Come What May 1: Insights from Waybetter Clients Who Hit Their May 1 Goals (Part 3, Warren Wilson College & Newman University)

This is the third post in a series. Here's Part 1, where we talked to our partners at Hawai'i Pacific University and Gannon University. Here's Part 2, where we talked to our partners at Husson University.

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Warren Wilson College has been a Waybetter client for going on three years. Tucked into the impossibly beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, its unique approach to undergraduate education combines work, service, and academics to create a student experience like no other. But matching its unique offering with the prospective students who will most benefit from it has never been easy: they're a small school that draws nationally but without historically reliable feeder schools, even in their home state.

This year, however, things are really looking up. Here's Janelle Holmboe, Warren Wilspon's VP of enrollment & marketing, talking about how they're turning the tide. 


Warren Wilson College (Asheville, NC)



WB: Where were you on May 1?

On May 1, we were up 48% over last year. Of course, Warren Wilson has a small population but we expect to bring in at least 50 more students this fall than last. Most importantly, we addressed a significant area of concern which was yield in our home state of North Carolina. We improved our in-state yield by over 12% in one year.


WB: What one, two, or three things (efforts, strategies, adjustments, etc.) were most important to your success this year?

Practically speaking, we identified a real pocket of opportunity with financial aid leveraging of the North Carolina state grant that afforded us some opportunity. So introducing a free tuition initiative for North Carolina residents made a real difference and helped drive headcount and revenue.

Less practically and more strategically: Focus. In reflecting on our results last year, I felt that we tried to do too many things and did none of them well enough to make the impact we needed. This year, the entire division (which includes marketing and financial aid) focused our efforts around our enrollment goal. We did not allow ourselves (and I did not allow myself) to get distracted by all the other competing needs. I believe that this focus was critical to our success this year. 

And lastly, this year really reminded me that enrollment really is about being disciplined about the basics. Are your apps being processed quickly? Are you calling students? Do you have a responsive RFI on your website? Sometimes it feels impossible to be doing all the little things right but doing as many of them as right as possible makes an important impact. The funnel really does work if we're doing the basics right.


WB: What’s your advice or top tips (one or two or three) that you would give to your counterparts at schools who are struggling to turn the tide?

Don't be afraid to incentivize a visit. I had been reluctant to fully embrace a visit reimbursement but did so this year across the board for students from a distance. This allowed us to make a stronger play for many of our admitted students. 

We have also worked more closely with Advancement and the President to bring engaging and impressive alumni back to campus for our spring yield events to ensure that we have a high-impact outcomes panel. Seeing families respond to these alumni has validated the strategy and the investment.  

Identify what the President and Board really want. In my experience, if you don't hit the headcount goal, nothing else matters. But that isn't always true—so get as much clarity as you can on the absolute most important thing and then don't let yourself lose focus from that one goal.

Finally, find ways to relieve the pressure for yourself. I think that sometimes we are working so hard to relieve the pressure from our staff that we forget about ourselves. The pressure in enrollment is intense and very real, especially when you're struggling. Find colleagues from other institutions who understand that pressure and develop strategies to make sure you don't let the pressure cause self-doubt. Maintain confidence in your knowledge and strategies while being willing to receive feedback. Our results this year are the effect of cumulative years of work—work that was happening even when our results weren't as good. So remember that even when your results aren't what you're hoping for, you are still building for that May 1 when it call comes together. That has been really important for me in managing the ups and downs.


Newman University (Wichita, KS)

Norm Jones, VP FOR ENROLLMENt management

Newman University in Wichita, Kansas is doing a lot of things right. Over the last three years, they've grown their undergraduate enrollment, increased retention, increased yield, decreased their reliance on athletic recruiting, and decreased melt. Here's their VP of enrollment, Norm Jones, talking about their most recent success. 

WB: Where were you on May 1?

We are a school that will continue to see deposits and commitments all summer, but we feel very good about where we were on May 1 this year. We are tracking toward an intentionally smaller class with a fairly dramatic reduction in discount rate (3-5%), which is tricky work. Identifying fit is essential to the success of that effort, and Waybetter has been a great partner for us in helping us be more personalized in our messaging from the very beginning our relationship with prospective students. If all goes well we are on track to increase aggregate net tuition revenue (NTR) on the freshman class by at least $150,000 this fall. 


WB: What one, two, or three things (efforts, strategies, adjustments, etc.) were most important to your success this year?

We are small, private college and personalizing every step of the recruitment process is essential for us, especially since we are interested in recruiting future graduates, not just freshmen. We really try to talk to students about what they care about, based on what we've learned about them. Reducing the discount rate to increase NTR was our number one priority this year, and finding better ways to articulate your value is key to being able to move the needle on discount. We have also been watching our "melt" closely, 


WB: What’s your advice or top tips (one or two or three) that you would give to your counterparts at schools who are struggling to turn the tide?

As Rich Whipkey [Waybetter's president] would say, it's not about getting more apps, it's about getting more of the right apps. Especially for small schools with limited resources, I think the best thing you can do is prioritize and focus; find the students with the strongest affinity and the best likelihood of enrollment and concentrate your time, energy and attention there as much as you can. Developing new markets is also important, but we have to be careful not to do that at the expense of our strongest feeder relationships.