The Extra Mile: All that stands between admission and enrollment is the human touch

Posted: January 27, 2021

Dana Cruikshank

5 min. read

As we prepare to eclipse a full year of social distancing, the need to connect is at an all-time high. 

This need takes on a new meaning for students who have just been accepted into college. They are preparing for a life-changing journey and they need to know that they aren’t alone. 

What is Yield? 

In higher ed market-ese, yield means the percentage of students who accept a college’s invitation to attend. In human terms, it’s a (proxy) measure of the relationship an institution has built with its admitted students. 

The stronger the connection, chances are, the higher the yield. 

Divisions are Passé

This is where the lines of marketing and admissions blur, and for good reason. Relationship building is an all-hands-on-deck affair.

Earlier this month, my colleagues and I hosted a webinar on yield for over 50 higher ed professionals across the country. During our presentation, we issued a poll that revealed half of the higher ed institutions in attendance said they had somewhat integrated admissions-marketing partnerships. The next largest segment (25%) said their partnerships were somewhat siloed.

In the eyes of the admitted student – and their influencers – it’s all the same. Marketing, admissions, financial aid, student services – they are all one face of the same college or university. As such, they are equally responsible for rushing to greet students at the door, hold it open, and invite them into the campus community with a hero’s welcome. 

Students want their prospective school to reach out. It doesn’t matter who does it.

Whatever You Do, Do it with Empathy

Yield-focused communications and engagement is when some of the most personal and intimate brand encounters can happen. As the funnel narrows to best-fit students (those most likely to attend), the needs and concerns of those students widen.

And often, those needs are emotional ones. 

Think about it. The moments before any life-changing commitment are when emotions run the highest. Accepted students are inundated with emotions: excitement, nervousness, fear, hope, elation. And the experience isn’t limited to the student. Their parents, teachers, friends, relatives, and influencers are all stakeholders in a student’s success. These secondary audiences are likely sorting through their own mix of nervousness, excitement, and need for assurance. 

In that context, increasing yield isn’t about KPIs. It’s not a sales or marketing priority. It’s an imperative for institutions to fulfill the basic human need to connect. Therefore, the messaging and interaction must be personal.

Yield as an Exercise in Creativity

With the pandemic being the elephant in every room (literally, because it’s airborne), higher ed institutions have gotten more creative with their solutions. 

The University of Washington knew that Seattle can look like a marathon of rainy days to come, so they mailed an umbrella to each admitted student. Purdue University mailed envelopes of confetti as part of their acceptance package, bringing graduation send-off parties to doorsteps. The University of Oregon sent a college success guide called The A Game as complimentary summer reading material. 

More schools are exploring and creating new opportunities for interaction. Personal one-on-one phone calls from deans and department heads. Virtual events. Experiential acts of goodwill for low income top scholars and underserved learner populations. 

These little things can be the difference makers.

Hold Their Attention with Attention to Detail

With the introduction of new NACAC rules, the competition for students drags on well-past the May 1st deadline. Schools are still vying for the attention of accepted students. Throw in emotional volatility. The rising skepticism of a college degree’s value. COVID-era concerns. It’s no wonder the commitment of any admitted student is still up for grabs.

In a way, it’s the marketing funnel all over again. 

This is when schools must strengthen their connection with admitted students. Wandering eyes call for targeted campaign messaging, memorable brand experiences, and, above all, a personal touch to seal the deal. 

Yield is a Group Effort

In our webinar, we distilled the yield challenge into three priorities:

  1. Engagement – Segmenting audiences of admits so that yield campaign messaging is personalized to their needs.
  2. Partnerships – Breaking down silos between divisions and units to shape cross-organizational strategies for increasing yield.
  3. Relationships – Approaching the challenge of earning student’s trust with empathy.

One Size Never Fits All

We have helped institutions all over the country apply these to great effect.

  • To help Troy University ease student concerns in the early days of COVID-19, we launched a campaign for a two-day virtual event called “Answer Day”. The idea was simple: good questions deserve good answers. The university-wide effort made key personnel from all over the campus community available, and gave students personal (and prompt) responses to their questions. This concerted effort drew over 1,000 responses from 11 departments, including financial aid, housing, and student services, all of which contributed to an increase in enrollment numbers during a critical recruitment cycle.
  • For Northern Virginia Community College, we launched a yield campaign called “Stay on Track.” We served targeted ads reminding admitted students to register. The campaign sported a 17% conversion rate en route to a 1.5% year-over-year increase in headcount during a period of widespread decline.
  • For University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a public regional university that had over-relied on print advertising to drive yield, we explored a digital-forward yield campaign that implored students to “Claim Your Future.”  On a pilot media investment of just $1,000, we drove a total of eight admitted students at a $114.25 cost per acquisition. This not only revealed the value of digital marketing for UMBC in driving yield, but also laid the foundation for their 2021 media plan.

The takeaway is that yield deserves the full attention of an institution’s resources. And while it traditionally starts with marketing, building connections is everyone’s ballgame. 

They are Closer Than You Think

The gap between admission and enrollment may seem like a daunting last yard. Treat it like an extra mile. That’s the space where institutions can channel their humanity and set themselves apart as the place students can’t wait to go. 

Dana Cruikshank is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at VisionPoint Marketing. As a senior-level consultant for new and existing projects, Dana helps colleges and universities devise custom cross-organizational solutions for increasing yield. Dana brings more than a decade of higher ed wisdom from having worked on both sides of the institution-agency relationship, which includes first-hand experience at Virginia Tech, where he served in various marketing leadership roles prior to VisionPoint. If you would like to start a conversation with Dana or any of our experts, please visit our Contact Us page. We’re on a mission to help higher ed institutions succeed.