How One College Reclaimed Control of Enrollment

Part 1 of 2

With her institution facing an uphill battle with declining enrollments, Kennebec Valley Community College Dean of Student Affairs Karen Normandin knew she needed to find solutions.

In a December 2016 webinar, Normandin and Collegis Education Director of Student Experience Paul Kramer recounted how their partnership reversed a critical dip in enrollments since 2013 through one encompassing strategy: enhance the connections between prospective students.

Below are highlights from the webinar. Part one is focused on the power of conversation and culture. Part two looks into KVCC’s online offerings and how they have been optimized to connect with prospective students.

A Gap in Perspective

Normandin and Kramer were brought together to find solutions to respond to a market shift and changing student needs. KVCC knew it needed to adapt but was unsure of how.

Normandin and Kramer shared how they uncovered solutions by first reviewing key milestones in the prospective student journey. Several solutions hinged on the ability to understand how stressful it is to be a prospective student today. In response, KVCC raised awareness of this student mindset among staff and activated a campus-wide effort to better nurture relationships with prospective students.

Training KVCC staff involved three parts:

  1. How to recognize stress points for prospective students.
  2. Understanding the most optimal responses to prospect questions.
  3. Understanding the importance of moving from a transactional interaction to an exchange in which KVCC staff demonstrate their investment in the prospect’s goals.

The greatest opportunity was revealed after realizing that when staff heard a prospect’s question, it required a seemingly simple response. Yet to the prospect, the answer could set off a variety of reactions, including doubt, fear and confusion. By alerting staff to the anxiety that prospects experience as they research postsecondary options, KVCC was able to change the conversation with potential students. Enhancing these “soft” interactions made all the difference. The result was that prospect encounters throughout campus became more student-centric, regardless of whether the prospect was in the beginning, middle or end of their school-selection journey. Enrollment began to turn around.

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 4.01.55 PM

Graph: Prospective student journey map toward enrollment in higher education.

Unexpected Benefits

Not only did staff/prospect conversations improve within specific departments, but prospects experienced improvements in interdepartmental exchanges as well. The result was a less siloed environment and a more team-based approach that is enhanced by external perspective. KVCC staff also noted that overall feelings of value improved after implementing more meaningful student conversations.

Background on KVCC

Kennebec Valley Community College is one of seven community colleges operating within the Maine Community College System. It opened in Fall 1970 with 35 full-time and 131 part-time students. As of Fall 2015, enrollment had grown to 2,600 students. The college offers more than 30 degree programs with many designed for outcomes in local business and industry.

KVCC is located in Somerset County — one of the most economically depressed areas in Maine. The admissions team faced challenges from a number of sources, including a decline in high school enrollment and increased competition. Additionally, KVCC’s commuter campus and limited access to public transportation caused it to struggle to compete with the residential experience offered by other colleges.

Upgrades to Digital Admissions Tools

On top of making prospect goals a priority, KVCC invested in its online and mobile tools. As is the case with many colleges and universities, KVCC’s admissions model had become outdated. The school was accustomed to using only minimal marketing, and its website was not optimized for trends in online use. Up until recent years, recruitment had not been proactive, and the admissions approach had been more focused on completing steps and meeting deadlines than building relationships. Additionally, budgets were tight and staff were stretched thin. Change seemed daunting, and no one was sure of which changes would be worthwhile.

When a new president took office in 2013, KVCC examined how it could better harness data and shift away from practices that had become routine but were no longer effective.

Shop Your School, Monitor Metrics

By Fall 2015, enrollment was improving. Normandin underscored in the webinar how nurturing prospective students is everyone’s job throughout campus. One listener asked how KVCC manages to ensure that all staff are trained. Normandin relayed that it can be a challenge, but that department heads are committed.

Kramer emphasized that it’s important to shop your school to find out what prospective students are hearing and seeing at each point. He reported that in an annual review of 30,000 prospective student inquiries, nationwide, that students were 24 percent more likely to enroll if they had received a response from the school within 24 hours of reaching out. After 24 hours, the enrollment figures drop to 4 percent.

Kramer acknowledges that a 24-hour response may not be feasible for all admissions teams, but he says schools that do their best to improve response time do show improvements in enrollment.

Click here for part 2 on the digital upgrades KVCC made in order to be more user-friendly and attractive to students in January.

 

Collegis Education Webinars

Collegis Education hosts webinars once a quarter. Slides from the KVCC webinar may be viewed here. The webinar archive recording is available here.

Watch our webinar page for updates on future broadcats.

About the Author

Leah Otto

Leah Otto is a content marketing writer for Collegis Education. She holds a Master of Business Communication from the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota. She has taught over nine semesters of college-level marketing and public relations.

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