All too often institutions focus efforts, strategies, and resources on the front end of the admissions funnel, thinking that the recruitment and marketing emphasis is the greatest factor in yield and although these areas are crucially important, the same attention and allocation of resources must also be applied to the operational and follow-up emphasis, otherwise spending on recruitment and marketing may be for naught.
As a managing consultant for AACRAO Consulting (AC), many institutions contact AACRAO for an admissions review knowing that something is not working right but not quite sure what or where the problem may be. They may be receiving future students’ complaints, yield may be down, there could be gaps in admissions funnel data, and/or enrollment goals were not achieved.
From reviewing the data from many admissions consultations, AACRAO Consulting has found that in many cases upon completing an admissions review and doing a deep dive of the full admissions process from the initial lead/prospects to enrolled, many times the issue resides within the back end of the funnel in admissions operations and follow-up. Often, institutions place a premium on marketing and recruitment and thus focus resources in this area while overlooking or neglecting the back end of operations and follow-up which can increase yield on already interested applicants. In consulting conversations over the years, it has become clear that unfortunately, many in upper leadership lack an understanding of operations and assume that this is just where the paperwork pushing occurs. Often, operational staff do not understand the significance of what they do in relation to a future student and his/her family or how crucial it is to the financial well-being of the institution.
This neglect appears to be prevalent in several areas within operations; the organizational structure, staff, space, training, technology, professional development, process efficiencies, staff support from leadership, and a lack of attention to an admitted student communication strategy. When looking back at the admissions review projects within the past three years, the primary areas where yield was impacted had to do with the following areas: knowledge, training and professional development, technology, data and process improvement, documentation, and admitted student communication strategy.
Knowledge, Training and Professional Development
- Too often operational staff are left out of “big picture” enrollment conversations
- Operational staff that are included in annual enrollment goal discussions are more engaged and committed to their role in meeting those goals.
- Lack of cross training, structured on-boarding, mentoring
- This is a costly area for many institutions. All functional tasks need to have at minimum one back-up staff available to step in, and preferably two. The cost of hiring and training is expensive. Investing in formalized new staff training with a mentor will help an institution keep newer staff, ensure they are successful, and bring them into the culture faster.
- Lack of a professional behavior policy that is enforced
- This is an area that we hear the most about from supervisors and observe in real time when on campuses. Admissions is one of the offices on campuses where new graduates get their first professional job. If the new employee has not worked in a professional office before, many times they have no comprehension of what soft skills are. Soft skills, or also referred to as vital skills, are those professional office behaviors expected of all employees. This is often why a probationary staff member is let go, or an existing staff member may be terminated. Developing a professional behavior policy for the office will help you start off new employees on the right path and ensure their success. Review this policy annually with all staff and enforce the policy with all supervisor staff by making it a pivotal part of annual performance reviews.
- Lack of investment in operational staff’s professional development on an annual basis, at minimum
- Annual professional development must be a built into every admission office budget for all staff, including operational.
- Frequently operational staff are not included in new technology implementation, presentations on possible new technology, or technology update processes
- Often operational staff have not been trained fully on new technology, typically to save funds on technology implementation. By not funding training upfront, it ends up costing the institution more over time.
- This is the staff that does the work daily; they know what is and what is not working and where it is not working. It can save time and money to include their expertise initially.
- Not using existing technology to full capability
- Many times, operational staff are not trained on all that the technology can do that would improve processes and gain efficiencies. There is a waste of resources spent on the technology that is not being used.
- Lack of on-going, consistent, technology review process
- Admissions offices that do this well, have at minimum monthly technology meetings that include all functions within the office.
- Lack of technology support to the operational area
- While many operational offices within admissions have technology support since they process applications, incoming documents, test scores, resumes, admissions decisions, placement, orientation invites, etc., many of those operational shops that we have worked with that are struggling. They do not have technology support, and/or the work order waitlist is so long that there is little hope of getting needed efficiency improvements.
Data and Process Improvement
- No established and monitored turnaround times
- A well-run operations shop develops, monitors, and updates turnaround times on all processes and steps within the funnel. These need to be reviewed weekly so needed adjustments can be made quickly on small issues before they become big problems.
- No weekly enrollment funnel data
- This gets back to the very bullet about operational staff understanding the big picture. They should be receiving weekly enrollment funnel data on all stages within the funnel, and they need to be trained to understand these reports, so they can highlight any discrepancies or issues.
- Lack of error reports and cleanup
- Many institutions that have gone through an admissions review are not producing weekly error reports and correcting errors quickly as they occur. This is something that can be set up within your technology systems to correct errors as they occur and train staff, so they do not reoccur.
- Annual process reviews/updates, annual retreats, setting goals for coming year
- The same as recruit staff, operations staff should be setting goals in all processing areas for the coming year based on a review of performance from previous year. An annual retreat provides the perfect opportunity to work as a unit on goal setting and professional development.
- Too many admissions shops rely on a senior staff member who has all the information in his/her memory for years of faithful service. When he or she retires, then what? More often this staff member is a baby boomer getting ready to retire.
- A great way to get started is set up an online repository and as a process is updated, write it up and capture it with screen shots or snips. This is a fast, easy way to build out a documentation process.
Admitted Student Communication Strategy
- …. or more so the lack of one!
- This last item, which many times gets lost in the communication strategy because it is the responsibility of recruitment, marketing, and operations, typically becomes a string of emails (which are no cost), and/or left to the portal or social media interactions. This communication timeframe begins once an applicant is admitted and ends once the student has matriculated. Too many campuses rely on just pushing information out to the admitted student based on tasks they need to do and NOT continuing to “court” the student by providing information through many mediums based on where they are in the funnel. Such as opportunities on campus, research, study abroad, internships, engaging classes, visiting speakers and lectures, student life, activities, what it’s like to live on and off campus, where to eat, banking in the area, living in the community, etc. These additional strategies can more fully engage the admitted student about what your campus has to offer and what it is like to be a student. Remember, admitted and even deposited, does not necessarily equate to enrolled!
by Michele Sandlin, AACRAO Managing Consultant
Would you like more information or do you have questions for author AACRAO Managing Consultant Michele Sandlin
? Feel free to contact her through AACRAO Consulting
at 202-355-1056 or firstname.lastname@example.org
. For more information on admissions operations reviews, please visit AACRAO Consulting’s website here.