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Enrollment Management Tactics for Tough Times

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

"Always remember, your focus determines your reality." - G. Lucas

Overtime, private schools, colleges, and universities have weathered wars, recessions, and even pandemics. Nevertheless, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) presents us with a very unique set of challenges. Find out how to thrive with these proven tactics.

References include: Enrollment Management Association EMA, NAIS, NBOA, WBSA, ICEF, SAIS, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Brendan Schneider University.

1. Strategic Enrollment and Marketing

  • Choices - "Schools on the Brink", hosted by SAIS, they cited 3 school choices: sustain and innovate, merge or partner, or close strategically. What is your plan?

  • Variables- Account for a number of variables, including: contract submission delays, tuition remission requests, downturn in leads/applications, demographic shifts, and an increase in financial aid requests.

  • Metrics - Enrollment formulas, forecasts, funnel metrics, retention, attrition, and other key information.

  • Analyze and Interpret- Take time to actually analyze and interpret the data and convert your findings to strategies and tactics.

  • Share - Keep everyone informed with updates and adjustments.

  • Keep it Handy - The plan should be somewhere you view it daily.

2. Forecasting and Revenue

  • Forecast Enrollment - Prepare three different enrollment scenarios so you have forecasts based on high, moderate, and conservative outlooks.

  • Check your Data - NBOA is projecting 10--30% downturn in enrollments, but ensure forecasts are based on data and research.

  • Compartmentalize - International/domestic, day/boarding, new/returning, and grade levels. What will be up or down or be different?

  • Create New Revenue Streams - Work your Head and CFO, to map out new programs or services. Admissions should make the case to develop new revenue streams, such as: distance learning, facility rentals, summer programs, language programs, test prep, specialty career courses, fitness, extracurricular programs, and ways to stimulate fundraising.

  • Seek Financial Support - Be in the know, even if this is not your lane. SAIS Webinar cited less than 5% of schools have qualified for CARES ACT as of early April, but there are funds are available via Hewlett Foundation ($349B), Disaster Loans (EIDL), and other State Funds for Nonprofits. For more resources and information, schools should check out the Nonprofit Quarterly, SBA, private lenders, and other sources.

3. Budget and Expenses

  • Trim Operating Expenses - Heads and Boards are reviewing reserves, endowments, departmental budgets, hiring plans, retirement matches, capital budgets, and insurance.

  • Cut back on Departmental Expenses - Admissions should look at financial aid budget, departmental expenses in Admission, Marketing, and Summer Programs. Review your budget and look for ways to cut back, but do not reduce key marketing initiatives.

4. Financial Aid and Payment Plans

  • Understand the Audiences - Parents with funds, parents with jobs/businesses but feeling uncertain, and parents with a recent job/business loss.

  • Expect More Financial Aid Requests - The Enrollment Management Association reports that during the 2008 recession, there was a 16% increase in private school Financial Aid requests and an increase of 21% in the spend.

  • Review Aid Budget - Look over the aid budget and reassess the plan with the CFO and President. SAIS experts indicated schools should create a $1M Emergency Fund for Financial Aid.

  • Review Payment Plans - For internationals, consider 2-3 installments vs. full payment up front. Consider refunds if the visa is denied or if there is a travel ban. Offer extended payment plans for domestic students.

  • Modify Financial Aid Process - For example, Alexander Dawson includes new messaging and a modified financial aid process (employer letter, unemployment docs, and profit and loss).

5. Refund Policies

  • Detail Refund Policies - Check your contract and parent guidebook. If force majeure is not covered, consider an addendum.

  • Use Terminology - Make sure your terminology is clear to cover policies: tuition, room, board, special programs, books, uniforms, incidentals, and fees.

  • Apply Credits - Consider allowing families to move credits and balances forward.

  • Accept Donations - Allow families to donate funds and credits to families in need.

6. Calendar Adjustments

  • Rethink the academic year calendar - Start earlier or later, change from semester to quarter or trimester system. Consider all impacts, including camp and athletics.

  • Finalize camp decision - Follow CDC guidelines. Some guidelines include allowing families in essential jobs to enroll their children.

7. Drivers of Yield

  • Be engaged - It is essential for the admissions staff to be intimately involved, engaged, and contributing to the efforts that ultimately deliver inquiries and applications.

  • Know your drivers - Weight your marketing budget towards the top three drivers of yield.

  • Referrals and Reviews - If your institution has a good reputation and client satisfaction, referral initiatives should top your list. Reviews work in sync with referrals as they can help stimulate word-of-mouth referrals.

  • Search - Next in line, you will typically find the search engines associated with SEO and SEM initiatives. If you show up multiple times on a page, this increases your chances of someone clicking on your website in organic or in the paid section

  • Referral Sites and Other: Last you will find referral websites, fairs, and other forms of advertising. Eliminate any initiatives without direct yield.

8. Marketing

  • Take Command - Establish the narrative, acknowledge issues, and prepare value driven stories.

  • Use an Inbound Approach - Be found through relevant and useful content vs. fishing for prospects.

  1. Referral Promotions - Use incentives to stimulate referrals with specific incentives.

  2. Review Requests - Use parent/student quotes to encourage reviews, citing the platform and thanking them in advance.

  3. Website - Key landing pages should include: Covid-19 Information at top of the site, frequently asked questions (e.g. Choate Rosemary has extensive FAQs), updated handbooks, health and safety messaging, and most importantly, positive stories about distance learning.

  4. SEO and SEM - If you're not on the first page of key searches, you are getting lost. Ensure you bring in reputable experts to assist with this process.

  5. Email Newsletters to Prospects and Current Families - Email newsletters should provide a service and build your reputation as a reliable source. Do your research to create informative evergreen newsletters.

  6. Hometown/National Publicity and Blogs - Referrals are stimulated by hometown news stories. National news should cover current topics of high interest to generate inquiries. Blogs can be the mainstay of repurposed content for press, social, and email newsletters. It is a top SEO tactic.

  7. Social Media Posts & Ads - Make posts dynamic through rich stories. Use the Facebook Ad Center to reach new audiences through specific targeting.

  8. Lead generation - Encourage the team to be lead generators and build connections with consultants, agents, feeder schools, groups, and chambers.

  9. Virtual Events and Experiences - Host events that excite and inform.

9. Virtual Experiences to Recruit and Retain

  • Prepare - Enrollment Management Association suggests creating a hub, communicating value, sharing how to register and use the technology.

  • Practice - Practice the technology of choice: Zoom, Go To, Google, MS Teams, PeerPal, FB Live, Sports Streaming.

  • Choose your Formats - Meet and Greet, Panel, Coffee Q and A, Tour, Open House, Shadow Live or Recorded Classes.

  • Use an Easy Platform - Zoom or other for Student Interviews and Parent Consultations.

  • Showcase to Recruit and Retain - Assemblies, town halls and campus routines (attendance, classes, room checks, study hall, and workshops).

10. Managing Your Team Virtually

  • Establish Tools - For example: Zoom for meetings, Calendly to set appointments, Slack to replace internal emails, and Basecamp for projects.

  • Set up Meetings - Use your standards for standups, team huddles, coffee connections. Note: After meetings end, allow for 5-10 minutes for personal exchange.

  • Communicate Expectations - Work hours, appointments, use of personal devices, and communications, and more.

  • Give CRM Guidance - Notes, how to handle sensitive documents, file reviews, and contract releases.

  • Review Closing Methods - How to move families through the funnel from the initial call to an appointment, appointment to completed docs, to signing a contract, applying for financial aid, and preparing for registration.

11. Prepare FAQs for the Admission Team (Examples)

  • Has anything changed relative to admission criteria/disqualifiers?

  • Will there be any changes to tuition and fees, financial aid, deadlines, and contracts?

  • Waive teacher recommendations?

  • What is the plan for testing?

  • Are there any changes to SEVIS? (e.g. I-20 can be emailed)

12. Virtual Parent Consultation

  • Prepare questions - Commonly asked questions you expect from families.

  • Ask for an Action on the First call -Ask the family to schedule an appointment and explain how the virtual process will work.

  • Provide Action Steps - Encourage families to be prepared for the virtual appointment.

  • Ask Questions - Listen and speak to their concerns as it relates to the current situation, online learning, and your value proposition.

  • Share Metrics - Share data with families about online learning formats (synchronous and asynchronous), test scores, grades, exams, and matriculation.

  • Reveal vs. Promote - Be present, be of service, and be accurate.

13. Virtual Student Interview and Testing

  • Prepare Questions - Commonly asked questions you expect from applicants.

  • Communicate -Format in advance and use a simple tool like Zoom.

  • Include Parents - First 5-10 minutes, then use remaining time with the applicant.

  • Prepare your Office - Embellish with school items and/or use a virtual background.

  • Require Attire - School apparel or business attire.

  • Avoid bias - Use hypothetical questions to assess behavior in specific situations with a focus on key traits.

  • Allow Applicants to Share - Objects, photos, or trophies.

  • Follow Privacy Law - Be aware of privacy laws and remember you are a mandated reporter.

  • Testing - If you are going to require scores, ERB is offering a new on-demand, remote proctoring solution for ISEE and EMA will offer the SSAT at home in May 2020.

14. Seek Assistance

  • Aperture Advisory Associates provides advisory sessions and project services. We are offering a 1 hour Confidential Complimentary Consultation during COVID-19. 760.805.5136 or

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