Chess strategy
Enrollment Insights Blog

Avoid the Siren Song of “Best Practices” in Enrollment Management

Estimated read time – 2 minutes

When it comes to recruiting students there is dissonance in how admission offices operate. While everyone talks about their students and their institution being unique and different, you will also find papers and conference sessions touting the latest best practices. We’re unlike each other, yet race to all behave the same while trying to stay ahead. A colleague used a term that I really have liked: instead of best practices, we should be looking for promising practices.           

Everyone wants the magic bullet; the idea or process that will make everything run perfectly. That one thing that will improve conversion rates and yield, bring in stronger students who are better fits and are clamoring to pay the full sticker price. Every institution is different, so why should we assume that the same processes would optimize outcomes at all institutions? Effective practices are great jumping-off points to examine why they worked and test variations to see what works best at your institution. If you learn of a “best practice” you have the opportunity to reach out and learn more. One of the least effective things you can do is to not spend the time breaking down the practice and instead try to bolt on someone’s idea to your organization. 

These are your promising practices. A promising practice has potential, it’s been tested, but just not in your situation. The great thing about a promising practice is that it leaves room to improve; if something is the best there may not be incentive to strive to improve. You should look into why those practices work and how they solve issues for that institution. Why did they work? What problems did they solve? How did they roll out the processes and support it? After taking the time to pull apart the practice, consider how similar tactics can be applied to your institution. It takes more work, but you’ll have a better result. 

Tools alone won’t make you successful

There’s a myth that adding a new tool or resource will solve all of your problems, and there are a lot of companies perpetuating that with claims that their CRM/recruitment software/messaging platform will “double your enrollment,” but that simply isn’t the case. A tool must be implemented and supported well in order to have an impact and it must solve an existing issue. Every tool that you add will take time to implement, maintain, and use. If you don’t have the personnel to make use of the resource it will not be successful and you will have spent budget and time that could have been used elsewhere.

Find enrollment professionals in similar situations and start conversations

One of the great things about our constant Internet connection is the ease of connecting outside of conferences. Resources such as #EMChat on Twitter, Higher Ed Live, or LinkedIn groups can connect you with people you never would have met at conferences. It can be intimidating at first to make that first step and connect with those you meet, but learning more about them and their experiences are invaluable to your career and your ability to help move your office forward. No matter what your current or aspirational role is you will have counterparts that you can reach out to. Ask how others are handling changes in student behaviors, learn about staff recruitment and retention, or inquire about their own career path. The only bad question is the one not asked. Find institutions similar to yourself with whom you don’t directly compete and reach out to discuss issues, I guarantee that you will learn from each other. 

Give back

It’s well known that you learn more when your mouth is closed and ears and eyes are open. However, if you don’t share your own experiences you are limiting the relationships you develop eventually. Share what you know with others to give back to the community. You may be able to help someone else learn, or perhaps sharing your own experiences might allow you to see your own areas to improve. We need to remember to give, and not just take, to improve processes and student/family experiences.

Prior to coming to Niche in 2019 Will served 9 years at Manchester University in roles as an Admissions Counselor, Associate Director for Admissions Operations, Social Media Coordinator, and ultimately as Digital Strategist. Will surfaces tactical insights from user behavior and surveys to help higher ed build recruitment strategies. In addition to the Enrollment Insights blog, webinars, and podcast; Will is a frequent conference speaker and podcast guest. He has presented at NACAC, AACRAO-SEM, AMA Higher Ed, CASE V, EduWeb, and EMA. Will's work has been featured in Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, CNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and The New York Times among other outlets.