Missing an enrollment projections goal is a significant setback and can have a negative impact on an institution’s financial health. Upcoming term goals are often increased with no incremental budget or resources, and cross-departmental teams are placed under more pressure to outperform and over deliver.

Improving your performance starts with understanding your data. Once you’ve evaluated both internal and external influencing factors, you need to be willing to make strategic shifts across the broader enrollment process in order to drive change.

6 Tips for rebounding after a missed enrollment goal

1. Use the data available to establish a comprehensive understanding of performance

While you may have assumptions as to the indicators that led to missing your goal, here are some examples of the types of questions that can help you diagnose the root cause:

  • Did down-funnel enrollment conversion rates decrease month-over-month or year-over-year?
  • Was there a steady decline in prospective student interest in key geographies?
  • How did programmatic interest or demand change from prior terms?
  • Did you have a change in personnel or underperforming staff during a key time in the enrollment cycle?

Once you’ve pinpointed the main issues, you can begin strategizing next steps.

2. Recognize any obstacles that served as enrollment barriers

Use your data to understand falloff points in student interest and bring together the teams that impact each portion of the process. Question policies that affect admittance or acceptance rates and research the processes of competitors to determine how you stack up.

For example, removing the letters of reference, personal essays and professional resumes that were once required for admittance will likely have a positive impact on application numbers. And if you’re facing internal resistance, propose piloting the strategy for one term to assess its impact.

3. Identify and maximize areas of success

A thorough analysis of your data not only identifies problems and risks, but it can bring to light the positive trends and successful strategies from the team. Be sure to highlight and communicate these enrollment wins to your team, as well as cross-departmental leadership.

4. Don’t dwell on the missed start number

Shift the focus toward making improvements for the next start. Make sure your prior term performance analysis is documented so that institutional leadership will have a record to understand what led to the miss.

5. Enhance strategies to grow transfer audience

Revisit your marketing efforts to ensure your strategy is proactive, not reactive. Consider investing a portion of your recruitment budget in transfer campaigns. Trends indicate that more students are looking to attend a school closer to home, so a concentrated transfer strategy can lead to unplanned and incremental enrollment growth.

Keep in mind that transfer initiatives should be a consistent focus, not an afterthought that only gets initiated when new freshman enrollment is down.

6. Don’t ignore the importance of retention

A projected loss in revenue from not meeting term goals can be reduced by improving overall student retention. The enrollment team should maintain open communication with the student affairs team regarding the performance metrics and benchmarks each are working towards.

Prepare for a strong comeback

The higher education market is more competitive and uncertain than ever, as declining enrollment and missed goals are becoming more common. The key to recovering is to be agile and have a data-driven mindset. If your team is able to swiftly assess performance, double down on wins and adapt strategies as needed, you can begin to recoup the loss and work toward making gains in the terms ahead.

Let our experts help you find a unique solution for exceeding your enrollment goals.

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Author: Erin Werthman

Erin Werthman was formerly a partner director at Collegis Education. She holds an MBA from Benedictine University.