Scannell & Kurz Enrollment Management Blog

While Scannell & Kurz continues to provide the expert consulting and high level of service by which we define ourselves, as a division of Ruffalo Noel Levitz we also offer the benefits of our collaboration with a larger team of talented consultants.

Part of that collaboration involves our enrollment blog. Each week on this site, we have posted relevant research, insights, and recommendations to help you make the most of your strategies. We will now post to the Ruffalo Noel Levitz blog along with a good number of our colleagues—increasing the frequency and diversity of posts you’ll find on all manner of topics.

The Ruffalo Noel Levitz blog covers the key topics we have addressed: enrollment management, student retention, student recruitment, financial aid, and marketing. We are looking forward to not only continuing to share our insights with you, but to connect you with the additional strategies and recommendations of our new colleagues.

There’s also an option to subscribe for synopses of recent blog posts. You will continue to find, and be able to search, our archived blog posts here on this site.

We invite you to explore this resource—and to let us know if you’re looking for specific advice.

enrollment strategies

Content Marketing for Higher Education - Monday Musings
Today we would like to highlight a blog post written by Michael Lofstead that appeared on the Noel-Levitz website in February. Michael offers 15 years of experience in higher education marketing and communications. In this post, we will examine some “guerrilla” approaches you can use to create an effective e-brochure and share some tips on finding good content that your campus already has available. Before we start, note that these tips are appropriate for campuses where resources to assemble high quality, professionally-produced e-brochures are not readily available. Of course, it’s great to have the capability to have professionally produced e-brochures, and for those who do have such access, I suggest you count yourselves fortunate…Read more

Time To Put the Pedal To the Metal on Yield Activities - Monday Musings
March 1st is a week away. Most admissions offices are still processing applications and sending notices to newly admitted students. But they also know it’s time to put the pedal to the metal on yield activities if they haven’t already started. What makes yield activities especially urgent this year is the fact that so many schools are reporting increases in applications. WICHE projects an increase in public high school graduates of less than 1% from 2014 to 2015. So, unless there’s a substantial increase in the college-going rate, yields can be expected to drop for next fall. So, what does your yield plan look like? Here are a few suggestions, if you’re not already doing them: Yield events On-campus Accepted Student Days – Make…Read more

What I Look for in a College, by Joey Loffredo - Monday Musings
[Note: Joey Loffredo is a high school junior serving as an intern this fall in the S&K offices.] The college search is a time of great uncertainty in a high school student’s life. Where will I be in two years? Can I get in where I want to go? Did I do enough in high school? The uncertainty, however, is on both sides of the table, as recruitment and enrollment officers also have a great deal of uncertainty. What do students truly look for? What makes our institution more attractive than our competitors? As a junior, I am currently a prime target of admissions representatives from around the country and as a current intern at Scannell & Kurz, I have been asked to share my perspective on the college search process. I will do this by listing…Read more

The Media & Student Debt - Monday Musings
This summer, a study of media coverage of student debt was released by Hamilton Place Strategies. The findings should not come as a surprise to any enrollment management professional. In 2012, the average amount of student loan debt for college graduates was under $30,000. The average debt reported in anecdotal news stories is over $85,000. Simply put, the study confirmed what we already knew: reporters often highlight extreme cases in their stories. While it is difficult to know the exact impact of these stories, at least in part because of this type of coverage, students and their parents are thinking more about the long term impact of student loan debt. Unfortunately, in many cases they are likely thinking about a debt level well…Read more

Admissions Web Design: Keeping Up With Mobile Users - Monday Musings
We have known for some time that responsive web design, design that seeks to optimize the viewing experience for users, was going to be particularly important for college sites as more and more students and parents began to access the web on mobile devices. Most agree that having a site optimized for mobile viewing has been necessary for some time, but the most recent Noel-Levitz E-Expectations Report leaves no room for doubt. Among respondents to the most recent survey, 90% of high school seniors had access to a mobile device, and 71% of seniors have looked at a college site on a mobile device. While the study also found that more than 85% of seniors and parents prefer to view college sites on a desktop computer, this does not diminish the…Read more

Sticker Price in a Net Price Calculator World - Monday Musings
As a former financial aid professional I conducted dozens of financial aid nights at local high schools to assist families in completing the FAFSA. I wish I had a nickel for each time I uttered the phrase “don’t rule out a college based on cost alone. You would be surprised at how affordable a private college may be.” One would think that the opportunity to find out an estimated net price, now that colleges and universities are beginning the fourth year of the required net price calculator (NPC), would be enough to cause students and families to do a little more homework before ruling out a school based on cost. Maybe it’s lack of consistency – the fact that there are numerous types of NPCs may turn people off. Some institutions using…Read more

Students’ Perceptions of Financial Aid: A Follow Up - Monday Musings
In June, we had a post in this blog that talked about a RuffaloCODY/Scannell & Kurz survey that found that many rising high school seniors relied heavily on their school counselors for information on college financial aid. When students were asked where they had gotten information on financial aid, only college websites (with 40% of students citing them as a source) ranked higher than high school counselors (33%) as a source of information. We conducted a follow-up to this survey in late spring, reaching out to 850 of these same seniors who had agreed to be contacted again at the end of their college search process. Of all of the findings, perhaps the most surprising was the change in responses to the question of the importance students assigned…Read more

Gamification in Higher Education - Monday Musings
[Note: we occasionally ask friends and colleagues to act as guest bloggers. This post is provided by Julia Kurz, Associate Account Manager at Cognitive Marketing Inc.] The word “gamification” has been thrown around a lot lately in the world of higher education. Originally used in the marketing sector, gamification’s popularity stems from its ability to sell a product or brand more effectively by using metagames (short, playful experiences) to interact with customers on a more engaging level. Educators have already begun using gamification principles in the classroom, encouraging student academic success. For example, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts has implemented gamification principles in the form…Read more

Managing Melt - Monday Musings
Whether or not your institution met its freshman enrollment goals by May 1, the challenge is on to minimize the “summer melt.” There will always be students who change their enrollment plans for a variety of reasons, some the institution can influence while others it cannot. There is little to be done about matters of personal choice and circumstance, such as family needs, medical emergencies, sudden interest in a field of study you don’t offer, etc. However, carefully managing students’ expectations and actively engaging them early can combat pressures like: being admitted off a wait-list at another institution, coming up with funds to pay the bill, and plain old cold feet. Meaningful connections Ensuring students form meaningful…Read more

Distance From Home - Monday Musings
Distance from home. It’s an important part of the college decision-making process for many families. I was reminded of the importance recently when dear friends were visiting campuses with their second oldest. Her older brother attended a college about 7 hours from home. Their third, much younger child named Colin, missed his brother in a big way while he was away at college. When Colin accompanied his sister and family on the college visit circuit, he was worried his sister would also choose a college far from home. He was known to regularly remark after a visit: “Too far, Meg, pick another.” It remains a secret whether or not Meg’s younger brother influenced her college choice, however, she did attend a college less than an hour away. Distance…Read more

College Counselors & Financial Aid - Monday Musings
A recent survey conducted by RuffaloCODY found that many rising high school seniors relied heavily on their school counselors for information on college financial aid. When students were asked where they had gotten information on financial aid, only college websites (with 40% of students citing them as a source) ranked higher than high school counselors (33%) as a source of information. We often talk about how, as enrollment managers, we no longer control the student recruitment conversation. This realization leads to a number of conclusions about the persistence of paper and email communications, the importance of the college’s website, and the roles of other key influencers. As you put together your recruitment plan for fall 2015, be…Read more

Price is only an issue when educational debt is greater than earnings potential. - Monday Musings
At the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute in early January, S&K's Jim Scannell and Bob Sevier (Sr. VP, Strategy - Stamats) heard a number of presidents mention a need for a greater understanding of not only their ability to set their price, but also the factors that should be considered when setting their price. In response, Bob and Jim decided to write a series of short blog posts on tuition pricing and related topics. Their goal - “to provide a bit more clarity on key issues related to pricing, so college and university leaders can have more confidence as they set their pricing strategy.” This series of observations is appearing here as well on the Stamats website: Price is only an issue when educational…Read more

Reading the Tea Leaves - Monday Musings
This is the annual hand wringing season. Admissions, financial aid, and enrollment leadership have (or will have shortly) made the offer of admissions to the class of 2018 applicants and now it is time to wait, watch, and worry whether enough or too many of the chosen ones will enroll. What are the most helpful metrics right now for trying to estimate how many will eventually make that decision to enroll? Certainly, understanding whether the profile of the admit pool mirrors that of last year, or is different, is a good place to start. Is it bigger or smaller? Are the need distribution and quality profile comparable or different in significant ways? Has the geographic profile changed? Does the admit pool show a higher proportion of out-of-state…Read more

Consider, but don’t get distracted, by competitor pricing - Monday Musings
At the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute in early January, S&K's Jim Scannell and Bob Sevier (Sr. VP, Strategy - Stamats) heard a number of presidents mention a need for a greater understanding of not only their ability to set their price, but also the factors that should be considered when setting their price. In response, Bob and Jim decided to write a series of short blog posts on tuition pricing and related topics. Their goal - “to provide a bit more clarity on key issues related to pricing, so college and university leaders can have more confidence as they set their pricing strategy.” These observations will appear here over the next several weeks, as well on the Stamats website: Consider, but…Read more

The Value of a Differentiated Curriculum - Monday Musings
At the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute in early January, S&K's Jim Scannell and Bob Sevier (Sr. VP, Strategy - Stamats) heard a number of presidents mention a need for a greater understanding of not only their ability to set their price, but also the factors that should be considered when setting their price. In response, Bob and Jim decided to write a series of short blog posts on tuition pricing and related topics. Their goal - “to provide a bit more clarity on key issues related to pricing, so college and university leaders can have more confidence as they set their pricing strategy.” These observations will appear here over the next several weeks, as well on the Stamats website: The Value of…Read more

Determining Your Value Proposition - Monday Musings
At the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute in early January, S&K's Jim Scannell and Bob Sevier (Sr. VP, Strategy - Stamats) heard a number of presidents mention a need for a greater understanding of not only their ability to set their price, but also the factors that should be considered when setting their price. In response, Bob and Jim decided to write a series of short blog posts on tuition pricing and related topics. Their goal - “to provide a bit more clarity on key issues related to pricing, so college and university leaders can have more confidence as they set their pricing strategy.” These observations will appear here over the next several weeks, as well on the Stamats website: Determining…Read more

Don't Set Price Based on What Is Needed to Cover Expenses & Balance the Budget - Monday Musings
At the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute in early January, S&K's Jim Scannell and Bob Sevier (Sr. VP, Strategy - Stamats) heard a number of presidents mention a need for a greater understanding of not only their ability to set their price, but also the factors that should be considered when setting their price. In response, Bob and Jim decided to write a series of short blog posts on tuition pricing and related topics. Their goal - “to provide a bit more clarity on key issues related to pricing, so college and university leaders can have more confidence as they set their pricing strategy.” These observations will appear here over the next several weeks, as well on the Stamats website: Don't Set Price…Read more

It’s Not Just About the Money (But It Will Be If You Let It), Part 2 - Monday Musings
[Note: This week’s post is the conclusion to Kathy Kurz’ entry from last week, talking about how to make the case for your institution’s value proposition.] In addition to knowing yourself and knowing your graduates: Third, know your competition. How do they talk about their programs? Can you provide compelling evidence that the attributes of your programs that are distinctive compared to your competition add value for your graduates? Previous S&K posts have highlighted the importance of collecting data from the National Student Clearinghouse on where admits who did not enroll at your institution ultimately matriculated.Use this information to determine if there are specific academic majors where you “lose” to a particular institution…Read more

The Net Price Calculator: The Verdict Is In - Monday Musings
We are approaching the second anniversary of the deadline requiring colleges and universities to publish an online tool – a net price calculator (NPC) – that prospective students and families can use to estimate their total cost for attending the institution. Some schools are still trying to decide how useful their NPC is. Previous posts to Monday Musings have suggested comparing your institution’s NPC results to those of your competitors and paying attention to the aptness of your NPC for your target student/parent audience. More recently, schools are discovering the importance of harvesting the results of their NPC to improve their assessment of students’ interest in the institution and their probability of enrollment. Student use…Read more

College Mergers - Monday Musings
At the end of July, Montreat College (Montreat, NC) and Point University (West Point, GA) announced plans to merge. The headline caught my eye for two reasons: 1) The former president of Montreat graduated from the same high school I did, and 2), I have been thinking and talking frequently about college mergers during the last couple of years. My hypothesis is that more mergers are inevitable. Price escalation resulting in public and political pressure, and changing demographics resulting in changes in demand, are two major forces that will cause institutions like Montreat and Point University to look first at collaboration, and eventually at merging, in order to cut costs and stay viable. For many small, medium and non-selective colleges and…Read more

Financial Aid vs. Marketing: a False Dichotomy - Monday Musings
If you’re an old hand in enrollment, I’m sure you’ve been there – you’ve just finished a presentation to the board of trustees on the latest enrollment results. You’ve presented data on applications, deposits, academic quality, diversity, etc., and led a discussion of progress toward your new student enrollment targets for the fall. As you finish up, you get a question from a supportive, well-meaning alum who’s had a very successful career in business. She’s been on the board for a number of years and maybe she’s recently seen the financial aid budget rise incrementally. So she asks some variation on the question: “Couldn’t we get a better return on our investment by taking some of the money we spend on financial aid and…Read more

When Bigger May Not Be Better - Monday Musings
Do you spend a lot of time thinking about ways to increase your applicant pool? Be sure you’re considering the consequences. Admissions statistics from the Integrated Postsecondary Educations Data System (IPEDS) show that schools that experienced a decrease in applications from 2011 to 2012 had mixed results in terms of changes in yield. On the other hand, institutions that increased applications were three times more likely to see a decline in yield than an increase in yield. In addition, if you factor in all of the added expenses associated with a larger applicant pool, then more may not really be better. The IPEDS data are shown below, based on 775 public and private four-year institutions with 1,000 or more enrolled undergraduates and…Read more

Standing Out from the Crowd (Pt 1): Selling the Visit - Monday Musings
Recently while visiting my in-laws, including my nephew who’s a rising high school senior, I asked how the college search was going. Sighs all around. They knew they should be visiting campuses, but couldn’t get him interested in forming much of a list to get started. (It might have something to do with the graduation party circuit being in full swing.) They had been on a few college search sites and were gathering word-of-mouth recommendations, but were having trouble deciding where to commit time away from work and vacation for campus visits. They had been to visit one local campus, and if they hadn’t exactly drunk the Kool Aid, they had at least sniffed it. The school seemed like it could potentially be a good fit (another reason he…Read more

Dashing Expectations - Monday Musings
Earlier this summer my grandson tried out for the U8 all star, travel baseball team.There were more than 25 hopefuls for 12 spots. I was an anxious grandparent having been his coach these last 4 years through T-ball and Rookie Leagues. He was fortunate enough to be chosen, but there was significant fallout from parents about the perceived fairness (or lack thereof) of the process. So much so that the coach confided he would not take this assignment ever again. I was surprised by the degree of discord and discontent from the parents whose kids were not chosen and wondered, why the vitriol? I think the answer is that we have created this condition with the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. For example, in T-ball and Rookie it is customary…Read more

Does Sticker Price Still Matter? - Monday Musings
The answer is YES! Last fall Gallup conducted a survey during its nightly poll of Americans asking parents of 5th through 12th graders whether they will restrict colleges to which their children can apply based on tuition. It would be a safe assumption that many, if not most, of those interviewed would not have been through a full aid application and awarding process. So it’s likely that it was a fairly uninformed audience regarding how to pay for college. The extensive range in age was also problematic as many would not yet have been in a position to think much about college. Nonetheless, based on these responses, sticker price clearly does still matter. And evidently it is most influential at the very beginning of the admissions stream…Read more

The Mobile Campus Website - Monday Musings
How mobile-friendly is your campus website? With increasing numbers of prospective students and their families using mobile devices to access college sites, it’s more important than ever that your site makes it easy for them to do so. Several years ago, there was a move toward the development of dedicated apps for smartphones that allowed access to the information students were most interested in seeing. Then, some colleges began creating separate mobile sites, making it necessary to maintain content on two or even more platforms, as notebook computers and tablets also came into use. Most recently, responsive design, which adapts the website layout to the device it’s being viewed on, has become the preferred solution to the rapid proliferation…Read more

Relationship Marketing: Pointers from Another Industry - Monday Musings
I just experienced the ultimate in relationship marketing and it wasn’t in higher education. My daughter is getting married next February, and we were looking for a photographer. We did a web search and found a photographer whose images on her web page showed the style of photography my daughter was looking for, so we scheduled a meeting. With no sales pitch at all, this woman sold us through stories. First she asked for my daughter’s story – how did she meet her fiancé? What kind of wedding experience did they want? Basically, she took the time to get to know my daughter. She even got me telling stories about my first encounter with the fiancé! (Note: she engaged the parent with the checkbook! Like higher education, wedding purchases…Read more

Relationship Marketing: Pointers from Another Industry - Page Two
(Continued from page one.) Finally, through these stories, we got a sense of who she is as a person. She was able to make connections with my daughter. She talked about her messy car – my daughter’s car is a disaster area too. She talked about how much she loves a specific type of pen. Again, my daughter could relate. Weddings are emotional times, and being photographed is an uncomfortable experience for most people. Consequently, you want someone you will be comfortable with. Someone you trust to support you. Someone who will partner with you to make the painful experience of being photographed fun. Doesn’t this sound exactly like wanting a good “fit” for your college experience? Granted, in higher education the fit needs to be with…Read more

Speaking With One Voice: A Chorus, Not Chaos - Monday Musings
Following a meeting with a group of campus administrators a while ago, I pulled several business cards from my suit coat pocket. I found I had been given three completely different cards from staff members representing this one campus – three different fonts, three different color schemes, three different logos. What was interesting was that several senior staff members from the campus had said they felt the institution was suffering from an identity crisis. My collection of business cards certainly supported that! These administrators complained that their various audiences viewed the institution differently. People in the local area knew it as one place, with a view that was heavily influenced by the past and what the institution might…Read more

The Chronicle's "Too Much ‘Merit Aid' Requires No Merit" - Monday Musings
While Kevin Carey’s commentary in the 2/18/13 CHE is absolutely correct that colleges and universities are awarding “merit aid” to average and even marginal students from affluent families in their admit pools who could easily pay the full bill, that is only half the story. Carey doesn’t say why these institutions would employ such a strategy. It is simple: They need to diversify their student bodies socio-economically with an increase of “rich” kids whose parents will pay close to the full freight in order to balance out the disproportionate volume of needy students who require significant institutional aid even with government support. For example, without these “rich” kids, who after their merit awards are generating 75 cents…Read more

Financial Aid Strategies You Can Explain: Where do you draw the line? - Monday Musings
In estimating enrollment behavior there are variables that are typically significant, such as financial need, total grant, quality measures, intended major, distance from campus, etc. Although the set of variables and their magnitudes are specific to each institution, there are some indicators that are usually more predictive than others. In addition, students that help further an institution’s mission and goals, such as increasing quality or diversity, tend to be at a premium in the pool and often are candidates for additional institutional aid. Families typically understand that this is the case. They may not like it, but they understand it. Explaining that different institutions have different profiles, goals and resources as the reason…Read more

Financial Aid Website Best Practices - Monday Musings
Financial aid websites are by necessity content heavy, and let’s face it, a bit dry. The best sites are clear, concise, and pay particular attention to the key issues that prospective students and families consider, such as: How much does the university cost? What financial aid resources are available to help cover the cost to make it affordable? How and when do I apply for financial aid? The following are key elements of best practice websites, with examples. Tuition and other costs should be portrayed in a clear, concise format and be front and center, easy to find. New and current students have very different concerns and processes, and so need separate paths. Clearly…Read more

Stealth ISIRs - Monday Musings
Are you on the lookout for stealth ISIRs? Now that the 2013-2014 FAFSA is available, the aid office should be downloading Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) files. Most of these records will match up with students already in your admissions database. Some won’t match because of errors in the spelling of names, dates of birth, or social security numbers. These mismatches need to be cleaned up in a timely manner so that students can be considered for aid – they won’t know that their ISIRs have been rejected, and will be waiting for an aid letter. Being proactive will ensure that these students receive timely aid offers. Some mismatches will be students that simply aren’t in the system. These students listed your institution’s…Read more

Reading Applications vs. Sales - Monday Musings
The fact is that most colleges and universities today are not in the selection business, accepting 80% (or more) of completed applications. Most higher education institutions should be focused on sales, but that is not how many schools chose to spend their time and energy. Here are a few suggestions. Are your admission counselors buried under a mountain of applications? Sounds like a good problem to have, but if your sales force is busy handling applications, how much time are they spending selling? Not to diminish from the time and care students put into preparing their applications, but if students are clearly admissible based on quantitative measures like GPA and SAT, automatically admitting them and reserving more thorough reviews for borderline…Read more

It's Not All About Financial Aid - Monday Musings
Although helping institutions with financial aid strategies may be why we are most often hired, we typically find that an institution’s enrollment success is seldom just about financial aid - making the case for value, building relationships, and providing excellent service are also key in meeting enrollment goals. The best aid strategy will not be effective in growing enrollments, for example, if there is not sufficient demand to generate a critical number of admitted students. In addition, at some institutions, admitted students are simply not very sensitive to increases in grants. In this case increasing grants would likely result in minimal enrollment growth and come at the expense of net tuition revenue. Even if students are responsive…Read more

Authenticity Check - Monday Musings
The buzz word in recruitment over the last couple of years has been authenticity. Certainly it makes logical sense to ensure that prospective students get an accurate picture of your institution so that the fit will be right, and you will attract students that you are more likely to retain. What I didn’t realize until recently, however, was the amount of passionate loyalty that such an approach can elicit. Today’s students are much more cynical than those applying for college even five years ago. They are bombarded from birth with advertisements and hyperbole, and learn to take everything with a grain (or more) of salt. This growing cynicism is particularly marked in the law school market as a result of recent exposés regarding such issues…Read more

Meet the Parents - Monday Musings
What do parents most want to know during their sons’ and daughters’ search for the right college? And how do they want to get the information? There was a time when many parents’ interests boiled down to questions like: “What will my child learn?” “Will they be safe?” “Will they be happy?” But now that concerns about the job market for new college graduates have seemingly overridden all others, the question “Will they be able to get a job?” has risen to the top of the list. So how are colleges doing in providing answers to this question? Here are a few suggestions for responding to this need: Easy-to-find information on institutional costs – tuition, fees, room and board Easy-to-find information on the affordability…Read more

National Student Clearinghouse - Monday Musings
If you are already using the National Student Clearinghouse’s (NSC) many services, you can stop reading this blog now. However, I continue to be surprised by the number of institutions that are not taking advantage of this valuable source of information. First, a brief primer about the NSC: They were originally founded in 1993 to serve as a clearinghouse for verifying enrollment, initially primarily for loan deferment purposes – a function that previously was handled by individual registrar’s offices. Since that time, they have expanded to offering many other services including degree verification, the StudentTracker service which is discussed more below, electronic transcript exchange, and now student self-service options. Per the NSC…Read more

Marketing Your Job & Grad School Placement Rates - Monday Musings
My colleague Don Gray wrote a great blog a few weeks ago about the importance of marketing the value of your institution’s degree. He discussed some of the key metrics necessary in telling the story in a compelling way. Part and parcel to the need for developing those key metrics, among them job/graduate school placement rates and average starting salary by academic programs, is the imperative that the data presented be representative and reliable. Over the years our consulting team has visited hundreds of campuses, and an area where we often find a glaring weakness is with an institution’s survey of a recent graduating class. Here is what we often find: A low response rate to the survey. Unless the response rate is at least 60%, follow…Read more

The Shopping Sheet - Monday Musings
I was just looking at the final version of the Department of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “Shopping Sheet” and wondering how many of our clients are planning to use it. My biggest concern with it is that the “what you will pay” section includes total cost of attendance minus gift aid, rather than direct costs minus gift aid. When I was a financial aid director, families found the whole concept of indirect costs versus direct costs very confusing, so I finally listed only direct costs (tuition, room, board, and mandatory fees) at the top of the award letter, with an estimate in a later paragraph of the other costs they would have for books, transportation, personal expenses, etc. That solved the problem, but doing…Read more

Marketing the Value of Your Degrees - Monday Musings
By now we’ve all heard stories and read articles on how college costs and subsequently student loans are rising so swiftly they could soon balloon out of control. The distribution of new freshmen may be shifting away from four year institutions toward two year institutions, but even so prospective students are still enrolling in college. These students are trusting the commonly held belief that earning a college degree remains one of the best ways to improve their economic situation. The key for colleges then is to make sure that this trust is well placed. Marketing your institution’s broad selection of amenities e.g., climbing walls, 60 inch plasma TVs, etc., may help convince students they’ll have a good time while in school, but these…Read more

College Affordability & the Net Price Calculator - Monday Musings
You are probably thinking “oh no, not another article/blog about net price calculators!!” I know, I know, I pretty much feel the same way. However, Dr. Don Heller’s recent testimony before Congress on the topic of college affordability resonated with me for a number of reasons. A link to his brief yet thoughtful testimony is provided here. Dr. Heller points out that sticker price, not net price, is the driving factor in the perception of college costs for students from poorer families, as well as for many first generation students. He goes on to talk about the importance of institutions providing accurate, easily accessible information about financial aid eligibility. Here is where the net price calculator comes in. I recently visited…Read more

Financial Aid Website Tips - Monday Musings
Whenever we work with a college or university, we spend some time getting to know the institution through its website. As a result, we have seen a lot of financial aid websites, and would like to offer a few “dos and don’ts” based on those reviews. Do make it easy to get to information about your sticker price. Tuition, fees, room, and board costs are one of the things students most want to see when they go to your website—so don’t bury your costs. At the same time, however, consider providing a link on that page to your net price calculator—particularly if your calculator does a good job of providing accurate estimates based not only on need but on other factors considered in your packaging policies. Also, remember to tell them…Read more

College Towns & Alumni Concentration - Monday Musings
The New York Times recently published a list of the “Cities with the Most College-Educated Residents” produced by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. The Washington, D.C./Arlington-Alexandria, VA area tops the list with 46.8% percent of residents holding college degrees in 2010. Here are the top 10: As the Times article points out, college graduates tend to be attracted to places that have lots of other college graduates. The Washington Monthly College Guide blog reported this week on a novel effort by one city to attract more college graduates. Niagara Falls, NY announced that the city would pay two years worth of student loan debt for any college graduate who would relocate to the city. The Buffalo/Niagara Falls area ranks 59th…Read more

Tuition Set Aside Funds - Monday Musings
It is no secret that state budget cuts have wreaked havoc at many land grant colleges and universities across the country. There have been double digit tuition increases for multiple years running in a number of states. The combination of state budget cuts and increasing tuition prompted one writer to remark that many public institutions have gone from being state supported to state assisted to state located. This chart from The College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2011 tells quite a story. Tuition costs spike when state appropriations decrease: Source: Trends in College Pricing.© 2011 The College Citing both budget and philosophical reasons, some state governors and legislators are calling for reduction…Read more

Increasing Application Completion Rates - Monday Musings
The approach of summer in college admissions offices usually brings a shift of attention from tracking deposits to planning for the next recruitment cycle. In addition to questions about how to increase applications, quality, diversity, etc., it may also be worthwhile to look at application completion rates and consider how to improve them. In their analysis of a survey of high school students conducted last year, RuffaloCODY reported that nearly half (48%) of high school seniors failed to complete at least one college application. Two-thirds of these students said the reason was that, after beginning the application, they decided that the school wasn’t a “good fit” for them. RuffaloCODY recommended that institutions say more in their…Read more

Does $1 trillion in student loans mean the sky is falling? - Monday Musings
I am always amused when the press goes viral over a piece of information that is simply one point along a trend line that has been in place for many years. Lately there has been much in the press about the fact that student loan debt has reached $1 trillion. The fact is that student loan debt has been growing at just about the same pace since 2004-05. This trend can be clearly seen in The Atlantic chart of the day for August 18, 2011 here. The growth is a function of the confluence of a number of factors. First, average debt levels of graduates from four-year schools have grown, but it is important to note that, even with that growth, the average debt among seniors graduating in 2010 was $25,250 per the white paper Student Debt and the Class…Read more

Capturing Your Stories - Monday Musings
Although our blogs clearly show that we are biased in favor of data, we also know how critical stories are to marketing, recruiting, retention, and alumni relations. Yet most institutions aren’t very deliberate about capturing and sharing fresh stories. As you prepare for summer training for recruiters and orientation leaders, here are some strategies we have seen work for collecting compelling anecdotes: Run a contest. Saint Bonaventure recently asked incoming students to submit a short video about why they chose SBU. Not only was it a way to keep new students engaged, but now they have posted the top contenders on YouTube. You could do the same thing with current students, with faculty, with alumni, etc. Stay in touch with current students…Read more

Benchmarking Dos & Don’ts - Monday Musings
Higher education institutions love to benchmark with other institutions on a variety of factors such as faculty salaries, endowment per student, research dollars garnered, tuition charges, etc. But often institutions don’t conduct the type of benchmarking that we think is most important. Here is our top list of enrollment management benchmarking “dos” and one “don’t”: When attempting to gain an understanding of your market position through benchmarking, DO benchmark with competitors, rather than peers or aspirants. DON’T just compare yourself to competitors on sticker price—compare discount rates; “prestige measures” like test scores, U.S. News rank, and accept rates; and measures of socio-economic and ethnic diversity,…Read more

Limits of Modeling - Monday Musings
When I was part of an admissions office, every day in April at 10:00 AM, you could have mistaken the tension and excitement in the office for an episode of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, brought on by the arrival of the mail bin. Enrollment deposits that arrived via phone were harkened by the ringing of a bell, and we each took guesses at what the final tally for the day would be once the web payments were counted. If we had a particularly good day, the news traveled like wildfire across campus. Wherever I went, on campus or off, if I ran into someone I knew, I would invariably be asked how the numbers looked. Anticipation was in the air, even with sophisticated data tracking and aid strategies developed through predictive modeling in…Read more

Measuring, Moving, & Markets - Monday Musings
Last week was office moving day for a few folks at S&K. We are hiring another research analyst, the second time in three years that the research team has expanded in order keep up with the demand for our core services, which require significant data analysis and predictive modeling. The move into “new territory” for some S&K staffers made me think of what should happen when an admissions office decides to expand into new markets/geographic territories. In preparation for our office move, there was measuring, measuring, and more measuring, all in an effort to make the move very efficient once the professional movers arrived to begin the heavy lifting. There was none of the “how does this look here?” or “do you think this will fit there?”…Read more

Thoughts on Reading the 2011 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study Report - Monday Musings
The recently released NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study for 2011 starts off with the following quote: "Many four‐year private nonprofit (independent) colleges and universities use tuition discounting strategies in order to increase their undergraduate enrollments. Unfortunately, data from the 2011 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study (TDS) suggests that this strategy is no longer working effectively at a large number of colleges and universities." From our perspective, this view of the data gathered in the study is overly simplistic, and points out limitations in the analysis. For many institutions across the country, discount rates have increased over the last few years NOT because those institutions have introduced more generous packaging policies…Read more

Less Like a Funnel, More Like a Stream - Monday Musings
We’ve taken to thinking of college admissions as less like a funnel and more like a stream, as students enter the admissions process at various points in the flow and the admissions staff is simultaneously communicating with prospective freshmen, transfers, athletes, musicians, sophomores, juniors, seniors, parents, etc. To manage this increasing complexity, consider giving responsibility for one of these “micro-streams” to each recruiter, just as you would assign them geographic territories for recruitment. Then, for each micro-stream: Use several years of data to set a target for the coming year. Create a mini-recruitment plan, complete with timelines and action steps. Identify the funding and resources necessary to achieve the…Read more

Responding to Appeals - Monday Musings
Let’s make a deal. Now that financial aid packages are out the door, appeal season has begun. Families have become conditioned to ask for more aid, fueled by a sense that there might be room to negotiate, as if selecting a college is like buying a car. Ideally, your institution’s awarding policies are designed so there is confidence that enrollment goals will be met, and no increase in gift aid is required for appeals that do not fall under the special circumstance/professional judgment umbrella. However, since most of the enrollment deposits won’t start arriving until about a week before May 1, there can be a temptation to negotiate, particularly if there is a smaller admit pool, awards have been reduced from the previous year, or early…Read more

Future Thinking in Higher Education (Part 2)
Yesterday we talked about three mega-trends that could be game changes for higher education and enrollment management: Transparency, credentialing, and virtualization. (You can read yesterday's blog post here.) Two other emerging trends that could rock our world are:  Speed: Everything happens faster today. People expect immediate responses to their inquiries; new consumer products and services are introduced more rapidly; data for decision making is updated constantly; etc. Yet, in many higher education institutions, and even enrollment management areas, the pace has not “kept pace.” Here, non-profit institutions have a lot to learn from their for-profit counterparts, where inquiry responses are sent within the same hour; where curricula…Read more

Future Thinking in Higher Education (Part 1) - Monday Musings
In a recent article for AACRAO, Marguerite Dennis, former Vice President for Enrollment and International Programs at Suffolk University, talked about Anticipatory Enrollment Management — stressing the need for enrollment managers to monitor emerging trends that may signal significant change for their institutions and higher education in general. We believe she is absolutely right, and wanted to talk about five emerging game changers and the implications we see for enrollment managers. Today we’ll cover the first three. Be sure to come back tomorrow as we’ll cover the last two. Transparency: Increasingly colleges and universities are being required to provide more information to consumers about net costs; graduation rates; outcomes;…Read more