Must Read Blog February 24, 2021

Beyond the Noise: Enrollment Marketing – Getting Back to Normal?

We are excited to share that in the five months since its launch, the Tyton Partners’ Center for Higher Education Transformation has begun work on a number of exciting projects, including several potential partnership initiatives, as well as efforts to help institutions catalyze new growth and reimagine their approach to online program offerings. As challenging as managing through the pandemic has been over the past 12 months for most institutions, we believe it has energized many leaders’ sense of what is possible as they work through existing and anticipated obstacles. As one example, we note the announcement this month by Morehouse College that it will partner with 2U to offer affordable online degree completion programs beginning next fall. This game-changing offering, born from the urgency of the pandemic, is a great silver lining both for Morehouse, as well as the working adult students the program will surely benefit. If we can help you locate silver linings, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Enrollment Marketing: Getting Back to Normal?

The pandemic has catalyzed material (and likely irreversible) changes to the higher education marketing and enrollment environment. It has, of course, forced much of the face-to-face interaction between prospective students and universities online as high school fairs and campus tours have been suspended indefinitely. It has also accelerated a movement away from the standardized admissions tests (SAT and ACT) that both help schools evaluate applicants and provide valuable demographic and contact information that schools use to target prospective families with mailed and emailed outreach.

The decision by most schools to make the tests optional or to not accept them at all began as a response to the pandemic, but for many is likely to become permanent as public concerns about their role in perpetuating obstacles to diversity, equity, and inclusion in college enrollment gain traction. Critics of the tests demean their usefulness in evaluating candidates. Indeed, the solution for the loss of this data and the ability of selective schools to screen out large numbers of applicants is seemingly for admissions departments to work harder to evaluate individual applications.

Yet this is only one function of the data captured by the tests; the other is, of course, the personal data of the test takers, which institutions also rely on to target prospective students. Even as the critics of the tests want to see colleges and universities expand their access to racially minoritized populations and otherwise qualified students that may be poverty-affected, the schools themselves continue to operate within an economic model that relies on a minimum number of affluent, full tuition paying students. Undoing the standardized test data and the all-knowing zip code data that comes with it, removes an income screening tool as well.

Solving this increasingly complex challenge creates opportunities for service providers of all types and is likely to create a host of new winners in the private sector with new and evolving business models aimed both at students and at schools. A far more robust landscape is emerging of privately funded consumer-facing sites and tools that aid students in searching schools and signaling their interest to those schools. This includes tools like Naviance and Intersect which were acquired last week by PowerSchool for $320 million, as well as tools like RaiseMe, acquired last year by CampusLogic aimed at finding new ways to identify interest from more economically challenged but promising prospects. The College Board and ACT, established players facing significant disruptions in their core assessment businesses, sit on significant balance sheets that enable potential pivots into new alternatives. Other non-profit players such as CommonApp, Coalition for College, and National Student Clearinghouse also have a meaningful stake in the evolution of this interaction between prospective students and schools. For institutions, the future likely includes more sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) tools aimed at fielding, tracking, and managing student interest more specifically and adroitly. Last year Liaison acquired rival TargetX to create a higher education CRM powerhouse.

Apart from the implications for screening applicants, the decline of standardized tests over the next several years suggests a period of radical change for enrollment marketing. Admissions officers will increasingly be challenged by stakeholders around their institutions to simultaneously identify and attract well-qualified poverty-affected and minority applicants and reduce their reliance on legacy admissions, while maintaining a viable balance of equally qualified full-tuition students. And though we don’t imagine that students and institutions won’t be able to find one another, we are confident the ways in which they accomplish that will undergo radical change over the next 10 years, with equally significant shifts in the fortunes of those organizations that currently support enrollment marketing.