Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

Enrollment inquiries... do colleges & universities really want them?

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Enrollment inquiries... do colleges & universities have too many?

Today I'm staring a new series: how do a selection of private colleges and universities and a "public honors college" seeking residential students receive and respond to inquiries on their websites from high school students graduating in 2013? 

In the group are six schools in New York and New England, two areas challenged by local demographics re high school graduates. None is a research university, although some offer graduate programs. Each school in the group is at least moderately selective. For the moment, we'll keep the group anonymous.

The potential student is a young woman from Michigan with a 3.79 GPA and a 29 composite ACT score who has an interest in a particular academic program that she identified when making the inquiry. In other words, a strong student but likely not someone headed for an Ivy League school. 

For more than 10 years now, admissions folk have grappled with increasing numbers of "stealth" applicants who do not reveal their identities until completing an application form. Recruitment activities to convert inquiries to applicants won't work with these secret shoppers. 

Do schools want more inquiries to cultivate and convert? If they do, why not make the collection of online inquiries as easy as possible? Why not forego the urge to populate data bases at this early state when building a relationship is just getting started? 

The Holy Grail of inquiry forms: you see the entire form when the page first opens and you know immediately it will not take long to complete it. The Holy Grail does exist: see the Creighton University example.

First reaction to the inquiry forms: far too long

Direct marketers have long known this eternal truth: the longer the inquiry form, the fewer the people who will complete it. True in the 1920s. True in the digital era.

The only explanation for most of the inquiry forms completed last night and this morning is that schools in our group have too many inquiries. 

Thus we have a series of long and longer forms asking a great deal of information early in the recruitment process. This might be "nice to have" for traditional recruitment models but it isn't needed for the immediate purpose: receiving and responding to an inquiry with initial information about your college or university. 

Of course, many will say the data system requires what's being asked. That's quite a handicap to put on those responsible for recruiting new students. More on the tyranny of data systems later in the series.

First reaction to immediate inquiry responses: please, no broken links

Every school uses an immediate online response after an inquiry is received. The quality of those varies a fair bit. Most are obviously an automatic response produced by the "system" in use with little if any personal touch. If you are promising personal attention on your campus, this isn't the best way to start.

A special note: if you are going to put an email link or two in an online response, do check and make sure that they are working. Some that I received were broken or didn't go to the promised content. 

Two school also sent an immediate email response. That might be a marketing advantage or it might not be. 
  • One of the emails just repeated the immediate online response. Not much advantage in that. 
  • The other email included a link to a Facebook site for "prospective students." Right now fewer than 50 people have identified themselves there. So far that's the only direct connection to social media.
More next week on details of the inquiry forms and new responses received.

Attend a Summer Conference

July 11-13, Chicago: ACT Enrollment Planners Conference. Pre-conferences workshop on “Digital Marketing Strategy: Planning for Present and Future Success” and regular session on “"Increasing Online Inquiries: Key Steps to Improve Search Optimization for Academic Programs."” Visit the conference website at bit.ly/tnvnhR 

July 30-August 1, Boston: eduWeb2012. Pre-conference digital marketing strategy workshop and regular session presentation on "Top Task Website Design." Conference website is at bit.ly/z391iU

That's all for now. 

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