Of the topics I am asked to speak about, how to use data is easily the most popular. There is a dizzying amount of research that could be done and enrollment managers are often overwhelmed by the very idea of focusing energy on research. Each school is different, naturally. But there is no denying that understanding demographic trend projections is among the most useful.
At DNI Consulting, we’ve had an incredible summer/fall/winter and are gearing up for a busy spring and summer. We’ve welcomed many new client schools (and created a page on our website to show them off!), forged partnerships with amazing organizations, hired two data specialists, and expanded our market and survey research services.
As the "heat" of first round admissions is about to settle in many places around the country, this is a key time to prepare to send surveys to families who accept your offer of enrollment, those who decline your offer, and, depending on how deep you want to go, those who dropped out at various other "funnel" points.
Aaaah. The group that you picked, and that picked you! A treasure trove of information awaits when you survey families that are newly enrolled at your school.
- They have (probably) just gone through the admission process at more than just your school, so have front-of-mind the ways you knocked it out of the park and ways other schools managed their process more effectively.
- You picked them, and they picked you, fitting them into the ideal customer persona that you are trying to get more of. What matters to them is, in theory, a "perfect fit" for what you should be focused on.
- They are excited about your school and have a lot of skin in the game in this moment, so they are likely to be more responsive and forthcoming than in subsequent years as “current” parents.
A survey of newly enrolled parents can be simple, asking a couple of key questions such as “why, ultimately, did you choose our school?”, or, you can use a very detailed survey in order to dive in more deeply.
Don’t be afraid to ask about ways you can improve your process, as well. Again, these are friends and fans, and you want to attract more of people like them! So, their constructive advice is very useful.
Many schools will use online surveys for this group, which can be very effective. To uplevel your efforts, offer an opt-in phone call for follow up. Remember that it is hard to capture emotion and story online, so the phone call route generally garners more complete information.
If I can be of any assistance as you develop your surveys or in the interpretation of them, feel free to reach out at any time. I’d be happy to hop on the phone to help!
If you haven't already, it is time to start planning for exit interviews for families graduating or departing your school early. Sometimes exit interviewing is thought of as the ugly task no one wants to do, or has time to do, as the year comes to a close. Admission offices typically have the best of intentions - they will invite each family in to discuss their experience, the event will end with warm fuzzies, and a potential bad-blood marketing problem will have been avoided.
In many parts of the country, admission offices are taking a deep breath, or are just about to take that breath...
It is ever so tempting to stop here. You have enrolled great new families, you've adeptly handled your waitpool, you have gently managed any denials. But there is a huge, HUGE opportunity in front of you: surveying families with varying admission and enrollment decisions.
In my work with enrollment managers, I often hear about the frustrations associated with being part of middle management. The truth is that middle managers across many professional fields face similar struggles: a tremendous amount of responsibility without a lot of control. You are responsible for enrollment, and you carry essential knowledge about both internal and external communities. You may be the only person with one eye on each. But you aren’t the decision maker regarding staffing, programmatic priorities, or scheduling. You certainly don’t want to be in the middle of what can become a complicated landscape of personalities and priorities.
While this conundrum is not unique, the circumstances are specific to your school. However, there is one thing that all schools can do in order to support the difficult position of being in the middle: procure great data.
The combination of both quantitative and qualitative data is powerful and clarifying. Armed with real numbers coupled with qualitative information, you have a much stronger leg to stand on when discussing feedback and recommendations with your leadership team.
You still may not be the decision maker, but when you walk into the room prepared with a well constructed portfolio of data, your chances are much better that you can influence the direction and strategy your school chooses in support of enrollment goals.
To start, consider running a demographic trend projection report for your service area to learn, in broad strokes, what the market conditions may be in the coming years. Couple this with qualitative information and you will be in a much stronger position to make your case for the strategy you want to put in place.
Staying on top of the research that supports enrollment is a vital piece of keeping your strategy sharp and specific. Carving out the time and resources to do this important work, while difficult to do, can only serve your higher level goals. However, having done good research is not quite enough. Now you have to apply it.
Next up in our series about research to support strategic enrollment management efforts: How to find the time?
In my previous post, I named five specific research inputs that are common, though that list is far from exhaustive depending on your research questions. At most schools, it’s simply not feasible to keep up with all of it annually, even with the best intentions.
In my conversations with enrollment managers, we typically agree that robust research should be a priority. Then, I often hear some version of the following:
"I know I should be doing research but I'm unsure what research to do." "I know what research I want to do, but I don't have time." "I know what research I want to do, but I don't know how." "I've done some research, but I don't know how to use it."