COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 23, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The colleges and universities that most successfully recruit and enroll students are strategically adopting practices from consumer marketing, according to a report released today by Royall & Company at the National Association for College Admission Counseling's 72nd National Conference. Effective enrollment leaders are using popular culture references, social media platforms, and mobile technology to engage prospective students.
"Shrinking budgets and a flattening in the number of college-age students in many parts of the country make innovation essential for schools to achieve their enrollment goals," said Peter Farrell, senior enrollment management consultant at Royall & Company. "But not all consumer marketing practices work in higher education—and the most successful institutions are using data to determine which techniques will work in the postsecondary space."
Through its research, Royall & Company identified the following four practices for effective recruitment:
Interactive Questionnaires and Pop Culture: Innovative institutions include quick questionnaires in their email communications. Moreover, the schools that sent quizzes with a pop culture slant saw the best results: 26 percent more students opted-in to an interaction with the school. Instead of asking about academic topics, such as intended college majors, universities question students about their favorite films—and then use responses to start a conversation about majors that match students' interests.
Social Media Marketing: Progressive colleges and universities deliver digital advertisements to prospective students using Facebook and Google Ads. These schools target students based on browsing history and deploy their ads to lists of prospective students. Display ads in the Royall & Company study saw a click-through rate four times higher than consumer marketing industry norms.
Text Message Deadline Reminders: Schools on the forefront of enrollment strategy send text messages to remind students of important deadlines. Results indicate that these campaigns can be highly effective: 27 percent of students responded to a text message that asked whether or not they planned to complete an application. And when schools sent a text message reminding students about the deposit deadline, 90 percent of recipients read the message within three minutes of receiving it.
Focused Email Reminders: Many modern colleges and universities use targeted email reminders to nudge students who started—but did not complete—the Common Application. Royall & Company's research shows that prodding students to complete the application works. Students who received the nudges were 63 percent more likely to complete either the Common Application or the school's custom application.
Millsaps College, a small, private school in Mississippi, relies on data and analytics to identify innovative techniques to recruit and enroll a diverse class of students in a challenging enrollment climate.
"We have prioritized mobile-optimization for student interactions, had success nudging students who started the Common Application but need a reminder to finish—and we are experimenting in the digital marketing space to further increase the pool of prospective students," said Rob Alexander, vice president for enrollment & communications at Millsaps College. "We have seen significant results from this approach: Since 2013, we have enrolled more students year over year, increased the mean ACT score of our incoming class—and experienced a 12 percentage point increase in underrepresented student enrollment."
The Royall & Company report also outlines three techniques that the data show do not work for the initial phase of higher education recruitment: gender-specific messages; Spanish-language messages; and institution-specific mobile applications.
Spanish subject lines reduced response rates by an average of 34 percent. In fact, Spanish subject lines did not improve the response rates for any audience, including Spanish-speaking students. The results of a similar study of gender-specific messages also indicate their ineffectiveness in early outreach campaigns. Additionally, Royall & Company research shows that prospective students have low levels of engagement around downloading school-developed apps that provide a dedicated portal for information from the sponsoring school; offering a school app had no effect or a negative effect on response rates.
To identify these best practices of stimulating and sustaining engagement with prospective students, Royall & Company tested a wide range of activities through more than 300 field tests that reached 6.3 million students. The full report is available here.
About Royall & Company Royall & Company, a division of EAB, helps colleges and universities strengthen core revenue streams, achieve enrollment and fundraising goals, and build long-term relationships with students, parents and alumni through innovative, data-enabled marketing services. For more information, visit www.eab.com/royall.