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When it comes to enrollment in higher education, recruitment is often the first thing that comes to mind. Recruitment strategies and staff play a crucial role in meeting enrollment goals. However, successful strategic enrollment management (SEM) goes beyond recruitment and encompasses the entire student lifecycle, from recruitment to graduation. In order to optimize enrollment and retention, it is important to understand how marketing can influence and impact the student experience throughout this lifecycle.
The Enrollment and Marketing Funnel
The enrollment funnel is often compared to a marketing funnel. At the top of the funnel is awareness, followed by familiarity, evaluation or intent, and finally, conversion or the desired action. Similarly, the enrollment funnel consists of stages such as prospects, inquiries, applicants, admitted students, deposits, and enrolled students. By marrying the enrollment and marketing funnels, institutions can better understand how marketing can influence and impact enrollment in mutually beneficial ways.
Beyond Conversion: Loyalty and Advocacy
The bottom of the enrollment and marketing funnels is not the end of the journey. It is important to consider stages such as loyalty and advocacy. Building a relationship with students that extends beyond the initial interaction is crucial for retention. Retaining a current student is often more cost-effective than acquiring a new one. By fostering a good relationship with students throughout their academic journey and beyond, institutions can benefit from their advocacy and support in various ways, such as recommending the institution to others, returning for further education, or becoming a future employee, donor, or fan.
The Role of Marketing in Retention
Marketing plays a significant role in retention efforts. However, the extent of marketing engagement after a student is enrolled can vary depending on the institution and available resources and technology. It is important to explore the various parts of the enrollment and marketing funnel to optimize the student experience. This includes mapping out a student’s first year, measuring their expectations and awareness of support and engagement opportunities, and collecting information on why students come back year after year.
Mapping the First-Year Student Experience
Mapping out a student’s first year can help institutions align on the touchpoints and messages that can influence retention efforts. It is important to measure the first-year student experience and understand their expectations at the beginning and end of the school year. This includes assessing their awareness of support, success, and engagement opportunities on campus. Marketing can play a role in these areas by strategically and targeted messaging to guide students throughout their first year and address any gaps in their experience.
Incorporating Analytics for Sense of Belonging
Many institutions use analytics to identify students who may be struggling academically. However, there is also a need to track student engagement and sense of belonging at the institution. Research shows that a higher sense of belonging leads to increased academic motivation and achievement. On the other hand, a lower sense of belonging is often reported by students considering leaving the institution. Understanding which aspects of the student experience contribute to their sense of belonging can help marketing engage with students and improve retention efforts. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has added statements to assess students’ sense of belonging, which can be incorporated into ongoing data collection and analysis.
Collaborative and Coordinated Messaging
Collaboration is key when delivering messages to students throughout their academic journey. Coordinating efforts and knowing who is responsible for what can optimize the message and experience for students. Increasing the number of messages and touchpoints does not necessarily yield better results. A thoughtful and curated plan that meets students where they are while being flexible and adaptable is more beneficial. Creating a dedicated space to tell stories of the campus can maximize reach and engagement. Consistent messaging and content that align with students’ sense of belonging and other key aspects of their experience can further enhance retention efforts.
Marketing plays a crucial role in the entire student lifecycle, from recruitment to retention and beyond. By optimizing the parts of the marketing funnel that focus on loyalty and advocacy, institutions can improve retention rates, foster student success, and build long-lasting relationships. It takes a collaborative and coordinated effort from the entire campus community to recruit and retain students successfully. By understanding the student experience and leveraging marketing strategies, institutions can ensure that students not only enroll but also thrive and continue to support the institution in various ways.