August 31

A Winning Formula for Your Enrollment Funnel


by | Aug 31, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Growth occurs as people move down your enrollment funnel eventually becoming current students.

So how can we move more people down the funnel? And how can we help move through the funnel faster? 

If you can unlock that code, you’ve got the winning formula for fast and steady growth.

Fortunately, we were able to speak with someone with a proven track record of growth on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast.

Since 2017, the Pepperdine University – Graduate School of Education & Psychology has nearly tripled its enrollment from about 1,500 students to over 4,000. 

So how did they do it?

Pepperdine's Luke Phillips tells us in this episode the kinds of enrollment funnel initiatives they have used to achieve phenomenal results. According to Luke Phillips, the school’s Executive Director of Marketing and Enrollment, they did it by avoiding the weeds and taking a strategic approach to their enrollment funnel. 

It isn’t enough for marketing teams to simply focus on clinching the sale — they need to step outside the box and look at the big picture.

You won’t want to miss the incredibly practical insight Luke shares on emphasizing strategic thinking toward growth and their winning formula for converting student leads.  

The Partnership Between Marketing and Admissions

One of the primary reasons Pepperdine’s strategy is bringing in great results is because they are leveraging the synergy between the marketing and admissions departments.

In our conversation, Luke helped us understand the mindset of the partnership between marketing, who focus on the top of the funnel students, and admissions who are tasked with cultivating the students at the bottom of the funnel.

For a lot of institutions, marketing has always been separate from admissions, with each doing their own thing. But I’ve had this wonderful privilege that I’ve been able to oversee both in the last three institutions I’ve been at—and it has been a real advantage. 

So for those who don’t have that opportunity, being closely connected through regular meetings, and being best friends with the admissions directors is going to be critical. 

Enrollment Funnel Communications and Initiatives

One of the ways that Luke has been able to successfully bridge the gap between marketing and admissions is by engaging them both in enrollment funnel communications and initiatives.

So now we’ve got all these leads for marketing, how do we get those leads to move in to be in the seat on the first day of class? What are all those steps we need to move them through in between from “lead” to “contact on the phone” or from “accepted” to “matriculated” and “enrolled.” 

[In regard to] funnel communications, I put a really heavy emphasis on “speed to lead.” [By that I mean] getting outbound dials, text messages, chat—and whatever form of communication you can—[as quickly as possible]. 

[So first] “speed to lead” and then “rewarming.” Those who’ve gone aged who never got contacted, how do you “rewarm” those [leads]? [You need to] have a good strategy for that. 

Down the funnel, [we have an initiative managed by] our admissions team, our standard is 21 days. If someone’s an active student who hasn’t said they’re not interested yet, they get what we call “the trifecta”— a call, voicemail, email and text message about every 21 days. 

Every enrollment counselor around the officer is scheduling that next call while on the last call. 

This handing off of leads from marketing to admissions is seamless for Pepperdine because they have a strategy for what they’re going to do with the leads. 

Marketers know when to hand off leads to admissions. Once they receive a lead, each admissions officer knows the next task and task deadline to keep cultivating the prospective student through the enrollment funnel.

Value +Urgency = Conversions

Of course, there are many other enrollment funnel initiatives that Luke and his teams are using to cultivate more prospective students toward conversions.

There are a lot of other enrollment funnel initiatives [that drive growth] like the software you’re using, your scholarship strategies, [the strategic way you set] your deadlines.

Earlier students are more students. If we can get students in [by offering them] good value, like [offering them a] scholarship if they apply by this date and those kinds of things. 

Value plus urgency always equals conversion. 

The more value and the more urgency, the more conversions. [The idea is to do this] quickly and seamlessly. 

There are thousands of things you can do to remove barriers [to conversion]. 

[For example,] you might not need a 600-word essay to be able to evaluate a student’s ability to be a successful student. [Another example is] trying to get an acceptance review—don’t make them wait two or three months to get their decision! Let’s make that decision as fast as we possibly can. 

Eliminate unnecessary faculty meetings and discussions [during the review and acceptance process]. Some [schools] bring in career services or other committees to determine all these things. 

We say the enrollment officer is the leader. They make that decision. If they need to escalate to the program chair, they can. Trying to make it easy for students [by]removing these barriers is really important.

Using Psychology to Shape Your Enrollment Funnel

It is inspiring to see how Pepperdine is using psychology in marketing. 

There are all kinds of different tactics you can use to create urgency and leverage the innate fear of missing out on something good. 

But with urgency, you also have to present value. The student has to have a reason for responding quickly and understand clearly what’s in it for them. 

You’ve got to be honest and authentic about the value being offered and the urgency of jumping on it right away. 

Remember, you’re not just some infomercial hawking off some shiny new thing they don’t need. 

You are trying to cultivate these conversions because it’s important for them as people to move on to the next step of the enrollment funnel. Moving down the funnel is a step forward in their own education, and ultimately, their better future. 

“Value plus urgency equals conversion.” And the more you have of both, the more growth you are going to experience. 

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Luke Phillips to get even more insights into:

  • Strategic growth and execution of market research (5:19)
  • Distilling actionable data through SWOT analysis (15:06)
  • How successful enrollment marketing opens up opportunities (23:02)

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