, I do not have all the material received by this student. Much of a large quantity received before October was discarded before I received an email telling me about the flood of recruitment solicitations arriving. That email prompted my request to receive everything still on hand.
  • Second, a full evaluation of the direct marketing expertise at student recruitment offices is not possible because these materials do not tell us anything about the recruitment plans at schools that did not contact this student.
  • Third, since organizational structures vary so much we can’t tell if anyone with actual direct marketing credentials was involved in the list purchases that unleashed the flood.
  • And finally, marketing-savvy people might have known that including this person on a list buy was foolish but did so anyway due to faculty or presidential or other internal pressures.

Our student… “Tom”

A little about the person receiving solicitations from 206 schools:

  • Tom took the PSAT in October 2015 and scored 1180.
  • He first took the SAT in May 2016 and scored 1240.
  • He repeated the SAT in October 2016 and scored 1370.
  • His high school average is in the low 90s.
  • He lives in an upper-income zip code in the Buffalo-Rochester area of New York. As you would expect, most students at his high school attend college.
  • He identified himself as Catholic when registering for the exams.
  • Ethnicity is Caucasian.
  • His anticipated college major was Genetics.

Tom, in other words, is a strong but not super high level student with an interest in the sciences from a fairly affluent family whose parents attended college themselves. That’s a pretty good profile to attract student recruitment attention from many schools that might see him as a potential fit. And more than a few others that seem to be taking a “spray and pray” approach.

Notes from the initial sorting of contact materials…

  • Relatively few letters in envelopes were included. (Look for a focused review of this cluster.)
  • Many of the materials received were full-scale view books that at one time would have been reserved to respond to an initial inquiry. (Amazing, to me at least. I hope someone is tracking ROI on this.)
  • Many schools sent many contacts. (Later posts will be more specific as to the quantity leaders.)
  • Selectivity level of the schools varied greatly. The 13 Massachusetts contacts, for instance, included MIT and American International College.
  • As you might expect, most contacts came from New York (31) and Pennsylvania (34).
  • Only two “fast app” packets were received.
  • The largest piece was from Southern Methodist University and appropriately featured “Big” as the largest word on the cover.
  • Students everywhere are very happy. At least that’s the assumption from seeing so many smiling faces. (And some are so happy they jump into the air for the photos.)
  • The “SUNY” brand is valued in different ways by the 8 “State University of New York” schools included if “valued” is measured by how easy it is to see the letters on the pieces received. The research universities are especially keen on giving priority to their individual identities: Stony Brook University, University at Albany, and University at Buffalo.

That’s all for now.

If things move ahead as planned, I’ll do an additional post each week until we run out of things to write about.

  • Look for a comparison of how well the academic profiles of the schools included match with Tom’s academic level. That’s a key factor in assessing how well direct marketing principles are being used here.
  • We’ll also be looking for contacts that speak to Tom’s academic area of interest. That’s a bit of a “needle in the haystack” effort but it is possible: Case Western Reserve University did just that.

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