Co-Written by Dr. Eric Groves, Senior Vice President for Campus Partnerships, RNL.
Often enrollment Leaders feel like Phoebe Bridgers in her hit, “Motion Sickness,” where she pleads “I have emotional motion sickness, somebody roll the windows down.” Many campuses express that they have “enrollment marketing motion sickness, someone pass me the recycle trash bin,” not knowing what they should be looking at to tell them if their student search campaigns are effective or not.
Every year, RNL partners with hundreds of colleges and universities to help them to grow and shape enrollment. With millions of records of prospect, inquiry, applied, admitted, and enrolled student data from hundreds of participating campuses—what we call our Consolidated Student Search Data—RNL gains great insights into what is working in student search. So to quote another indie rock legend, the band Death Cab for Cutie, “this is the new year… no problems with easy solutions.”
That does not mean there are NO solutions, however, and we are here to give you some thoughts about what we learned that can help you this year (and yes, we plan to take some liberties with song lyrics)!
“It’s all about the enrollment, the enrollment, no treble…” – Meghan Trainor
We already knew this, but this is another year where we emphasize the fact that it is all about enrollment! It isn’t about response rate, the number of inquiries, or even applications, it is about ENROLLMENT. If a firm you use for search increases your inquiry pool but not enrollment, what is the lift from that relationship? Campuses should, on average, receive about 40 percent of their enrollment from student search. This has been a consistent number that we have seen for years and still holds true in 2023. Our analysis also shows that students that RNL has searched for our campus partners also retain at higher levels, so this really is about Enrollment, with an uppercase “E”. Good student search drives increased persistence and retention! (Our colleague Adam Connolly also takes a good look at the question, “What is a deposit worth in 2023?”)
“You can’t start a fire, You can’t start a fire without a spark…” or an inquiry – Bruce Springsteen
A lot is made of response rates in higher education marketing circles. Another data point that we love to monitor is the search to inquiry rate. While we, again, are almost singularly concerned with fall enrollment, campuses saw increased response rates this year and, more importantly, saw increased search to inquiry rates. With good search modeling (RNL employs a 4-market, 4-model, deep dive for our partners), we see more of the original search buy showing up in the inquiry pool (and incoming class). This year’s numbers were impressive, with public universities, in particular, having a search to inquiry rate in the mid-teens!
Your inquiry pool: “Hello, is it me your looking for?” – Lionel Ritchie
Campuses around the U.S. spend a lot of effort to build their inquiry pools, and rightfully so! Fairs, school visits, referral programs, website RFI’s, online platforms, and student search are but a few of the ways that campuses acquire inquiries. But inquiries are no good unless the student chooses to apply, which horrifies anyone who has watched admissions counselor stand at fair tables, scanning everyone that walks by (they are now an inquiry, but were they interested?). Converting students from inquires to applicants is a key indicator as to whether we have the right people in our inquiry pool or if our pool full of suspects. The good news for RNL partner campuses is that RNL’s student search inquiry to application rates roughly doubled the rates of all other sources in schools’ inquiry pools. In fact, for public universities, our searched inquiry-to-application rate was a whopping 39 percent!
“Private eyes are watching you, they’re ending up as FSA’s” – Hall and Oates
Vendor list volumes have declined, and we do think that has had an impact on the amount of first-source applications campuses are seeing these days. At private universities we’ve seen a large jump in the percentage of their applicant pool that are true first-source applicants. Publics have slightly declined over the past couple years, but the point is, students are extremely accessible these days (they are almost literally attached to their devices), but many don’t like to click on calls to action. This is why strategies like pixeling key academic web pages and driving students and parents to engage on other platforms are key ways to engage with families these days (these may not be categorized as inquiries, but you may track them like they are).
Search… “you better put a ring on it” – Beyonce
Every May we receive dozens of calls from campuses that have missed their classes, asking what can be done? The only answer for that upcoming fall is to adopt quality anti-melt strategies, but from a student search standpoint, it is just too late. Search is a multi-year campaign and can’t be narrowed down to “speed dating” (a.k.a. senior search only). Our data clearly show the importance of search programs that have three years of marketing impact (meaning we’ve searched students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade) to express the college’s brand early and over time. This is particularly important for higher cost institutions, who need time to express their value proposition to prospective families!
“I’ll explain everything to the Geeks!” – The National
One of the areas we continue to monitor is the sequence of communication across multiple channels. The data here is proprietary, but we can say that, as we continue to optimize RNL Student Search & Engagement, we pay particular attention to the digital channels we use (such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok) in cadence with other more traditional channels, such as email, direct mail and phone. When coordinated well and in the right sequence, we are seeing great results on getting the right students to respond. Campuses do benefit from, as one of my colleagues on a campus referred to as, “the nerds at RNL that stay awake at night, figuring out ways to get my email read”! I’m not sad to say, he wasn’t wrong! (Speaking of reading email, our colleague Raquel Bermejo took a look at how students and families still rely heavily on email during the college search process.)
“New York, London, Paris, Munich, Everybody talk about… Student Search and Engagement (Pop Muzik)” – M, Robin Scott
There is loads more to say about what we have learned this year from our student search results. For one thing, we have a lot of excellent and FREE research that you can explore:
We are also ready to discuss your strategies, goals, and challenges. Reach out to to us and we will set up a time to talk!