February 19, 2019

3 Proven Steps to Better Yield Rates in Higher Ed

For a college or university admissions office, there may be no metric more important, or more scrutinized, than yield rate. Yield rate is the number of accepted applicants who actually choose to attend a particular school. Traditionally it has indicated the selectivity of a university or college. The more that students want to attend, the higher the yield rate would be. And for most schools the yield rate also helps guide future funding, wait lists, marketing tactics, and evaluation of admissions reps.

Yet despite the intense focus that schools place on yield rates, they have been falling steadily for both public and private four-year colleges since 2002. The yield rate decline has been significant enough that many schools are now being more selective about who they admit, basing the decision on an applicant’s prior touchpoints with the school.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, many colleges now use detailed tracking to see just how an applicant interacts with the school. Website visits, email engagement, RSVPing and then attending a university event, and many more factors are helping schools see which applicants are the most engaged. By only admitting those with higher proven interest, the school has a much higher chance of the potential student enrolling and thus a better shot at higher yields.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! In this age of ‘big brother,’ there is an expectation of some tracking on a website, or even on social media content or ads. But to many, the idea that a school is using every event attended, campus tour, and email to determine whether someone should go to that college is invasive.

Instead, a school struggling to improve their yield can turn to a better digital strategy to bring in more qualified applicants in the first place. And while it does still rely on internal data, it is data your school is already receiving, not intensive tracking that could have your prospects questioning privacy policies.

Step #1: Know Your Full Funnel

Increasing enrollments starts with understanding where prospective students are coming from in the first place. Most schools maintain a robust CRM system of applicants and students, but many fall short of tracking the applicant journey through each step. With prospect journeys only getting longer, that’s a costly mistake.

An ideal CRM setup will attribute inquiries or applicants to specific marketing channels from the start. And admissions staff will be versed in updating CRM entries at each major touch point, such as interviews or acceptance. This way, an ideal user journey and expectation can be specifically created based on the channel initially bringing in the prospect. Although it may seem like the school has a yield problem, a more precise look at individual channels driving applicants may highlight that it’s really applicants from a specific channel that produce lower yields.

Step #2: Tie Enrollment Data Back Into Ad Platforms

Now that you know the CRM system is giving an accurate channel-by-channel view of the applicant journey, it’s time to make use of that data in your marketing spend.

Many digital channels (including the largest, Google) allow powerful back-end CRM data to be tied back to ad targeting efforts. This allows ads platforms to learn which ad clicks turn into enrollments and then optimize toward more enrollments rather than just an inquiry or application.

By letting the platforms find the common threads that make up an enrollee, optimizations can start eliminating users that may be willing to apply but could likely end up stopping short of enrollment when the time comes.

Step #3: Utilize Post-Application Nurturing

Your marketing spend has already gotten a prospect in the door, but many schools make the mistake of not doing enough to guide them the rest of the way into a classroom. A digital marketing strategy focusing on post-applicant nurturing up until the point of enrollment can help increase the likelihood that an accepted student will enroll.

An application by a prospect doesn’t necessarily mean that person will enroll, as, making the final decision to actually attend school is a huge step. Many applicants get cold feet, have other life events come up, or simply don’t yet have enough trust in the school.

By pulling a CRM list of applicants who haven’t moved to the next stage, custom audiences can be created in all major social and search ad platforms. This type of ad targeting reaches only these applicants, presenting unique messaging designed to nudge them forward in their journey. Student testimonials, reviews of the school, and lifestyle imagery showing life on campus are all helpful when nurturing applicants. It feels less like a sales pitch and can instill trust and comfort in the school, which is sometimes all that’s needed to get an applicant to that all-important enrollment.

You Have The Data, Now Use It

For university admissions execs, few things are as frustrating as having a ton of interest and applications from potential students, only to find those students end up going elsewhere, resulting in low yield rates and missed enrollment goals. And while overall yield rates continue to slide for a majority of higher ed institutions, that doesn’t have to be the case for yours.

By understanding a prospective student’s entire buyer journey, connecting the data from your successful enrollments back to the marketing channels, and using those insight to continue creating engaging experiences for your potential students even after they’ve applied, you can confidently improve your yield rates and hit your enrollment goals with data you already have, without risking the PR nightmare of additional invasive data gathering techniques.

For examples of how we’ve helped higher ed organizations with issues like these, check out some of our case studies, or let’s start a conversation.

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