Behavioral patterns and enrollment growth
Enrollment management solutions to turn “summer melt” into “summer growth.”
Turning “summer melt” into “summer growth” requires a deep understanding of applicant behavior patterns.
In just a few weeks, I’ve heard from many colleagues that my argument that we can continue to grow enrollment over the summer is a bit out there. And yes, that is the polite version of what I heard. While it is certainly outside the mainstream, my argument is supported by clear data showing enrollment potential.
The data I’ve seen working with the data science team at enroll ml is clear – the opportunity exists. Yet it’s data that’s largely been out of reach of Admissions Directors and Deans in almost every instance. As a refresher, there were three points of rationale last week:
- Turning “summer melt” into “summer growth” requires a deep understanding of applicant behavior patterns.
- The admissions office must learn to identify the “swing” applicants.
- Counselor engagement needs to focus on the specific differentiators of your institution.
For the sake of being a quick read, I’ll focus on the first point – the need to get a deeper understanding of applicant behavior patterns. It is precisely the inability to analyze patterns that has collectively held us back from achieving summer growth.
Key concepts discussed here are:
- Your most significant barrier is time
- It is behavioral patterns that matter most, not just checkpoints
- Searching for sparks of interest is the secret to summer growth
Your most significant barrier is time.
Of course, it’s an age-old statement. In fact, time is the only non-renewable resource in an admissions cycle. Theoretically, you can always send more emails, print more viewbooks, buy more names, get more budget, etc. But once a day in your recruitment cycle is over, it’s gone.
Summer melt feels so foreboding and foregone in part because of this. Now, you have fewer recruiting days left, and you are knee-deep in setting the stage for the next class while also juggling vacation requests and staff transitions if you’re anything like the offices I’ve worked in.
There is no more critical time to understand exactly who you need to reach out to than during the summer. In the spring, if you could withstand the ire of your counseling team, you could get away with giving them a call list of dozens or even hundreds of students. Perhaps you narrowed it down by one, two, or even three variables. You could do this because you had the time to be fishing, and there were enough live opportunities to get a bite on the line now and then.
“Once a day in your recruiting cycle is over, it’s gone”
But now, in July? August? With so many of the students gone and checked out of the recruitment cycle, a larger and larger portion of those lists are students who have long since left. But you still have students actively considering enrolling in your institution.
To turn summer melt into summer growth, you must be prepared to manage counselor time by eliminating students who have checked out from their outreach efforts and minimizing the time they spend with students who are thoroughly checked in.
Identify the swing students (deposited or not), and you can perform what will feel like a magic trick: you can turn summer melt into summer growth.
It’s behavioral patterns that matter most, not just checkpoints.
Throughout my time in admissions and enrollment, I learned to do everything you would expect—check-in on visit numbers, application submissions, FAFSA filing, etc. As I grew in the profession, I put those significant variables together to develop more sophisticated analysis and enrollment projections.
But I was missing the forest for the trees. Looking at the significant milestones, I was blind to the signals students sent along the way. Imagine the recruitment cycle as a marathon – these are the five-mile checkpoints. Now assume that, like the enrollment process, the marathon course is not clearly marked, such as with the Boise Marathon in 2021 – runners could (and did) veer off course throughout the race. If your check-in point is only at miles 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 – how many applicants are you missing in the space between?
That’s where the behavioral patterns matter. A student not filing for financial aid is a warning sign, but it may be too late to get them back by the time that happens. Instead, a full-scale analysis of not just individual metrics but the existing patterns is needed to know who is still open to enrolling this fall.
Searching for sparks of interest is the secret to summer growth
There’s no magic secret to this part – of course, we need students to tell us that they’re interested in continuing to spend time and money recruiting them over the summer. That takes different forms at different institutions, from offering more money to asking: “Are you still interested?” We ask them to send up a flare, so we know where to find them.
We are approaching it wrong. Students are already telling us that they’re interested – by engaging in emails, browsing the website, or taking other specific actions that can and should show us that they’re still interested. I think of these as sparks, not flares. The students aren’t doing it with the expressed intention of asking us to engage with them – but they are indicating that they’re still out there, open to being recruited.