St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland is a Stunner.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful small college anywhere on the eastern seaboard. St. Mary’s also has a vaunted reputation as just one of two public honors colleges in the country. And as a public college, it also boasts lower tuition than many of the small private liberal arts colleges with which it competes in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Challenge

It seems like a recipe for certain success. But when they reached out to Waybetter, St. Mary’s was suffering a years-long downward trend in first-year enrollment (and in 2019, their first-year class was the smallest it had been in decades).

On paper, it was a real mystery: How could a great public college, in a great location, with a great price, be struggling to attract and enroll students?

The Better Way

Fixing Processes, Addressing The Data

Our deep dive into St. Mary’s data revealed part of the problem. Their previous search partner had made some troubling decisions regarding targeting and data acquisition. Our first move was to address these errors. We overhauled their search process by:

Building profiles that reached all the students St. Mary’s wanted to attract and could reasonably hope to win—these were primarily in-state students with select, budget-conscious outreach to other markets.

Acquiring names as they became available—instead of reaching out just once, we helped St. Mary’s license new names as they became available in the cycle, ensuring that all good fit prospects were being made aware of the great opportunity that awaited them at St. Mary’s.

Talking More, and More Effectively, to the Right Audiences

Once we addressed the issue of who St. Mary’s was talking to, we made sure we were saying the right things to them at the right time. This included:

Operationalizing St. Mary’s new brand and creative assets, specifically touting their nationally competitive status as the National Public Honors College.

Executing multiple ongoing multichannel campaigns—across email, social, and paid search—and delivering different messages to drive engagement and action at multiple points throughout the funnel—whether the goal was getting prospective students to visit, apply, or make a deposit.

Collaboration, Transparency, and Unity

It’s a credit to the enrollment and marketing teams at St. Mary’s that all parties there recognized the urgency of the enrollment situation and began pulling in the same direction.

As part of this collaboration between enrollment and marketing, we:

Redirected limited marketing budgets to the digital advertising efforts that could be most effective, at the times and in the locations where they were most likely to make an impact.

Monitored sentiment in the marketplace as COVID-19 hit and helped St. Mary’s adjust their marketing messages accordingly, especially as yield season approached.


In 2020, St. Mary’s increased their applications by 70%. More importantly, these students yielded, and deposits went up 24%. This fall, they welcomed their biggest first-year class in 8 years.

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