Winning Back Students Who Have Passed On Enrollment

Boni Peluso, Associate Creative Director, KERN EducationEducation

How you market to students is evolving
It used to be that once a student enrolled and committed to attending your institution, a competitive university would no longer initiate contact with that individual. This was a generally accepted practice within the higher education community. To most marketers outside that community in the commercial sector, however, this would be unheard of, as it represents a winback opportunity. For example, subscription services like AT&T or Amazon Prime Video aren’t barred from pursuing potential subscribers who’ve chosen to go with another entertainment venue because the reality is, consumers change their minds. They buy into an idea, and if it doesn’t deliver, they want out and they want options.

Enter the Department of Justice
In December 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued and then settled with the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) officials over four provisions in the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices, which the DOJ said violated antitrust laws. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on this provision: “Colleges must not solicit transfer applications from a previous year’s applicant or prospect pool unless the students have themselves initiated a transfer inquiry or the college has verified prior to contacting the students that they are either enrolled at a college that allows transfer recruitment from other colleges or are not currently enrolled in a college.”

The NACAC felt that they had no choice but to settle. And given the current firestorm over enrollment fraud that roiled institutions like USC, it’s understandable why the NACAC felt acute frustration with having to compromise their code of ethics.

But to the DOJ, this provision, along with three others, was a clear violation of the law.
The complaint filed by the DOJ stated, “…by establishing and enforcing the recruiting rules, NACAC substantially reduced competition among colleges for college applicants and potential transfer students and deprived these consumers of the benefits that result from colleges vigorously competing for students.”1


Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division clarified further in a statement, “While trade associations and standards-setting organizations can and often do promote rules and standards that benefit the market as a whole, they cannot do so at the cost of competition. Today’s settlement is a victory for all college applicants and students across the United States who will benefit from vigorous competition among colleges for their enrollment.” 1

Ready to vigorously compete for students with CRM?
Now, like pretty much every other marketer on the planet, you’re free to explore opportunities to cultivate, educate, engage with and learn from your audience through strategic customer-centric approaches. This is classic customer relationship marketing (CRM). CRM helps you manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the student journey. You can elaborate on how your institution will be problem-solving and offering online courses during COVID-19. It’s better to pinpoint their interests and offer potential incentives, increasing your chances of winning them back. What’s more, building stronger relationships and learning about your prospects’ needs and behaviors can even help you retain enrollees. That’s because all the information you’re gathering can be leveraged toward an ongoing connection and will position you as an organization that’s truly interested in what interests them.

CRM is a skill you should adopt PDQ
A 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 37.2 percent of college students changed schools at least once within six years, and of these, 45 percent changed their institution more than once.

According to Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at The Derryfield School in Manchester, N.H., and author of a Washington Post article “Why So Many College Students Decide to Transfer,” students are increasingly rethinking their decisions. Students are being forced into decisions that they might not otherwise be ready to make. A lot of growth happens between September and April of senior year and when students are encouraged to “lock-in” by October to increase their admission chances, it hobbles this opportunity. As a result, students sometimes find themselves poorly situated and wondering ‘what if?’”

January is the time of transition, so strike while the iron is hot
According to Barnard, most dissatisfied students start looking for greener pastures and a better fit after the new year. It’s also a prime time to activate your marketing. What tactics should you consider? How about a nurturing email campaign that taps into how this student may be reevaluating and shows what this student is missing on your campus, complete with video links of satisfied, productive students? Or what about an SMS text messaging campaign that invites the student to take another look by enticing them with an appropriate incentive? A multitouch marketing campaign will help you stay connected and keep your prospects engaged.

Insights into your Gen K audience
In spite of how plugged in they are to digital devices, Generation K is far lonelier than previous generations and yearns for connection, virtual or physical. And the recent pandemic has made isolation even more pronounced. Authenticity is key, so all communications need to be personalized and tap into real emotions and solutions. This audience also exhibits a higher level of anxiety, so the more reassuring you can be about how easy you’ve made it to transfer to your school, the better.

Higher Ed is at a crossroads
When customers doubt their institutions and more Americans value a Google internship over a Harvard degree2, it’s time for a change. You have to dig deeper into how your prospects are thinking and feeling and respond authentically. Understanding your customer’s journey and staying in touch through CRM and customer-centric strategies and tactics can help you earn back public trust and set you on a path for growth and success.

About Boni Peluso
Boni Peluso is an Associate Creative Director at KERN with more than 35 years of multichannel and education marketing experience across multiple industries.

KERN Education is an Enrollment Conversion Specialist and division of KERN – An Omnicom Agency, located in Los Angeles, CA.
Backed by a proven foundation of experience in higher education, customer relationship marketing (CRM) and multiple competitive acquisition industries, KERN Education offers a powerful agency partnership to its clients.

From engagement messaging strategies and social marketing to immersive video and dynamic microsites, KERN specializes in converting enrollment for the Gen K audience through a proven multitouch program and Tribal Segmentation Messaging.

For more information or to schedule a higher education customer relationship marketing needs analysis, please contact Tim Hinds, Senior Marketing Strategist, at 818-444-4208.