As we head into the holiday season, marking the end of the fall semester, I’m sure you have already laid out the broad strokes of next calendar year’s enrollment marketing strategy.

But before you head off for some well-earned R&R, your mind on chopping down pine trees and settling into a turkey coma, this is a good time to check on a few things.

You might find that your master plan could use a few course corrections before turning on the auto-pilot.

Before I get into five tips to set yourself up for success with next year’s enrollment marketing strategy, let’s review some basics.

Enrollment Marketing Strategy Fundamentals

As marketers, it’s easy to get caught up in new initiatives, pet projects, experimental tools or channels, and lose sight of the fundamentals.

Take a moment to review your current campaigns and marketing activities as a whole. Ask two basic questions:

  1. Is your eye focused on your target personas? Overall, do you feel that your approach is reaching your core audiences in a meaningful way?
  2. Are you making progress on your goals? Have you recently performed any routine analysis to demonstrate that you are moving prospects toward enrollment?

If your answers are “yes” and “yes,” congratulate yourself on a job well done this year. For you, this article is about ways to build on solid work to give yourself an edge next year.

If either of your answers are “no,” it means your current strategy could be either clearer or more evidence-based. I suggest giving your team a gift by revisiting the fundamentals, then consider the tactics below.

Tip #1: Consider a Re-Enrollment Campaign for Retention

Before you look too closely at next year’s enrollment marketing strategy, consider this tactic to pull the needle all the way through your current strategy. Grab the low-hanging fruit: re-enrollment.

The holiday season is a little late to drive re-enrollment of current students for the spring semester, unless you want to offer deadline extensions. But this is an excellent time to think about maximizing your hard work driving enrollment by minimizing attrition next fall.

There is good news and bad news about re-enrollment campaigns. It all boils down to how they’re done.

  • The bad news: Results of a recent study by the Helios Education Foundation suggest nudges that make it easy to re-enroll, e.g. via text message, aren’t very effective by themselves.
  • The good news: This same study demonstrated that the key is incentives. Students who received a course tuition waiver were 1.5 percentage points more likely to re-enroll than those who received nothing.

As it turns out, this is one area where education marketing can learn something from (and I know this is sacrilege to some, but here goes) retail sales. Apparently, offering the higher ed version of a discount or buy X, get 1 free deal can move the needle.

Tip #2: Analyze Last Year’s Spring Campaign for Non-Traditional Enrollment

If you have a perennial campaign planned for the spring, or if you put a new plan together last year that you want to repeat, take a moment to look back at your results. See what non-traditional enrollment numbers you can attribute to it, if applicable.

It’s always a good idea to assess a campaign before employing a similar one again. I would be surprised if you weren’t already looking at overall numbers and traditional student enrollment. But spring is a good time to pay special attention to adult learners.

Here’s why:

  • A traditional enrollment marketing cycle is typically tied to the high school academic year and FAFSA deadlines. Fall is when we’re focused on senior visits, early applications, etc. The enrollment funnel is somewhat predictable.
  • Non-traditional students break the mold. They aren’t being nudged along by high school counselors and peers. Their motivations are more varied and their decision-making time far less predictable. 

That makes spring as good a time as any to push for non-traditional enrollment. Maybe even the best time, so you can maintain focus on traditional enrollment in the fall.

The unpredictable length of the adult learner funnel is borne out in data, according to Davia Lassiter, Director of Marketing at Kennesaw State University’s College of Continuing and Professional Education:

“So, for us, we know that (non-traditional) students can take a month to make a decision, some take two years to make a decision. And that’s just based on information that we’re seeing from the data.”

Take a look at last year’s spring campaign. When it was a little late to pick up traditional students for the fall, how did you do on the non-traditional side? Consider retooling your spring plans to take them more into account.

Tip #3: Plan to Leverage Spring Commencement for Content Assets

As I’ve written about before, events are assets. For most colleges and universities, there is no event that is a bigger asset in your marketing strategy – or more meaningful to all your audiences – than spring commencement.

  • For alumni-donors, it represents legacy.
  • To current students, it’s about hope for their own futures.
  • To parents, it represents outcomes for their kids.
  • For prospective students, it sends the message that if others can do it, so can they.

The question is, how well do you feel you leveraged commencement to communicate these messages last year? 

Follow this link to check out a few ideas you might not have tried before. A few of them – especially graduate story development and utilizing commencement speakers – require a little extra pre-planning. It makes sense to start outlining your plans now.

Tip #4: Analyze Your External Coverage of Back-to-School Events

Welcome events like move-in week and new student orientation are primarily geared toward new students, of course. But just like commencement, these back-to-school events make for great external content assets. 

Did you capture and share those moments:

  • On social media? 
  • In email marketing?
  • In external newsletters?

If so, what were the results? Again, this goes back to one of those fundamentals: routine digital marketing analysis

You may already be doing this overall. But what I think sometimes gets overlooked is special analysis around these events. The assumption is that if you put a lot of work into something, it must have been effective. (The alternative is too depressing – all that work for nothing?)

But this isn’t all-or-nothing. All I’m saying is that if something worked really well, like an Instagram takeover, you might want to plan to do it even bigger and better next year.

Alternatively, if something you thought would be great kind of flopped, you don’t want to waste your time doing it again in exactly the same way. Besides, that was months ago … the bad news should be easier to hear now!

Tip #5: Next Year, Consider Partnering More with Campus Resources

Now more than ever, campus security and wellbeing services, including counseling, are important attractive benefits to prospective families.

Even before the pandemic, mass shootings, sexual assault and other threats to student wellbeing were frequently in the news and on the minds of parents. Thanks to the coronavirus, we now have another item to add to the list of anxieties.

It’s not just parents that are concerned. Young people are worried about themselves:

  • 72% of college students are uncertain about the future.
  • 58% of college students are “moderately,” “very,” or “extremely” worried about their own mental health.
  • 25% of 18- to 24-year-olds had seriously considered suicide during the month of June, 2020.

This has transformed these student services from expected features of college life into core benefits to communicate in your marketing strategy. Colleges and universities must actively combat concerns that to be on campus might be unsafe with overt messages of safety and support.

It’s a good idea to take a look at your editorial calendar for next year and make sure it’s not all about promoting academics, student life opportunities, and all the other familiar content categories. Take some time to add some safety, security and wellbeing into the mix.

This holiday season, take a moment to look over your enrollment marketing strategy, and make course corrections now. You’ll thank yourself later.

Here’s a message that’s both timely and evergreen: It’s been a tough year. 

While that’s especially true in 2020, every year has its challenges. So whenever you’re reading this, I hope you get some rest this holiday season.

But first, take a moment. Give yourself the gift of little tweaks to ensure the best possible plan for next year. You’ll be glad you did.

Need help getting started? Just reach out.


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Featured image by Plutmaverick via Adobe Stock

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