Nurturing and Nudging: How Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus Achieves Recruitment Marketing Success

Dr. Christopher Smith shows off a personalized print piece for prospective students at the 2019 Liaison User Conference | Photo courtesy of K-State Polytechnic

Within two years of taking his job at Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus, Dr. Christopher A. Smith, executive director of enrollment management, marketing and financial aid, helped usher in a new era of student recruitment at the institution, which dramatically enhanced its enrollment results.

He recently spoke to Liaison about the strategies and tools he employed to achieve what he describes as his “lofty” goals. 

Liaison: What were some of your top goals when you assumed this role? Why did you focus on revitalizing your marketing campaigns in order to accomplish them?

Dr. Christopher A. Smith, Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus (CS): One of the reasons I took this job was because I would be in charge of marketing. In my opinion, that plays a tremendous part in the overall success of any institution. I’m not the only one who feels that way. We’re now seeing a lot of other state universities combining their marketing departments and enrollment management departments because they work hand in hand.

We have 600 students on this campus, which is one of four in the “K. State U.” family. When I started here, my goal was to enroll 325 new students. Within my first nine months, we ended up with 291. That is absolutely fantastic. It was a 53% increase over the previous year. Also, when I came on board, our start rate was 31%. My goal was to get that to at least 45%. We ended up at 48%, which was an increase of 17% over the previous year.

Liaison: How did your marketing campaigns vary from those that were in place before you started?

CS: We really embraced the use of data to identify the students we want to target. From there, we decided to customize our outreach messages based on which grades those students are currently in. Part of that initiative involved focusing on sophomores, too, as opposed to only juniors and seniors. Regardless of the audience we address, it really comes down to two words: nurturing and nudging.

For example, Liaison helped us set up an email campaign targeting sophomores. We also did our first-ever Sophomore Day postcard campaign with help from Liaison. We were very strategic about what went out. As a result, we had 147 RSVPs for that first Sophomore Day. We learned that if you send your sophomore postcard to out-of-state students they’re more likely to travel to visit your institution. And the PSAT and pre-ACT scores of those students are higher. We were able to validate those benefits, and others, by working with Liaison on our marketing campaigns.

As students move through high school, our messages and materials change to address their needs and interests. With sophomores, we’re focusing on brand messaging, value messaging and awareness. With juniors, we’re focusing on values, awareness, positioning and cultivation. And with seniors, we’re focusing on cultivating, conversion, yield and melt.

With juniors, for example, our customized marketing campaigns now include sending out parent letters. And we have a Facebook page for them as well, because of the key role parents play in the decision and application process. Seniors receive customized print publications, including a beautiful financial aid guide, among other things.

What’s great about working with Liaison is that you can scale whatever you’re doing so it fits within your budget. As I’m able to show results, key influencers on campus are more willing to commit more resources to our initiatives.

Liaison: What other insights can you share with admissions professionals who may be considering whether — or how — to upgrade their recruitment strategies?

CS: If you get the right students, they’re more likely to persist, they’re more likely to graduate and they’re more likely to start in a career. And quite frankly, our latest results for last year’s class show that 98% of our students are going into their field of study. And the average starting salary jumped from $48,000 to $57,000!

Having the wrong students pass through a revolving door doesn’t do anything to help build your campus. We don’t necessarily want to be something for everyone, but we’ve got to get our message into the right hands. We’ve been able to do that, thanks in large part to our partnership with Liaison.

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