There’s a secret to making a strategic enrollment management plan. Just ask Fox Valley Technical College how it went from an enrollment dip to an upswing … while other colleges were still in the middle of a national downturn!
“While we were seeing that community colleges were still on a decline nationwide, we were actually gaining enrollments,” says Beth Burns, vice president of student success at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin.
What was FVTC’s secret? After all, making a strategic enrollment management plan can be tricky, especially when it comes to maintaining focus on key performance indicators. It’s all too easy to get bogged down by to-dos and lose sight of the big picture. And, with so many factors affecting enrollment management, it can be difficult to know where to start!
FVTC’s Enrollment Management Journey
About a year ago, FVTC was looking for a way out of an enrollment dip and was ready to try something new. Their administrators read extensively about how other schools had built successful strategic enrollment management plans. But putting all those great ideas into practice at their unique college seemed daunting:
“We had a lot of data, but we weren’t sure how to apply it to enrollment strategies,” Burns recalls. “We were experiencing the same decline in enrollment as everybody else.”
That’s when the college called on Interact to facilitate enrollment management training, where the team set out to strengthen the school’s onboarding and retention pipelines.
Transforming Data into Effective Enrollment Management Strategies
Our founder, Dr. Pam Cox-Otto, worked closely with FVTC administrators to help them comb through the “daunting” data, turning overwhelm into focus and pinpointing where students were getting lost in the pipeline. Then, Cox-Otto held eight different strategic training sessions to help address those leaks in their onboarding processes.
“The problem is that so many colleges think enrollment management is just marketing at the front end or what’s going on in the classroom,” says Cox-Otto.
And while those two elements are crucial, many schools miss the mark during the onboarding process, from application to the first day of school. What happens before and even between classes is just as important for retention.
“What if students can’t find a parking spot on campus? Or if nobody’s sending them any message except death threats to pay their bills?” posits Cox-Otto. For truly effective strategic enrollment management plans, the secret is strengthening the onboarding journey.
Says Cox-Otto, “Marketing may pull people to the front door, but you still have to convert them.”
Custom-Built Training Helps Pinpoint Vulnerable Student Populations
For FVTC’s enrollment management training, Interact custom-built sessions based on the college’s specific situation, students, and data.
“In addition to informing us about the ways we could attract, convert, and retain students, the training gave us that final push with the right actions we could take,” says Burns.
For the vice president, the most impactful training session was identifying opportunities to knock out decisions and to-dos quickly. That helped the college advance nimbly while guided by the data. “We began some specific efforts without creating a committee to discuss them,” recalls Burns. “If they worked, we kept doing them. If they didn’t, we stopped.”
Simple Strategies, Big Results
The marketing department closely tracked results, which helped the team diagnose issues in the funnel quickly and act accordingly.
“Our collaboration has allowed us to meet or exceed at least 80% of our targeted program enrollment goals each semester since the fall of 2021,” Burns shares. “We are now measuring the effectiveness of our efforts, not just reporting on our efforts.”
Text Messages Turn Up Enrollment
Throughout the training, the team found new ways to engage with students. These strategies strengthened onboarding and retention efforts through both student services and instruction.
One major discovery was the power of text messaging. The college had successfully used a texting service for admissions. However, advisors still used email and followed up with phone calls. It was time to try a different approach and switch advisors to the texting service, which earned fantastic results:
“We are enrolling students earlier in the continuing enrollment process,” says Burns. “That also helps academics because they’re seeing those enrollments earlier in their planning as well.”
Data-Driven Decisions for Better Enrollment Management
Because of the data deep dive, the college has also been able to target its outreach more effectively. One example occurred in the summer of 2021. Based on a recommendation from Cox-Otto, FVTC used a purchased list, aiming for adults within a specific age and income range. They created a series of three postcards containing very targeted messaging. The team tracked enrollments for those who applied after receiving the postcards and removed those who applied before receiving the postcards. During fall 2021 and spring 2022, the college enrolled 48 of these individuals, who enrolled in 458 credits during the 2021-22 academic year. The ROI of this initiative for that year, considering the list purchase cost and mailing expenses, was over $61,000!
It’s a win-win situation. The college succeeds in boosting enrollment. And, it fulfills its mission, making higher ed more accessible to those who need it most.
Alignment and Agreement: Stronger than Ever, Together!
But that’s not the end of the success story! On top of revitalizing enrollment, FVTC is celebrating yet another win. The alignment and agreement between the college’s marketing and student services departments are now stronger than ever, creating greater efficiency and teamwork that will last for years.
“What the training sessions did is that suddenly, marketing and student services are much more integrated,” says Cox-Otto. “The departments understand each other’s points of view, and that’s boosting collaboration. They can focus more effectively on the unique student populations they should be targeting and are seeing some excellent growth because of that.”
Long after the training sessions concluded, that stellar teamwork has stayed strong at FVTC.
“Pam brought us together during our training, and we’ve continued from there working together,” says Burns. She says departments now collaborate weekly to ensure the college is meeting its goals.
Confident Enrollment Management Makes a Difference
With increased efficiency comes increased enrollment, along with more resources for effective student outreach.
“Staff now have extra time to do the things they know will impact the student journey where they never had time before,” says Cox-Otto. “It’s about finding solutions that put time back into your day to work with the students that really need you.”
For colleges that need a shot in the arm for onboarding and retention efforts, Burns says the enrollment management training empowered her team to accomplish more.
“If there are other people out there who were like us — where there is just so much to do, and you don’t know where to start — then try the training. It was the biggest help in giving us the confidence to get to work,” says Burns.
“It was a fun process. … You just need that push to really make it happen at your college.”
Interact will present strategic enrollment management tips at the next NCMPR National Conference, March 30 through April 1, in Orlando, Florida. We hope to see you there!