4 Roadblocks to Building an Enrollment Funnel (& How To Overcome Them)
Students seated in the new learning commons at Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis, MN.
Blog by Tim Fuller, Credo Senior Affiliate
Many of us in enrollment leadership have heard the question, or even asked it ourselves: “We know there are lots of students out there who would seriously consider us if they only knew we existed; how do we capture their attention?”
The enrollment funnel continues to change and evolve along with the greater landscape of higher education. While it is still a strong predictive tool for eventual enrollment, a proverbially well-oiled funnel may cease to function as it once did due to modern wrenches in the gears: stealth applicants, more platforms across which to build awareness for prospective students (or more noise overtaking our voice in the crowd depending on your perspective), and our own increasingly aggressive top-of-funnel strategies that fluff our top-of-funnel numbers but don’t equate to increased new student enrollment.
Many of our campuses believe that simply purchasing names—increasing the numbers at the top of the funnel—will increase their new student results. Over and over again, despite institutions having larger top-of-the-funnel volume than ever, final new student numbers simply cannot be predicted by the size of the top of the funnel. Through predictive modeling and intentional name purchases from reputable sources like The College Board or ACT/NRCCUA, top of the funnel strategies do have the potential to put campuses in front of (more) prospective students. Money can help, but throwing money at your funnel is—alone—not strategic enough to meaningfully increase your new student totals. Remember that the point is not to get more applications, but rather to enroll more students.
Here are four common roadblocks our enrollment leaders report when trying to build the top of their funnel—and how to overcome each one:
- The “wrong more.” We collected a lot more names, yet we haven’t seen any increase in our enrollment numbers. Simply put: more isn’t always the answer. If the new application traffic comes from regions where you aren’t well known, from students who aren’t best fit, for majors you don’t offer, or from rural students when your campus is urban (or vice versa), more of the same is not necessarily a good thing.
Solution: Make sure you know your best targets before you start buying names. Engage in segmenting and appropriately target your audiences even at the early stages, furthering honing in on the “right more” as you learn and adapt.
- Your funnel is too streamlined to filter applicants throughout the process. If your application process is so streamlined that each application is more like a glorified reply card, this may help your top of funnel numbers, but without strategy or intentionality, you’ll never be able to predict throughout the process which applicants are genuinely interested, and which are just spamming lots of colleges to see where they may be able to catch their own safety net. If it’s just too easy for potential prospective students to go from “random person online” to “applicant,” we’re losing valuable access to data along their journey.
Solution: Find the right balance between a barrier-free application process and one that provides opportunities to filter interest to more serious candidates. Test your application requirements against your most common cross-applicant institutions to make sure you have found the right middle ground.
- You’re understaffed or under-resourced to handle increased application volume. One of our partner campuses invested $400,000 in a top-of-funnel strategy, saw their applications triple in one year, but enrolled five fewer new students. Their success as a team had always been due to a highly personal recruiting process; however, after tripling their application volume, individual responses were no longer possible due to dramatically increased workloads.
Solution: Instead of spending $400K on names, this particular team needed a careful look at their recruiting practices and staffing levels before investing this heavily. We can’t say it enough: without strategy, throwing money at a problem is unlikely to help in any meaningful, long-term way. That said, don’t be afraid to chalk up a mistake as a learning opportunity, or to seek help from outside professionals if your investments aren't yielding desired results.
- You hired consultants, but all you got was overwhelmed. Bringing in fresh eyes for an unbiased assessment of your funnel and strategic enrollment plan can certainly be helpful, but if you don’t work with the right partner, you might find your team overwhelmed by a laundry list of best-practice violations, but no strategy tips or solutions for making improvements.
Solution: Finding the right enrollment partners who take time to understand your unique challenges and opportunities will help as you align your plan for success with actionable, impactful objectives. Don’t just accept out-of-the-box software or a huge list of names as the panacea for funnel health. Ask questions, and find out what kind of personal support you and your team will get throughout your time with the consultants.
Those are some common issues we see, especially at the top of the funnel, but there are solutions and there is hope! Just remember: the point is not to get more applications, but rather to enroll more students.
.Check back in with us next week for part two of this Enrollment Funnel mini-series to learn Five Tips to Building Your Best Enrollment Funnel.
Learn more about how Credo approaches enrollment in a holistic, integrated, efficient way by visiting our Driving Strategic Enrollment Growth solution site, or download your Driving Strategic Enrollment Growth Guide to see our comprehensive process, benefits of having Credo as your enrollment partner, and how you can sustainably grow your institution's enrollment.