Three high-impact strategies to navigate through the enrollment cliff

Lyquaia Purcell

According to research, there are around four and a half years until higher ed teeters on the edge of an enrollment cliff. A peak in high school graduates will result in increased stress and financial worries for institutions across the country. 

I’ve learned that today’s engagement strategies must meet these criteria to be successful: 

  • Precision engagement 
  • Financial engagement 
  • Early engagement 

Incorporating these three criteria may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You can deploy these strategies into your existing plan in a few different ways. Let’s dive in: 

Expand student persona sets. To enhance personalized outreach, many of the schools I work with choose to create personas for engagement, but most use run-of-the-mill data points, like GPA, location, major of interest and extracurricular activities. So, what’s missing? The financial component. Schools should also consider attributes like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. 

It’s not enough to understand goals and motivations: You must also understand financial barriers and financial motivations. For example, your institution may want to grow first-generation students from feeder high schools in a certain area but being aware that most of those schools have a majority of students who use the free or reduced lunch program will also be key to your engagement strategies. How would you engage with a student and family differently if you understood they were struggling to buy groceries or needed to budget every dollar? On the other hand, you may want to attract more performing arts students who attend magnet schools. While many of those students may not have high financial need, perhaps a small incentive for participating in a national arts competition would enhance opportunities for engagement. 

Leverage financial aid in a completely new way. As I mentioned earlier, students will rule out a school for financial reasons, but the opposite of this is true, too.  Students will engage with schools if financial messages and incentives are compelling. As I alluded to in the point above, proactively build out award programs that are customized to each student.  Institutions are beginning to explore working with individual students and families to try to bridge their specific financial gaps, but too often, this is done too late.  Head this off by leading with financial engagement for all students. 

Engage early to build awareness. There is a lag between when students begin researching higher education and when they receive information from schools, which means students are left with their own assumptions about your institution. Too often, that discounts you before you’re even able to reach them. Build strategies to start engaging students as early as 9th grade. This engagement model can be built alongside key stakeholders who like to partner with colleges and universities, like high school counselors or local CBOs. Need some inspiration?

Check out this Shift Summit session on how NYU uses innovative high school counselor engagement within their early engagement and student recruitment strategies to start preparing students to be great applicants for their institution. 

Having strategies and tools in place will help overcome affordability concerns and allow your school to recruit and engage emerging classes of students early and in a personalized way. Check out AnswerThePublic.com, and search for “financial aid” to review the types of questions parents and students want to know. We recommend your team starts developing content to show prospective students the value of higher education and affordable pathways.   

A part of that overall strategy could be a tool like RaiseMe, which removes barriers while working in the background as you focus on readjusting strategies for incoming classes. 

We’ve rolled out a new campaign feature within RaiseMe that will work in the background to get your brand in front of more right-fit students than ever before. Looking to connect with freshmen who are active in their communities? Or are you hoping to recruit out-of-state women who are interested in STEM? Do you have a unique marine biology program you want to showcase to rural students? Now, you can build yearlong campaigns using more than 50 unique attributes to help you to find and engage specific students in a lightweight, thoughtful way, all the while you’re showing your brand to more students as a financially intelligent option. 

Interested? Reach out to your customer success manager to get a preview of the feature and learn how to leverage this new functionality to reach your short- and long-term enrollment goals. 

As Warren Buffet once shared, “Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” 

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