Ross Grippi II is Waybetter Marketing’s VP of Enrollment Strategy and Partnerships. He spent six months doubling as an interim Vice President of Enrollment Management at a private liberal arts college in Ohio. Here are his reflections…
It’s no secret that it’s been an eye-opening 30 months in higher education that has reshaped the way we approach education, recruitment and retention. In addition to the traditional challenges enrollment managers, marketers and recruiters faced, we were confronted with a pandemic. For the first time in my 20-plus years in enrollment management, and now enrollment strategy, the road ahead seemed impossible—but the perseverance paid off and we came out the other side better…Waybetter.
Over the course of the past six months, in the wake of that formidable pandemic, I was fortunate enough to serve as the Interim Vice President of Enrollment Management at Wittenberg University. This experience provided a live look at the trials and tribulations of institutions moving past the Covid crisis while approaching the proverbial enrollment cliff.
Here are takeaways from the time on the “other side” of the desk.
- Strategic plan. A successful enrollment manager will have a plan for every aspect of the cycle OR quickly develop one at the appropriate time. Set realistic goals and include the staff, cabinet and others in the decision-making process to gain buy-in from campus constituencies.
- It’s not over until it’s over. You can move the needle on the incoming class through the first week of class by using a relentless amount of energy, staying focused and grinding through the summer. As Jimmy Valvano said, “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
- Pivot. Don’t be afraid to pivot. Success in EM can hinge upon the ability to make strategic adjustments at a critical point and time in the enrollment cycle. VPEMs with the confidence, intelligence and awareness to deviate from the current enrollment plan and make strategic adjustments will guide their institutions to enrollment success. As you begin another cycle, review your data, survey the marketplace and don’t be afraid to change course. There is still an art and science to this work, trust your gut and let the data guide your decisions.
- Sophomores engage and enroll. 25-45% of WB campaign responders who enroll begin their journey during sophomore search.
- Slate, Search or Both? Given the statistic above, it’s critical to have a strong partner to develop your initial pipeline and strategic communication plan to nurture leads for the subsequent years. There are so many aspects of campaigns to monitor to ensure success and drive deposits, leave it to an expert external partner. Digital ads, email deliverability, email engagement and print strategy to name a few. A strong Slate game (or plan for your existing CRM) will engage students in your marketing efforts ultimately pushing them to learn more, visit, apply and the number one priority—enroll.
- Early pipelines = greater awareness. Institutions that struggle with brand awareness, which is the majority of smaller liberal arts institutions across the country, should begin building pipelines during the middle school years. Find faculty with a passion and let them lead innovative summer institutes, adventure camps and clinics. A recent #wb52tips touched on this.
And, as noted above in number four, the earlier in the funnel you can drive traffic to campus, the more awareness you will build within the greater community.
- It still takes a community. The pandemic wore everyone down in some way shape or form (one of the few times I use the word “every”). Campuses need to learn how to be a community again by supporting recruitment events, concerts, academic presentations and athletic contests. At the end of the day, everybody on campus is responsible for recruitment and it’s the enrollment leadership’s responsibility to direct them.
- A great president and cabinet make all the difference. For those who aspire to be or are looking for the next opportunity, the president and their affiliated cabinet make all the difference in your ability to be a successful enrollment manager and leader.
- Development and growth of the leaders. Identify future admission counselors and even student ambassadors early by recommending and referring them during the campus visit and application process. Oftentimes, it is a useful recruitment tool as you can guarantee them a job or leadership position within your office. Provide professional development opportunities and be rewarding and transparent in your approach. Finally, advocate for, motivate and pay them! They are the externally facing sales team who maintain relationships and drive enrollment.
- It’s not getting easier. For those looking for an easy career pathway, move on. The grind of college admission, while rewarding and exciting, will continue to have roadblocks, demographic changes and resistance from various constituencies.
- Time for yourself. There is always another day, the work will never be done and you simply cannot accomplish everything at once so pace yourself and find time to step back and reflect. As President Mike Frandsen repeatedly mentioned during my time at Wittenberg, it’s easy to look up at the mountain and see hurdles ahead, but often we have to take a moment and look behind us to appreciate the great accomplishments and reflect upon how far we have come.
To all of you in enrollment management, forge ahead and make higher education a great experience because that’s precisely why you’re in this field. Serve the students, challenge your staff, and better yourself along the way. Every experience is a learning opportunity including the past 30 months.
From the entire staff at Waybetter Marketing to each and every enrollment manager, athletic coach, faculty and staff, good luck this cycle. Work hard, be strategic and have an exceptional experience on your respective campuses.