A presentation at Michigan Community College Student Services Association Fall Conference in
October 2016 in
Petoskey, MI 49770, USA by
Start here. Go anywhere. Carrie Bearss Registrar
Director of Recruitment, Career & Testing Services
Once upon a time… A mighty band of adventurers set out to find the Grail, beset by unimaginable and inhuman horrors, including: • Declining enrollment • Uncertain local and state funding, and… • A dragon The Grail was the legendary “Five Percent Growth” that all brave admissions and enrollment knights doth seek. This is their story… https://youtu.be/L9nXfffeAIU?t=30s
A familiar story • Slow, long-term decline in overall headcount since 2009 • Fewer traditional high school seniors due to demographics and also early college programs • Decline in population isn’t extreme, but is a steady trend downward. • Early college has been great for students – and the college – but it did move students out of the recruitment pipeline before they normally would have started college. • Big peak in enrollment in 2009 due to the Great Recession. Federal and state funding for retraining inflated our enrollment numbers. • As employment recovered (from 18% to around 5%), non-traditional student population dried up.
A familiar picture
Drama and intrigue • SC4’s share of traditional graduates has declined as well, though. • From 2011-14, 53% of St. Clair County high school seniors who chose to go to college decided to attend a community college – SC4. • In 2015, that number had reversed: Only 47% were choosing to attend a community college after high school. • Our large feeder schools were even more dramatic: • Port Huron Northern averaged 93 grads attending SC4 from 2011-14; in 2015 it had fallen to 69 (44% of all collegegoers) • St. Clair High School went from 85 per year on average to only 62 in 2015 (45% of all college-goers)
Why? • Difficult to pin down, but some educated guesses include: • Improved economy – students and parents are more comfortable with shouldering the cost of going directly to a four-year college or university • Advent of the dedicated college advisor (such as the MSU CAC program) – students may be receiving different advice from these advisors • A move away from dedicated recruitment efforts by SC4 • Recruitment and contact with high school counselors was handled on a “time available” basis by our academic advisors • In a practical sense, “time available” turned out to be extremely limited • Relationships – and opportunities – were lost
So the quest begins! • In April 2016, we begin reviewing data and processes at SC4, looking for ideas on how to reverse the decline. • New SC4 president Deborah Snyder encouraged the effort, suggesting that we don’t have time to do things in “dog years” anymore. Agility and implementation are critical. • Made a commitment to active recruitment. Hired a Director of Recruitment along with a full-time Admissions Representative and part-time Recruitment Projects staff. • Since we’d been above 4,000 students as recently as fall of 2014, we chose that number as our initial goal. Going from 3,800 to 4,000 would be a 5% increase from fall 2015 to fall 2016.
Sharpening our swords • We began reviewing our marketing and public relations efforts, working with a consultant to identify problem areas in our communications with students, parents, counselors, teachers and the community. • Development of a long-term comprehensive recruitment plan was started. A “permanent draft” version of this plan was completed in August, only six weeks after initiation. (Much more on this later.) • Marketing significantly expanded our use of social media and web-driven advertising and search engine marketing. 8
Plugging the holes • Since the efforts to re-establish recruitment and direct marketing began in June, we also needed to do some stopgap approaches to try to increase Fall 2016 enrollment • Traditional phone and email contacts through Registrar’s Office and Financial Aid were redoubled, reaching out to not just last year’s students who hadn’t yet registered, but also the previous year’s students, plus those who had expressed an interest in SC4 on either their ACT or FAFSA forms. • Plenty of calls, emails and postage. Hours of work. Was the Grail in sight? At times you could see it, glowing in the distance. • And in the end…?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
No short term fix • As wise Laozi suggested 2,500 years ago (so he should know about longevity), solving a problem like recruitment doesn’t happen overnight – but it can be solved. • Our “open door” mandate can be both a strength and a challenge – but in either case we have to get students to come through the door! • Historically, SC4 has been reluctant to discuss tuition rates in our marketing, fearing that potential students might perceive us as “cheap.” • But refusing to discuss the cost of education, especially in today’s environment, forfeits our biggest advantage.
Time out! Mission control • Who believes in the mission of your community college? • What is that mission? (We love pop quizzes at SC4!) • What advantages do we offer students at a community college that our colleagues at four-year colleges and universities can’t match? • If we believe in those missions, and we can define the advantages, why don’t students make the obvious choice and attend their local community college? • Are we telling the wrong story? Are we telling an incomplete story? Are we telling it in an ineffective manner? 13
What do students think? • Focus groups were conducted in August and September of 2016, with a broad range of students: traditional, non-traditional, early college, and personal enrichment. • 78% said the quality of SC4’s faculty was a “very important” or “somewhat important” reason they chose SC4. • 65% said class size was “very important” or “somewhat important” • 71% said tuition costs were a “very important” reason they chose SC4, with another 18% saying it was “somewhat important.” • Campus life, by contrast, was important to only 37% of students.
What do students think? • • • •
• • • •
“Mostly money and I know classes transfer.” “Instructors come from the real world.” “Saved me a lot of money on general education courses.” “Didn’t know what I wanted to do, better to take classes here and figure it out than spend a lot of money somewhere else.” “Proximity to home versus four-year schools.” “The Blue Water Middle College.” “Close to home, I’m still able to work.” “TACO COUPONS BABY. ITS TACO DAY.” 15
Not all about the Benjamins • It’s about VALUE. • SC4 has outstanding, experienced, student-centered professors and instructors, many of whom have worked in the fields they teach. • We have no graduate assistants teaching basic English, math… or anything else. • Our student-to-teacher ratio is about 19:1, generally smaller than a typical freshman course at a four-year school. • And our tuition is 66% to 75% lower… for the same product. (Not to mention room and board savings.) • Experience + quality + savings = VALUE
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it lighteth all them which are in the house.
The plan • Create a planned approach to enrollment and recruitment • Identify potential growth areas for enrollment • Align enrollment goals with program development, community needs and local employment demand • Enhance business practices and processes related to enrollment, including budgeting and staffing • Align marketing, public relations and community outreach with the college’s enrollment goals • Improve the student experience from their first interest through enrollment (and beyond) 19
Guiding principles We are always recruiting. Everyone is a potential recruiter.* All marketing is recruitment related. Our website is the hub of our online messaging. We will focus on social media platforms and communications methods most used by our students. • We will create and share relevant content. • We will create a culture of continuous evaluation and improvement. • • • • •
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #1: Focus the recruitment marketing message
• The Value Proposition • Transferability via Michigan Transfer Agreement • “Start here. Go anywhere.” • One year, 30 credits 21
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #2: Improve responsiveness to prospect inquiries • Set and meet standards for follow-up • Include faculty and other staff in these contacts • Be prepared to meet students on their “turf,” not the other way around • Assume that all prospective students need help figuring out how to start college. Avoid scaring them away with details. Stop recruiting backwards!
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #3: Improve communication with prospects • Optimize the existing SC4 website • Develop program guides that show how to start at SC4 and complete a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school • Focus efforts on our top 15 transfer schools and work on additional articulations and partnerships with them • Initiate a pay-per-click (PPC) online advertising program • Text, live chat and social media responsiveness • Marketing needs to be friendly and have a sense of humor • Seasonal targeted campaigns to attract students returning home for the holidays
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #4: Outreach to non-traditional students • Expand non-credit career offerings (Workforce Development) • Emphasize the convenience of online courses • Market AGE degree as a vehicle for self-designed or individualized preparation for careers • Clarify experiential learning requirements • Consider opportunities to reach adult learner populations by developing off-campus SC4 Centers • Expand online and hybrid offerings
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #5: Develop relationships earlier • Begin communicating with high school juniors – and even earlier – much sooner in their selection process • Need to have SC4 in their minds long before they’re starting to choose from four-year options • Continue to work with middle school and upper elementary groups to visit campus and participate in events designed for them
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #6: Align academic offerings with local needs • Improve class scheduling process • Investigate Technical Middle College concept • Invigorate occupational degree advisory groups and strengthen relationships with local employers • Develop new programs, certificates and certifications where demand exists • Develop pathways for students to get A.S. degree while working on Pre-Allied Health programs • Align transfer degrees with requirements at four-year institutions.
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #7: Incorporate faculty and alumni into recruitment
Deliver targeted recruitment Strategy #8: Evaluate and reconsider legacy recruitment efforts • School counselor outreach methods and events • Visits to and from local high schools • Expand outreach to areas just beyond the SC4 district, but not part of any other community college • Consider rebate for non-district students
Improve conversion rates Strategy #9: Establish Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system • Long-term: Dedicated higher education CRM system • Short-term: Simple, cloud-based CRM (Insightly), that integrates with other online communications tools (including MailChimp, text, social media platforms)
Create repeatable efforts Strategy #10: Document and continually improve the process
Final thoughts • It doesn’t happen overnight. • Stop doing things that aren’t effective, just because you’ve “always done them.” • Stop doing things others do that aren’t effective, just because they’re “expected.” • Don’t guess. Get the data you need to make informed enrollment management goals. • Let your plan stay in “permanent draft” mode. Things always change; your plan should, too.
• Doing nothing is not an option. 32
View Quest for Recruitment on Notist.
Co-presenter: Carrie Bearss, St. Clair County Community College