I recently had the opportunity to read The Enrollment Growth Playbook, a free resource from Helix Education.  Higher education institutions face the daunting task of recruiting students in a hyper-competitive market and this book does an excellent job of laying the framework for marketing in today’s digital, multichannel environment.

There is a lot of talk in higher education about the need for a new brand or a new website. But what colleges and universities really need are students.  The competition for new students has never been more intense and this playbook provides an excellent starting point. Below are 10 themes from the book that resonated the most with me:

10 Key Themes

  1. Disruption
    The core theme of The Enrollment Growth Playbook is that disruption in coming to higher education. This topic has been near and dear to my heart over the last 10 years. (See  http://www.markgr.com/category/highedwebflat/) Constantly ask yourself how you fit into the future of higher education.
  1. Strategy
    In my role as a Digital Strategist I have come to appreciate the need for true strategic thinking. Most people mistake strategy with goal setting and/or ambition. They are very different. My definition of strategy is based on the work of Richard Rumelt. Strategy is defined as actionable steps to leverage strengths to meet challenges.  Everyone on your campus needs to know why you have a website. Know the problem you are trying to solve, and that problem needs to be strategic.
  1. Know What Makes You Special
    Part of the strategy equation above is understanding your strengths. Every campus has strengths. Identify what makes you special.  Know what attributes make students choose you over competitors. And be true to who you are.  In this age of social media, authenticity is a must.
  1. Know Your Competitors
    The ultimate goal of a competitive analysis is to be able to answer the question of why do students choose to enroll on your campus. And remember this needs to be done continually because the landscape is constantly changing.  Be realistic about your competitors. It’s important not to be too aspirational when identifying your competition. Basic questions include:

    1. Who, exactly, are my competitors?
    2. Which programs do they offer?
    3. What is the cost of their tuition?  (true costs, not sticker price)
    4. What percentage of their students graduate?
    5. How do they articulate their brand?
  1. Retention is the New Recruitment
    Enrollment includes both recruiting new students and retaining old students. Put resources towards retention. Utilize technology to help identify students who are struggling, and the earlier the better.
  1. Authenticity
    The rules of marketing have changed. Dialog has replaced monologue. Campuses need to be true to who they are.  One of the biggest things that a campus can do to improve retention is to make sure that their marketing messages are accurate.  If a student’s experience once they arrive on campus is different than what they expected they will be much more likely to leave.
  1. Recruiting Post Traditional Students
    With 85% of students now classified as “post traditional”, traditional marketing approaches will need to change. Buying names from the SAT and ACT or going to college fairs won’t help find these students.  Optimizing website SEO, partnering with high quality affiliate websites, reengaging with past inquires that did not enroll, and utilizing paid social campaigns are all tactics that can be used to reach post traditional students.
  1. Stand Out From the Crowd.
    I’m always amazed how similar the marketing messages are across higher education. (see 88 College Taglines, Arranges as a Poem)   For prospective students, constant exposure to these similar messages juzt turn into white noise.  While it is difficult, your brand messaging should stand out from the crowd while maintaining authenticity.
  1. Data Must be Shared and Actionable
    Big data is here. The challenge is making sure that right people have access to the data to make informed decisions. And data needs to be actionable.  If the data you collect is not used for decisions, that data in reality is merely trivia.
  1. A Team Strategy
    I’ve often been amazed by the disconnect between admissions and the rest of campus. Many outside of the Admissions Office think that new students just magically appear.  While that may have been the case a generation ago, today’s hyper competitive market makes student recruitment more important than ever.  It takes a team of enrollment specialists, marketing specialists, and technology specialists all working with the entire campus to attract and retain students.

The Enrollment Growth Playbook is a must read for anyone involved with enrollment.  While you can easily read it in an hour, you will find yourself returning back to it on a regular basis. To get your free copy Get your free copy here.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of transparency, I was asked by Helix Education to review this book and offer my opinion.  I was compensated for my time.  I agreed to this arrangement after reading the book and concluding it is a valuable resource.