Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

February 2015 Archives

Drexel University decides 47,477 apps are too many

I can't quite remember when it started but once upon a time colleges and universities were first offered the opportunity to send "fast app" application forms to high school students who had not applied for admission. The apps were pretty much completely filled out in advance. About all you had to do was click and send to the school you received it from. No application fee was required.

As a way to boost the size of an application pool the "fast app" was a singular success. 

Some schools, it is said, just used the technique to boost application numbers and become more selective. Conversion percents almost always were much lower than for people who completed applications themselves. But if a school didn't care as much about conversions as the appearance of high demand and lower acceptance rates then conversion percent was not a problem. And some schools indeed used the extra apps to raise enrollment as Drexel once did.

Now comes recent news that Drexel University has decided to drop out of this system. You can get the details at "Drexel's freshmen applicants plunge - happily." Adopting the "fast app" in the 2005-06 recruitment cycle contributed to a 300 percent application increase. Even with a lower conversion rate overall freshmen enrollment also grew. But now goals have changed.

According to Randall Deike, new senior VP for enrollment management and student success, Drexel will now place more emphasis on the proverbial "better fit" to boost retention rates. That, of course, will help maintain or grow total enrollment. And Drexel has a wee bit of extra money by saving the cost of the "fast app" program.

20,052 Fewer Applications

For the freshman class that entered in 2014 Drexel had 47,477 applications... 2,925 were enrolled from that number. For the freshman class that will enroll in 2015 Drexel has 27,425 applications, or a drop of well over 40 percent. 

Reducing the applicant total is one part of a new strategy that includes adding back an application fee, using different admissions criteria for different academic programs, and shifting more financial resources to need-based aid.

A Smart Marketing Move?

Will Drexel be able to maintain the same freshman class size in 2015 as in 2014? 

We'll find out later this year. Right now some people understandably are nervous. But I'd bet that with more attention to a reduced applicant pool with a higher percent of genuinely interested people, Drexel will do just fine.

In 2011 the NY Times reported in "A College Opts Out of the Admissions Arms Race" that Ursinus College had made a similar change: dropping the fast app to reduce applications. Today, Ursinus reports that freshmen class size has increased. Very different schools indeed but one small encouragement for folks at Drexel.

That's all for now.

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"Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communications Plan"

Join us at this Academic Impressions conference June 1-3. Review the program details and register here.
A February hello to subscribers new and old as admission application deadlines have arrived or are approaching for many of you. Best wishes that the quality and quantity of the applications meets your goals.

Attend the Academic Impressions conference on "Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communication Plan" with myself and Paige Booth (St. Edward's University) and Michelle O'Donnell (Mount St. Mary's University) in Houston June 1-3. Details at 

The Call for Papers for the eduWeb Digital Summit in July in Chicago is extended until February 19. More about the conference and the paper submission process is 

Know someone who will like this newsletter? Send them to subscribe at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for February.
Top Online Bachelor's and MBA Programs: US News and World Report

New rankings came out early last month, with Penn State World Campus in first place for bachelor's programs and a three-way MBA tie for first: Indiana University Bloomington, Temple University, and UNC Chapel Hill. 

Bachelor's programs ranking elements include Faculty Credentials and Training, Student Services and Technology, and Student Engagement. MBA program ranking use those criteria and add Admissions Selectivity.

See the US News rankings at 
9 University Websites: Top Task Design Champions

Top Task website design is based on a simple principle: the most prominent words and links on website pages should reflect the top tasks that bring visitors to those pages and help people complete those tasks as quickly as possible.

In this blog post I have collected 9 strong top task examples from Australia, Canada, and the U.S., including home pages, admissions, parents, donor options, faculty profiles, scholarships, and academic programs. Visit 
Advertising Online: 6 "Deadly Errors" to Avoid on Facebook

This is a report from a person who has been advertising on Facebook since ads started in 2010 and reports losing about $250,000 by not paying attention to the 6 points listed here.

If forced to pick a single place to start my favorite is "Ignoring New Features and Ad Types" since a response rate is often higher for early adopters than after everyone is using a new technique. See which ones are most important to you at 
Students of Color: Enrollment Success from Start to Finish

Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul University loves to dive deep into data and he has done a masterful job to show how success in "diversity" enrollment efforts can be judged by the percent of minority students receiving an undergraduate degree.

In "Which Colleges Graduate the Most Students of Color?" you can quickly search by individual ethnicities, Carnegie status, state, and public or private status. Check your school and your competitors at 
FAQs: Improving the Visitor Experience

Just about every college and university website has one or more Frequently Asked Question sections.

Jakob Nielsen has a new Alertbox report on "An FAQ's User Experience Deconstructed" that might help improve the visitor experience at your site. Improvements noted here include the use of video, jump links to quickly scan questions and get to answers of interest, attention to new content, and links that are easily visible from the general text.

My note: pay attention and remove an FAQ when you know it is not getting frequent attention. I am always puzzled about FAQ lists that start with "When were you founded?" or "What is your mission?"

Compare your FAQ pages with advice from Nielsen at 
Social Media: Demographic and Use Research from Pew Internet

Start off 2015 with a review from Pew Research on demographics of people using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. 

As you knew, just about everybody has a Facebook account. Everything else is under 30 percent of adults 18 or older. Gender use is comparable for each one except Pinterest, where women at 42 percent still far outnumber men at 18 percent. People with a college degree or more dominate at LinkedIn.

Those details and more are at 
Top 15 Advertising Campaigns in 2015: AdAge Selects the Best

Take a break from higher education marketing to check the ad campaigns of 2015 that AdAge has selected as the best to date.

A UNICEF campaign is in 15th spot and Dove takes first place. Details on those and 13 others are at 
Writing Right for the Web: Gerry McGovern on the "Pair Writing" Technique

Your web content will improve when two people write major content together, preferably a content specialist and a marketing person with a joint interest in top task priority.

That is the essence of a new Gerry McGovern article on "How to do pair writing well" that gives details on how to adopt this technique on your campus. 

If you like the article you can also register for a February 11 webinar at on best practices in a pair writing program based on the experience of two of our Carewords partners.
Admissions Innovation: Early Report on Goucher and Bennington Colleges

Serious deviations from standard admissions criteria seldom happen but both Goucher and Bennington have made national news in this area: Goucher for accepting 2-minute video profiles to judge and Bennington for allowing students to submit, in essence, whatever information they want without requiring high school transcripts.

A report by Inside Higher Education has both schools doing well this year, although it is too early to know whether early action and early decision application increases are due to the criteria changes. See the details on the results to date at 
Cartoon of the Month: Beware of Data Manipulators 

Do you live in a world where too many people refuse to change anything without data that proves the value of the change before it happens? Or try to use data to destroy a new idea before it is tested?

If so, laugh or weep with the Tom Fishburne "Give me a moment to find unbiased data that supports calling you and your idea stupid" cartoon at 
Most Popular Topic in January Newsletter: "What Your Website Needs in 2015"

The run-away favorite topic last month for wise people who know a website needs constant attention was this Website Magazine article at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

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