At Bismarck State College (BSC), records are made to be broken — especially when it comes to big enrollment wins.
The North Dakota community college celebrates having the highest enrollment across the state, leading all two- and four-year institutions! This spring, their headcount surged to a staggering +20.19%, breaking a seven-year enrollment record and achieving the highest enrollment growth in the North Dakota University System.
What was their secret? According to BSC’s Karen Erickson, Dean of Enrollment Management, it was all about thinking bigger.
“If you’re looking toward growth, you have to have a growth mindset,” says Erickson.
With demand for distance learning soaring, BSC was ready to share its online programs nationally — and even internationally! — to help increase enrollment after a decline.
The college called on Interact for holistic support from the ground up. Starting with research and strategy, the team refreshed the college’s brand and strengthened student onboarding. The result? Growing enrollment for the first time since the pandemic!
According to Holly Schaeffer, Marketing and Creative Design Manager, Interact was the ideal partner to help the college expand.
“I think it’s made a huge difference when you have an agency that really focuses on the uniqueness of a community college,” says Schaeffer. On top of expert ad buying, she says Interact was able to offer the full package of services the college needed to increase its outreach. She adds, “It’s such a great opportunity to work with other experts in the industry.”
A Time to Grow at BSC
When Bismarck State College became North Dakota’s only polytechnic institution in 2018, it opened the door to opportunity. And with increased virtual offerings in high-demand fields like energy and cybersecurity in the wake of the pandemic, it was poised for a unique possibility to spread beyond the state.
“It allowed us to have a larger footprint because there aren’t as many polytechnic institutions across the nation,” explains Erickson. Plus, “The Department of Defense actually designated Bismarck State College as a National Energy Center. We are known across the nation for that niche market.”
It was time to expand to help address a nationwide worker shortage and provide work-ready employees for high-demand and high-tech careers.
Bismarck State College’s Strong Foundation “Done Right” with Research
For long-lasting ROI, any real change has to begin with solid research. That’s why Interact and BSC combed through the college’s communications and onboarding processes, but they didn’t stop there. They also held up a magnifying glass to the college’s brand identity and competition, creating the solid groundwork for a marketing plan and brand refresh.
“We looked at admissions and messaging and our whole student experience, which has been really valuable for us,” says Schaeffer.
“Dedicated time to research was something that BSC was really missing,” adds Erickson. “It was exciting to look at our research and determine how we could make impacts and changes immediately that would give us the biggest bang for our buck.”
The result was effective strategy, planning, inquiry conversion, and retention with real results. From onboarding to graduation, the team got an increased appreciation of where the college had been and clarified how to get where they wanted to go. They saw a clear path forward to addressing enrollment losses in the funnel with frictionless onboarding and building warm relationships with students.
Plus, mapping out the student onboarding pipeline had an added benefit. It showed communication strengths and shortcomings just in time to help BSC shape its new CRM.
“Having that full-funnel research is key to have before we build our CRM,” says Schaeffer. “It worked out perfectly for BSC to know where our weak points are and where to change our messaging.”
With its 25+ years of providing robust services to community colleges nationwide, Interact was proud to help BSC reimagine and redesign itself as a high-performing, student-centered polytechnic institution.
“It’s very refreshing to have an outside audience making sure that what we want is being communicated with our audiences,” says Erickson.
BSC’s Brand “Done Right”
“When Pam came to campus with her team and said we were ‘Done Right,’ we were like, ‘Yeah! We’re Done Right!’” recalls Schaeffer. “It just clicked with everybody.”
By gathering feedback from key stakeholders and focus groups, the hardworking spirit of the upper Midwest gelled in Bismarck’s new tagline, “Done Right.”
The tagline needed to appeal to the indomitable spirit of North Dakotans and growing national and international audiences. Building on solid research and gaining wide alignment and agreement throughout the college, the fresh tagline allowed BSC to expand its outreach and showcase a world-class polytechnic institution. Concise, confident, and immediately comprehensible, “Done Right” became the perfect anchor for messaging on fast-moving platforms.
“The new tagline allows us to talk about our college experiences that we are trying to ramp up and the different things that are important to each of our audiences,” says Schaeffer.
Bismarck State College’s Calls to Action Heard Loud and Clear
With a strong structure in place and a bold new rallying cry, it was time to get the word out. The team launched extensive media buys in eight states and even internationally, targeting prospective students while running persistence campaigns to build robust retention.
The call was heard loud and clear!
Visits to website: +34,800 clicks
CPC: $2.29 — nearly half the industry average of $4.18!
CTR: 18.01% — more than four times the industry average of 4%!
Completed views: +1,064,190
Cost per view: $0.04 — nearly four times lower than the industry average of $0.15!
Says Schaeffer, “It’s refreshing not just to have an ad agency but a partner who knows where community college students are getting their media.”
With Interact’s 16+ years of national research on students’ media preferences from our Media Prefs survey, BSC received a data bonus that helped target their outreach and gain exponential ROI.
Bismarck State College Becomes Statewide Enrollment Leader
From North Dakota to Idaho …
And even as far as Saudi Arabia …
Students flocked to BSC to earn in-demand career skills. And in some online programs, enrollment soared as high as +33%!
“Our enrollment growth really speaks to what Bismarck State College is doing and how we are innovative and flexible with the region’s demands and beyond,” says Erickson.
In the fall of 2022, headcount rose by +6.26%, garnering a record-high number of part-time students. BSC was trailed by its competitors. The two-year North Dakota State College of Science lagged behind at +5.00% and the four-year Dickinson State University at +4.10%. BSC led the way of the four institutions that had positive changes in headcount, credit hours, and FTEs. Meanwhile, the five other institutions in the state saw drops.
Fast-forward to spring 2023, and Bismarck boomed to a record-breaking headcount of +20.19%!
But the story gets even better. As of the writing of this article, BSC …
Was up 11% in credit hours and 9% in headcount Fall Year-over-Year
Reached 97.4% of their goal for summer enrollment and will absolutely surpass the goal they set!
Have already achieved their hourly credit goal for the year, with summer still yet to be added.
“I would have liked to say, ‘Yeah, we were totally expecting this,’ but to be honest, we didn’t,” shares Erickson on BSC’s exciting successes. “Education is a hard sell, and we knew we needed to make it as relevant and appealing to as many different audiences as possible.”
The Future of Polytechnic “Done Right”
“We’re on the pulse of what industry is looking for, so you’re going to see more change,” says Erickson. “We will be adding more programming, opportunities, and pathways for students to jump in based on what fits their lifestyle.”
In addition to growing its four-year degrees, BSC plans to champion dual enrollment possibilities. More workforce partnerships are also underway.
Plus, because of the big boost in headcount and credit hours? The enrollment management department has been able to add new positions to its admissions and recruitment team. Says Erickson, “It’s allowing us to continue to grow.”
Schaeffer says that the outstanding support she received from Interact has helped her reach and support more students, a win-win. In particular, she mentions our Account Executive Grace Kendall, who made the difference for her.
“Having Grace by my side to teach me the ropes of community colleges and even digital buys has been very beneficial,” says Schaeffer, who recently joined the BSC team after marketing for a private four-year university. “She helped me to grow in this position and understand the pieces I may not have had right out of the gate.”
Looking back at their hard work and well-earned successes, the dean of enrollment management says the journey has been well worth it.
“There is a lot of work that goes into looking at the full-funnel research,” says Erickson. “But it’s so rewarding when you take the time to do it.”