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Enrollment Matters

Combining the power of enrollment and advancement in higher ed

Institutions enjoy growth when these offices collaborate on recruitment and fundraising
University Business, June 2015
Mike Sapienza
Mike Sapienza

The variety of challenges facing enrollment leaders are well documented: changing demographics, increased competition for students, scarce outcome data— and the list goes on. Resources are also limited, and so it is critically important for enrollment managers to measure the ROI of the initiatives they take and then adjust as necessary.

Collaboration within the enrollment office to increase efficiency is a hurdle that many campuses have already cleared. But when enrollment managers consider ways to combine efforts with other departments, things can become more challenging, particularly on a campus where silos exist.

Advancement presents a natural partner for enrollment because it is the other driving force behind external relations and it is equally concerned with the overall brand and image of the institution. In some organizational models, enrollment and advancement are already housed in the same division under a single leader with the focus beginning at inquiry and ending at bequest—but this is the exception, and often these critical areas fail to realize the many benefits of collaboration.

Targeted fundraising

Scholarship fundraising campaigns seek to match donors’ interests to areas of student need. Appeals are often supported with statistics illustrating the increasing gap between institutional charges and ability of families to pay, national data showing the impact of increased student loan burden on college graduates, and information on scholarship and grant awards being offered by the institution’s competitors.

Institutions that use predictive enrollment models to develop financial aid strategies can demonstrate the impact that additional aid targeted to specific subpopulations has on total enrollment and the composition of the class. This allows donors to see specifically what their contribution means to individual students and the institution.

Institutions may also garner support for unfunded scholarship programs because established scholarships shown to attract desirable students provide compelling examples for donors to consider. In 2008, for example, enrollment leadership at Bryan College in Tennessee determined that in-state, high-need students who received the highest levels of institutional merit scholarships were more likely to enroll. Their federal, state and institutional aid fully covered tuition in most cases.

To increase yield among the high-need students receiving lower merit awards, the Bryan Opportunity Program was developed. It awards additional need-based aid to those students and brings their scholarships on par with those of the higher yielding group.

Initially these scholarships were unfunded, but advancement was involved from the beginning, receiving application and yield data as well as profiles of admitted and enrolled students. Advancement also had access to retention and graduation numbers.

“The Bryan Opportunity Program has enabled over 200 Tennessee residents to receive a Bryan education,” says Rick Taphorn, vice president of finance and enrollment. “And the annual banquet we hold to raise support for the program is our largest single fundraising event each year.”

Effectively using endowed scholarships

Endowed scholarships are awarded by academic departments. In many cases the recipients are strong performers already likely to stay enrolled and who end up receiving additional scholarships stacked on top of other aid.

Entering students are usually not considered for these awards, so the funds do not help with net tuition revenue goals for retention or recruitment. When possible, while still honoring the donor’s wishes for established endowed scholarships, advancement and financial aid should work together to identify eligible recipients and to replace their unfunded institutional aid. This can be accomplished by notifying students at the time of their initial award that all institutional aid is provided through the generosity of donors, and setting up the expectation that scholarships they are receiving may be replaced by named scholarships.

As advancement works to establish new endowed scholarship funds they are able to assure donors that awarded funds are having an impact on net tuition revenue goals—rather than providing additional assistance to those who may not ultimately need it.

Engaging alumni

Institutions miss an opportunity when the advancement and enrollment offices don’t coordinate efforts to engage alumni assistance in recruitment. Advancement generally seeks to engage as many alumni as possible in their initiatives, but not all volunteers are well suited to recruiting. Additionally, a broad-based approach may provide more volunteers than admissions staff can effectively train and utilize. Without strong collaboration, a definite vision, and clear instructions for how to get involved, alumni may reach out to the wrong contact or may offer to help in ways that are not within the plan. Rather than increasing engagement, this can create frustration and resentment for graduates who truly want to help.

It is critical for leadership from alumni and admissions to work together to identify those who will be the best fit and to develop realistic expectations for how they may be utilized. Alumni can very effectively increase the reach of the admissions office by representing the institution at college fairs and other recruiting events. Also, inviting alumni to share their stories during on-campus events, in letters, and even in calls to targeted groups of prospective students offers a valuable first-person perspective to prospects.

At the heart of any such initiative must be a strong training program that includes job descriptions for any specific alumni volunteer functions. Volunteers are eager to help, and providing clearly defined expectations gives them an understanding of the desired outcomes of their participation.

Programs should begin small and only grow as they meet success, and a staff member must be designated to serve as the point person for volunteers and to coordinate training. It may not need to be a full-time position depending on the size of the volunteer pool, but the person must be consistently available to answer questions and provide support.

Finally, and most importantly, alumni volunteers should be given updates on the success of the initiatives they are involved with and should be recognized at the end of the recruitment cycle. One way to do this is to include recognition in alumni publications with a summary of the results of the program.

Sharing data

Information about alumni, particularly recent graduates, is crucial to recruitment efforts. Alumni offices strive to stay connected with recent graduates by tracking graduate school progress, job titles and employers. This information is invaluable to admissions offices seeking to make the case for the return on investment of a degree from the institution. But without cooperation the information can be difficult to obtain. Communication needs to flow both ways, as information and demographics about prospective students and the entering class are equally valuable to advancement efforts.

Collaboration on outcomes data can be complicated because advancement may not be the repository for such information.

While most every alumni office uses graduate surveys and passive response forms, a coordinated effort to connect via social media is now indispensable. Also, regardless of where official collection takes place, it is important to remember that key information may also be coming in to academic departments, career services and institutional research. Everyone on campus should be aware that fundraising and recruitment must be able to bolster their campaigns with data and stories of graduates’ success.

Some collaboration between enrollment and advancement is probably already taking place on most campuses. If the collaboration is not formalized, however, the first step is for leaders from both areas to formalize any programs already in place. That way, partners from both sides can be involved from planning to implementation and should provide rewarding opportunities to impact recruitment, retention, alumni engagement, and fundraising.

Mike Sapienza is an enrollment consultant for Scannell & Kurz, a division of Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

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