Response Rates are Down – Is Search Worth the Expense?
A number of enrollment managers report that response rates to Student Search campaigns are continuing their downward trend. With the considerable expense involved, some may wonder: Is Search still worth the cost?
The answer is a qualified “Yes.” Search that is done well without being ridiculously expensive is certainly a good investment. Strauss and Howe’s research found that Millennials are highly brand oriented – they look for “name brands.” Thus, Ivy League and other well-known institutions are deluged with applications. But even they should not discontinue Search. Otherwise, worthy students they would welcome may view them as unattainable and look elsewhere.
Are there more responders than Inquiries?
It would be a mistake to assume that just because Search campaigns produce fewer inquiries that a smaller number of students are responding. Consumer behavior experts J. Paul Peter and Jerry Olson’s summary of many research studies makes this clear. Before anyone will purchase anything, including a college education, they must:
- Feel a recognized need for it. This can be a challenge for graduate and continuing education programs, but high schoolers who take the SAT/ACT want to attend college.
- Be aware of the brand. Applications to George Mason University increased substantially after its basketball team made it to the 2006 NCAA Final Four. This fine institution had improved, not its programs, but its name recognition.
- Perform various behaviors to purchase the brand (enroll at the university). As many enrollment managers have undoubtedly noticed, each action students perform (inquiring, visiting campus, applying, filling out a FAFSA, attending yield events, depositing, applying for housing) increases their chances for enrollment.
Senior leadership understandably concentrates on results and tangible student behaviors – how many inquiries, applications and deposits; how many attended accepted student programs. And yet it is vital to realize that if students haven’t developed favorable attitudes toward the college, they will perform none of these actions that lead to enrollment. Thus, Search campaigns are as much about creating awareness and fostering positive thoughts and feelings about the college as they are about generating inquiries. In some cases, your Search letter may plant the seed that later germinates in the form of an inquiry or application.
Studies by Rochester Institute of Technology researchers revealed that personal relevance dramatically increases direct mail response rates. So, continually touting what administration feels is important may not get the job done. Students will inquire, apply, deposit and enroll for their own reasons. The best possible Search program will not only conveys information but also gather data that can inform future recruiting initiatives for individual prospects.