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McCauley on Building Enrollment: Planning Gets Results

Efforts to build enrollment are much like a good marketing plan supported by a good promotional plan. The operative word being plan. Easy as it is to postpone planning because we’re too busy, taking the time now to build a strong enrollment plan will pay real benefits and, in many cases, actually save time down the road.

Whether you’re working to increase enrollment in your courses, or to attract a targeted group of students with a sincere interest in business and marketing, you will have to develop a recruiting plan. Step one as you begin to create this plan is to be sure you’ve considered various stakeholders. Your efforts, at a minimum, must appeal to potential students, parents, and counselors.

Along with your consideration of target markets, we need to make use of a variety of media to deliver the message. Consider traditional media (newspaper, radio, television, direct mail), new media (websites, blogs, email), and social media (Facebook, Twitter). We’ll talk more about each in coming weeks.

Finally, we need to keep a consistent message.  Once you’ve determined your brand message you need to make sure you stay on message throughout your promotional efforts. Even the pros struggle with this issue.  For the sake of simplicity, think about this contradiction: “fun” vs. “rigorous.” If we build a brand focused on one or the other, it will have a very significant impact on the type student we attract. More on this topic in a future article.

So, what would a recruitment plan look like? The answer, of course, will vary greatly from school to school. There are many variables including registration dates, target audience, available media, and the rules/policies of your school.  Nevertheless, let’s look at an example of what a recruitment plan could look like.

August
As in business, we need to make sure we take care of our current “customers” as they may become our best recruiters or our biggest detractors. Begin a regular communication with your incoming students and their parents at the beginning of the year. Something as simple as a post card, letter, or email welcome before school starts would be appropriate. Think of the message this sends and how differently it positions your program from most others in the school. (How many math teachers are sending welcomes before school starts?)

September-October
Using email/mail, send information about your pathway, course sequence or course options to the parents of incoming students. In my case, that would include students currently in ninth grade.  If you are using mail it will require you to create a brochure. If using email a program such as Constant Contact (free version available) will provide all the tools to deliver a media rich communication.  Remember, at this point our “recruitment” program is focused on students who have already made the commitment. We’re working to reinforce their decisions and we’re beginning to help them understand how to advocate for the program.

November
Time to begin thinking about your best potential students for next year:  those currently enrolled in your earlier grades.  Take time to meet individually with your students to help them schedule the appropriate course from your program offerings.  If you have an established pathway use this opportunity to help them create a path toward becoming a pathway “graduate.”

Meet with counselors and review your courses, pre-requisites, sequence or pathway requirements. Splurge for lunch and get some time “one-on-one” with the counseling department. Be sure to have some materials to leave behind.  Flyers and brochures, backed with a card or something more creative with your website.  Having the information they need online is critical, since they will likely lose your brochure before they even have a chance to throw it away!

Remember, counselors’ reward systems focus on test scores and college admissions.   And, keep in mind that they have very little time to work with individual students.  Make it easy for them to recommend your courses!

Time to start thinking about January.  We’re going to want to reach out to potential students in lower grades.  Make arrangements now so that you’re not asking permission at the last minute.

December
Create a video featuring your course options.  I use Animoto.com  to create a video using photos and text.  Here is an example: http://goo.gl/43Nvs This example may or may not be your style, but you get the idea.  You can let viewers access the video in several ways:  links in email or Facebook, embed or linked from your website, via a QR code on any printed materials, etc.

January
Your current students are your best spokespeople. Send your best students or student organization officers to the Junior High schools (or wherever your incoming students may be) to either present in classes or to set up a display during lunch. Their mere presence creates interest. I suggest some type of prize drawing to provide another opportunity to gather contact information. This year we gave away three Android tablets.

February
Host an open house for your program (either as part of a school-wide effort or on your own) just prior to the final registration deadline for your incoming students.  A few interactive displays and a presence by your top students are critical.

March, April, May, June, July
If our August – February activities were effective, it’s time to kick back and relax a bit.  Hardly.  Like any good marketing and promotional plan, we have a full compliment of spring and summer activities related to building enrollment in coming years.

Let’s build out this part of the calendar together. Visit me on Facebook and let me know what you do this time of year to help build future enrollments.

Ongoing Activities

Website: With all of the drag-and-drop website-building services available,  there is no longer any excuse for not having your own website. While I use and recommend Wix.com, there are many other  options. Here is our site.

Newsletter: Create and send a newsletter on a regular basis. Email is most flexible and affordable but the format will depend on the internet connectivity of your audience. In our case, we include messages in the school newsletter that is sent out monthly. Remember, this is read by parents!  For example, here’s an article about selecting a business school for post-secondary education. Think about how this short article positions our program in relation to higher education, etc.

Social Media: Develop a social media policy in your program and take advantage of this free method of creating and maintaining a conversation with your current and potential students.  We are currently reevaluating our approach to maintaining a social media presence, so I’ll provide examples in future articles and via my Facebook postings.

Talk to me! In subsequent issues of Perspectives we’ll add to this calendar and provide more examples. Be sure to visit us on Facebook and contribute to the discussion. Your input is what makes MBAResearch work.