Companies and institutions in nearly every sector of the economy are concerned about how the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak might affect their bottom line. This means that efficiency — and more specifically, achieving greater results with fewer resources — is a core objective for any business and in any industry.
That’s especially true in today’s evolving higher education landscape, where the pandemic is creating unprecedented uncertainty at a time when declines in institutional budgets and state funding underscore the need for schools to do more with less.
Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s 2018 “Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student” report found that nearly one-third of four-year private colleges and 7% of four-year public colleges had a budget decrease for the 2017-18 academic year. Nearly one-quarter of public institutions reported that their traditional marketing budgets went down, although 61% of all campuses said their digital marketing expenditures increased.1
At the same time, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that total state funding across the U.S. for public two- and four-year colleges during the 2017-18 academic year was more than $7 billion below that funding’s 2008 level, with the consequences of this development including rising tuition fees as well as low-income families’ struggles to meet those costs.2
How, then, can today’s colleges and universities — and particularly their admissions offices — achieve the institutional progress which their key stakeholders expect when the options of increasing the budget and adding staff simply aren’t on the table?
Among the various cloud-based tools and platforms that Liaison offers higher education institutions, its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) and Enrollment Marketing Platform (EMP™) empowers schools to do more with less, growing and shaping enrollment while reducing overall effort and costs.
Today, more than 31,000 academic programs on over 1,000 campuses use a CAS. Liaison has partnered with more than 30 professional associations to create over 40 discipline-specific iterations of the CAS. As a result, associations can now better support their members by promoting best practices and the adoption of a transformative tool in the admissions process. By joining a CAS, institutions receive a wide array of benefits at no cost, including program promotion; support throughout the on-boarding process and applicant cycles; and the scanning, processing and packaging of application materials. CAS enrollment management software includes program-specific workflows, scoring rubrics, interview resources and cutting-edge data reporting and analytics tools.
EMP, meanwhile, functions as a full-service extension of a school’s marketing team. EMP creates integrated web, email, text, print and voice messaging campaigns within one convenient platform, enabling schools to scale their efforts without scaling admissions resources. The platform tracks and scores all activities and interactions and provides easy access to data at all times, providing staffers with critical knowledge of prospects’ interest in a school, based on their behavior. Institutions benefit from a 360-degree view of their enrollment marketing plan and their results through an easy-to-use web interface.
The following academic institutions are changing the game for their admissions and enrollment operations by leveraging CAS and EMP — and perhaps most importantly, they’re doing more with less.
Stretching limited resources
Minnesota State University (MSU), Mankato, needed to increase enrollment without growing its admissions budget. To stretch limited resources, the school decided to evolve its communication strategy, using data to determine which students were most likely to enroll so its team could focus their outreach efforts.
With EMP, admissions staffers at MSU were able to track student behavior and assign engagement scores based on interactions with the University, then follow up with targeted multichannel marketing campaigns. MSU learned that 61% of accepted students with an engagement score of 300 or more enrolled — a much higher rate than the University’s 32.5% yield overall.
This new insight enabled MSU staff to target the students most likely to attend with incentives such as application fee waivers or scholarships.
“EMP has helped us amend our communication strategy to ensure a greater return on investment. We’re now able to save costlier admissions tactics for those prospects most likely to enroll,” says Director of Admissions Brian Jones.
In its first admissions cycle using EMP, the University experienced a 9.8% increase in enrollment for domestic freshmen over the previous year, welcoming 200 more first-year students and garnering over $1.1 million in additional tuition revenue.
Like MSU, Temple University’s School of Social Work (SSW) faced a daunting misalignment between its big-picture admissions goals and the resources it possessed to accomplish that mission. With a shortage of administrative support, admissions staffers at SSW were spending most of their time managing applications, leaving little left over for any other tasks.
“Having to do everything manually, including sending physical files out to faculty for review — and then hoping that faculty would return them — was a very tedious, long and cumbersome process,” recalls former Academic Coordinator Erin Brosious.
By transitioning to SocialWorkCAS™, the CAS for graduate social work programs, and its cloud-based system, SSW saw a 75% reduction in the time it took to move applications through its review process. Now freed from routine administrative tasks, SSW staff can devote more attention to other important responsibilities, including the development of targeted messaging and communication plans.
“SocialWorkCAS is going to make you more available to your students, and it’s going to make the relationships you have with your students more personable,” she says. “The reality is that students want this. Students are becoming more familiar with a central application as they’re applying to even undergraduate programs, so they’re going to want this when they go to graduate school.”
The same conundrum of limited resources — alongside a seemingly limitless ambition for growth — loomed over Trinity Baptist College.
Trinity wanted to grow enrollment without having to hire additional admissions staff. The College needed to identify which students were most likely to attend and focus its marketing efforts on them. President Mac Heavener sought to improve his staff’s ability to make meaningful connections with prospective students by automating the outreach process and putting tools in place that would help the College locate the most likely prospects.
With EMP, Trinity was able to continually collect information via form captures that were used to personalize campaigns. A microsite dynamically adjusted messaging and student checklists, keeping students fully engaged as they moved from inquiry to applicant to accepted student, and finally, to enrolled student. In addition, the system allowed admissions staff to track student interaction with campaign materials and assign points, helping staff determine which students were most interested in the College. The ability to view history quickly allowed admissions staff to manage prospects more easily.
The gifts of efficiency and centralization
Samford University wanted to combine its various health-related degrees — more than 30 programs — to create its new College of Health Sciences. At the same time, the school wanted to maintain quality while increasing efficiency and growing enrollment.
Dr. Marian Carter, assistant dean of enrollment management and student services, worked to implement Liaison’s CASs across the College’s schools and programs to help admissions committees identify, evaluate and enroll right-fit students more efficiently. For programs unaffiliated with a national CAS, the University licensed UniCAS™, which delivers powerful enrollment management capabilities and supports a comprehensive view of enrollment efforts by program, by school and across the institution.
With a CAS, Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy increased its applicant pool by 125%. Jon Parker, assistant director of admissions at the McWhorter School, explains that “other solutions have the capability to pull in the application and let you see transcripts in their original form, but with PharmCAS™, the CAS for Pharm.D. programs, that same information is displayed in a format that is more directly associated with what we need to see during the application process. That makes admissions committee meetings work a lot more smoothly.”
Carter adds that the CAS platform’s automatic GPA-calculation feature means she’s “not spending her time typing every grade and every credit hour into an Excel spreadsheet and then calculating GPAs herself.”
A more efficient recruitment process — driven by centralization and customization — was also the recipe for success at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).
MSOE’s Dean of Admissions Seandra Mitchell partnered with EMP to develop a holistic campaign strategy with multiple touchpoints across each stage of their funnel. Search campaigns, event promotions and drive-to-apply campaigns leveraged data on each student to deliver personalized communication across channels. Focusing on students’ special interests, such as athletics or clubs, was instrumental in connecting with them.
“Internally, we worked with athletics and student life to identify high-level buckets based on whether a student says they’re interested in club sports, playing a musical instrument or things like that. Then, we worked with the Liaison team to plan ways to promote MSOE to students based on their interests,” Mitchell says.
Using EMP, the engineering school increased enrollment by 15% from 2017 to 2018. EMP’s robust analytics made it clear which messages were resonating with applicants. Mitchell says that in the past, an admissions officer may have been reaching out to a student with no response, while a coach was meeting with that student and knew he or she planned to attend MSOE.
“Since EMP has helped us centralize our communication on a single platform, we can make sure we’re not duplicating efforts or missing anyone,” she says.
But does a traditional CRM (customer relationship management) solution have those same capabilities? That was the question for James Barrett when he came on board as director of admissions at Northeast Ohio Medical (NEOMED) University — and the answer was a resounding “no.”
NEOMED’s College of Pharmacy needed to grow its number of verified applications. Yet the College’s existing CRM possessed limited outbound email capabilities and an out-of-date user interface.
“NEOMED doesn’t only compete in this sphere with other colleges of pharmacy — we compete with Instagram and Amazon. Our user experience has to be seamless and intuitive,” Barrett says.
EMP helped grow NEOMED’s verified applications by 42%, while deposits increased by 39%. Barrett calls EMP “our one-stop shop prior to students entering the application phase. We also use the event manager to have students set up their visit experience and schedule their interviews. We’ve been using the e-commerce feature to have them send deposits. Basically, we’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of EMP.”
Increasing its number of applicants also allowed the school to be more selective while producing a better yield. “This was the rising tide that lifted all boats — it gave us a more predictable interview pool, which in turn gave us a more predictable admissions committee decision set. We’ve become less reliant on a fairly unpredictable market,” says Barrett.
Expanding geographic reach
The College of St. Scholastica’s remote location in northern Minnesota makes it difficult for the school to reach far enough to maintain a healthy level of growth for its programs.
“As a small private school with fairly big programs, we were reaching only a very regional audience,” says Chad Oppelt, assistant director of graduate, extended and online admissions.
After it joined the CAS community, St. Scholastica’s number of applications for graduate programs rose by 30% — but the progress was about more than just the size of the applicant pool. “Our diversity has gone up, both in terms of culture and gender,” Oppelt says. “As a result of implementing NursingCAS™, the CAS for nursing programs, our minority and male acceptances to nursing programs increased by 10%. And our quality — average GPAs and average GRE scores across all CAS programs — has gone up, too.”
Similarly, the University of La Verne had its sights set beyond the school’s own backyard. Located in Southern California, the University seeks to draw applicants from all over the country as part of its institutional commitment to diversity, a core value for the University and all of its programs. The problem is that less than 25% of La Verne’s Psy.D. applications were coming from out-of-state prospects.
“As an APA-accredited program, we have to show deliberate work towards diversifying our applicant pool,” explains Jerry Dr. Kernes, Ph.D., the Psy.D. program’s chair. “It’s not good enough just to say that we have a diverse student body. We have to show how we’re working to attract applicants with unique perspectives.”
At first, Dr. Kernes says he was hesitant about introducing Liaison’s PSYCAS™, the CAS for psychology programs, “because I didn’t want to turn over control to an outside agency.” Yet he “found just the opposite has been true. I feel like now we’re in better control of our application process.”
“We can easily pull all of the information that goes into the PSYCAS application, whether it’s related to applicant gender, diversity in different factors or geographic area,” he explains. “We also poll our applicants on where they hear about us, so we have a good base of knowledge [related to] where they’re hearing about our program.”
University of La Verne’s result has been a 10% increase in total applications and a 21% increase in out-of-state applicants. “I would say to my colleagues at other universities, don’t be afraid to try it!” Dr. Kernes says. “If you’re similarly focused on increasing diversity and would benefit from more transparency into recruitment and enrollment trends, you stand to benefit greatly from PSYCAS.”
Dominican University represents yet another CAS success story in the realm of expanding geographic reach. Following its implementation of PostBacCAS™, the CAS for postbaccalaureate programs, the University’s postbac pre-medical program saw a tenfold increase in applications with no additional investment in advertising.
Carsi Hughes, the program’s director, was surprised by how CAS helped her admissions operation cover a much broader geographic range than Dominican’s typical reach.
“That’s impressive to the higher-ups,” Hughes says. “CAS has enhanced visibility and interest in our program — the numbers are unbelievable.
Before they implemented CAS or EMP, the common narrative for Liaison’s partners was the need to achieve sweeping goals without a corresponding pool of increased resources. In other words, it felt like Mission: Impossible.
Yet with Liaison’s cloud-based solutions, these academic institutions have flipped the script. In an era of dwindling financial and human resources, doing more with less is possible, after all.