Harvard Extension School is one of 12 degree-granting schools within Harvard University. Its goal to make education affordable and accessible to adult students seeking a bachelor’s or master’s degree is noble, mission centric, and market smart. Unfortunately, too few people knew about the Extension School despite Harvard’s status as the most well-known and well-respected brand in higher education.
Despite years of no growth, we increased Harvard Extension School enrollments by 17% in just two years using data-driven, relevant marketing campaigns.
Operationalizing the Biggest Brand in Higher Ed. and Boosting Enrollment 17%
by Kelly Leslie—Director of Marketing, Harvard University, Division of Continuing Education
The Whole Story
Harvard Extension School offers a low-cost, high-quality education to nontraditional students and adult learners, but many prospective students either don’t know about this unique program or believe they’re “not Harvard material.” After years of level enrollment, a new dean set an annual enrollment growth goal of 5% for two consecutive years, effective immediately.
We were excited by the challenge, but we had no systems in place for leveraging the Harvard brand—no CRM, little experience building lists of prospective students, and minimal tracking capabilities. How could we ensure that our message was getting to the people we needed to hear it? We knew the Harvard brand would be a huge advantage for us, but that wasn’t enough. We had to find a way to operationalize it.
As the Extension School’s director of marketing, I knew I had to outsource functions my small team and I simply couldn’t handle. Among my immediate needs was hiring an agency who could manage our search efforts for new students. For this, I reached out to Waybetter Marketing, whom I’d seen present at the AMA Higher Ed conference in 2013.
Waybetter understands that a truly great marketing campaign needs to be a two-way conversation. Our campaign couldn’t merely promote the Harvard brand—especially since so many of the Extension School’s prospective students believed that Harvard was out of their reach.
Instead, we designed a campaign that helped us understand the unique interests and needs of each individual student, which allowed us to then send tailored, conversational emails that linked to microsites. On these microsites, students could browse and answer a few direct questions about their interests. This gave us the ability to deliver relevant, customized information—reaching students where they were in their decision-making cycle. By building larger interested inquiry pools, Waybetter was able to help us deliver an increase in enrollment. In fact, in just two years, the Extension School’s course enrollments have grown by 17.3%.
I think it's important for colleges and universities to realize—especially those trying to decide where to allocate resources—that of course a brand is important, but it has to be operationalized to maximize its value. Even if you’re Harvard.