In the current economic climate, the majority of private universities are stuck between "a rock and a hard place" with both undergraduate admissions and fundraising efforts significantly challenged.
Lincoln Memorial University, a private institution based in east Tennessee with 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, has taken a decidedly proactive approach. Taking a lesson from corporate America, LMU is the nation's first university to employ a process improvement technique called Multivariable Testing (or MVT for short) to improve both enrollment management and alumni fundraising.
MVT takes dozen of ideas for improving any business process and uses advanced statistics to sort through which ideas will work, which will actually make the situation worse, and which have no impact at all.
Here's a look at two recent experiments conducted by the university:
Brainstorming sessions with the admissions team yielded 20 ideas for improving enrollment for LMU's 2010 freshmen class. A small sampling of findings include:
- Directly asking prospective students for a deposit (via both mail and telephone) and a mail package focusing on the career success of recent LMU graduates proved to be the most effective ideas in driving enrollment numbers.
- E-mail invitations from Lincoln Ambassadors ("when you visit campus, give me a shout") and a separate invite to a "Greek Palooza" event had a particular impact with candidates with higher ACT scores.
- Some of the biggest surprises were the ideas that actually hurt enrollment. Inviting prospective students to join a Facebook group, a letter to students' parents, and a mailing promoting the university's growth in new facilities all had a negative impact on freshmen admissions.
In addition to increasing the size of this year's freshmen class, the academic quality of the entering class significantly improved with an increase of 2.2 points in ACT scores.
At the center of the experiment's success was a dramatic increase in the average alumni gift from $195 to $323 in a single year.
- A personally signed funding request from a fellow member of a graduate's class enhanced the chance of a gift.
- Affixing a personal note to the reply envelope from the dean of a specific department actually hurt the chances of a gift.
- For personal solicitations, bringing along a college yearbook from the alum's year of graduation proved to be a strong success factor.