Why did one-third of American colleges miss their enrollment goals?


We hear so much about students fearing their college application will be rejected. But we don’t hear too much about colleges being rejected so to speak by prospective enrollees who simply don’t apply to certain schools. The brand name and flagship schools have an oversupply of applicants while the lesser known schools go begging. Why is that?

Prestige, brand recognition, intelligent positioning, and high visibility lead to popularity. On the other hand, a lack of these attributes makes it extremely difficult to attract the attention of potential enrollees. And many smaller lesser-known institutions add to their recruitment problem by neglecting to market their strengths intelligently. Or even do any marketing.

I had a surprising conversation last week with someone responsible for enrollment marketing at a small college. She said that they never pay more than fifty-two cents for a lead. She also said they were essentially cold-calling these leads and, when asked what their conversion rate was, replied it was far less than one percent. I was shocked. She didn’t realize the difference between names purchased from a list broker and leads. I explained leads contained at least some details on the person, importantly including that person’s interest in enrolling in a specific college program. My explanation fell on deaf ears.

The actual scenario outlined above is indicative of some of the problems faced by small traditional colleges in attracting students. The heads are deep in the hay looking for the needles that are new students. And the solution is…get some real marketing expertise first, examine what works for the most successful colleges, and begin testing new approaches. After all, the old approaches just aren’t working anymore.

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An active investor and strategist in the business of higher education, Jay is also a visionary developer of real estate. His “Virtual Adjacency” concept predated the rise of smart devices and foretold the interconnectivity we all enjoy today.

Barry Layne is a pioneering digital management and marketing executive. He was founder and global head of Ketchum Communication’s worldwide digital media businesses; COO of ArtistDirect; Executive Vice President of National Lampoon; Senior Vice President of About, Inc.; and Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of FasTV.com.

After retiring as president of the University of Indianapolis in 2005, his second post as president of a college, Jerry was temporary president of Lambuth University. He continues to provide strategy consulting services to a number of colleges and universities. He wrote The 75 Biggest Myths about College Admissions (Sourcebooks, 2008) debunking many of the misconceptions students and their families hold about selecting and entering college.

Joe conceived the Company’s strategy and is the principal founder. Previously he was chairman and CEO of Andrew Jackson University (AJU), an accredited for-profit degree granting university. While at AJU he cofounded and spun off ProctorU, now the world’s premier online exam proctoring organization. A longtime entrepreneur, Joe started in the investment industry, acquired his first company in 1974, and followed that acquisition by founding multiple online-related companies. He is a published author (Dow Jones- Irwin) and has been designated Distinguished Lecturer by the Graduate School of Business, Florida Atlantic University.