Published on 2012/12/14

The Four E's of Continuing Education: The Third E is for Enrollment

In order to ensure that your continuing education unit maintains a healthy flow of students, there should be a special focus on ensuring that, from the student’s perspective, the registration process is as easy and supportive as possible.

Continuing Education units can be structured around four inter-connected areas of focus, all starting with the letter E. The third, and the one most discussed by administrative staff it seems, is Enrollment. For purposes of this framework, ‘enrollment’ is defined as ‘the marketing, registration and follow up with students’. In other words: how do you get—and keep—students in your program?

Within the marketing thought process, the first step is generating awareness of your university, department, and/or program. This can be done through web searches, traditional print or social media marketing, and through word-of-mouth. We’ve found that, in our small market, word of mouth works the most effectively, followed by web searches. Our primary target market of students (employees of the Department of Defense) aren’t heavy users of social or traditional media in the workplace,; this allows us to focus our efforts, and dollars, on other methods within the marketing mix.

Our secondary target market, which allows us to spend the least amount of money while still generating significant revenue, has been our local workforce investment boards. These organizations work with local business and industry, including the unemployed, to connect them to training or retraining opportunities that help them enter or advance in the workforce. Grant funding and needs change over time, but being a friend and advisor to these boards can open doors for our institution to local business and industry. In addition, of course, this provides enrollments for our professional development and degree completion programs.

Ease of enrollment works in the students favor, and can take many forms.

All-inclusive tuition is one area we’ve found creates happy students. Most universities charge tuition, then fees, textbook costs, etc. Our non-credit courses have one flat fee, which includes the tuition, fees, textbooks, supplies, and related certification testing costs. The students know the total cost up front, and feel like they are getting ‘more for their money’ as additional resources show up during their time in class. Additional ease of enrollment in the last 15 years has been online registration, and recently for us, enrollment via text message. The text message process still requires a follow up email or call, but we’re working on a way to make barriers to enrollment lower for students.

Post-class support, or alumni relations, can be a key area to focus your enrollment efforts. The students know your school, the experience, and what to expect, and offering enticing new program offerings to bring them back is a constant challenge for continuing educators. When I worked for Disney the mantra was to have a guest return every three years, and hence new attractions and developments were scheduled on a 36-month cycle. I engage my past students with bi-weekly emails of new programs (via a general blast on a list serve) in addition to yearly phone calls to check-in. The process can be time consuming, but pays dividends in future enrollments.

Enrollment methods and practices can take many forms, but with a focus on making the process easy, efficient, and friendly, you can grow your continuing education program enrollment.

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Join us every Wednesday and Friday for the next three weeks as DeLalla discusses each of these elements in more detail. Next Wednesday, DeLalla will explain the fourth E, Economics.

The Four E’s of CE:

  1. Education: Academic topics and format (distance, in-person, etc) offered for students.
  2. Experience: Teaching faculty, classroom environment and campus life.
  3. Enrollment: Marketing, sign-up process, and alumni relations.
  4. Economics: Do the first three steps right, and the balance sheet should be in the black.
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Readers Comments

Vera Matthews 2012/12/14 at 8:48 am

Partnering with local workforce investment boards can really leverage a school’s success; not only does it give you insight and access to the types of grants and funding available for different sectors, for different education and training opportunities, it helps your school become an active member of its local community.

It’s all well and good for a school to try to send out flyers, emails, have billboards around town advertising their programs, but making connections with local businesses and demonstrating commitment to the local community by getting involved with the workforce investment board is a surefire way to attract new students: through these businesses, and through the enhanced reputation you may gain in the community.

    John DeLalla 2012/12/18 at 3:08 pm

    Vera –
    You’re right on with your comments – thank you!
    I remember an old adage from a sales book:
    ‘People rather buy from a friend than a stranger’ and
    ‘Relationships can start before or after the sale, but either way maintain and grow the relationship for repeat sales.’

    Working with the WIB’s is not only fun as with being rewarding personally and professionally, but it just makes good business sense for your institution.
    Thanks for your comments – and keep them coming!

Ryan Loche 2012/12/14 at 4:51 pm

I wondered if, to encourage enrollment, you had ever offered any kind of enrollment incentive? I have seen this done at other schools, something along the lines of “enroll by x date and you get this item!” Whether that’s a Kindle, some bonus credit hours, a tuition discount, an entry in a draw, what have you. I’d be curious to know if you have ever tried this, and what success you have had– I would be curious to know in general whether the consumer “promotion/deal/sale” tactic translates to higher ed, and whether it makes a difference to prospective students.

John DeLalla 2012/12/18 at 3:04 pm

Ryan –
Thanks for your comments and question. No, I have never attempted an enrollment incentive.
To me, and I speak for myself and no one else, it seems like a vicious cycle that is hard to break. I watch other institutions offer incentives to enroll (like a ‘free’ iPad) and I know I lose some potential students to the gimmick. But I also see offering an incentive as a ‘cheapening’ of the brand. How ‘good’ can our product be if I have to give away a $500+ item to have some use my product? If I start the incentive process, it might spur a few ‘on the fence’ enrollments today, but what about next month? Does it insult your customers that they need a handout to buy your product, in that they can’t decide which product is best until you seemingly bribe them?
Going back to school is not a spur of the moment decision based on a discount, free iPad, etc, it’s a lifestyle-changing decision based upon emotional, financial, personal, and professional factors.
(As a side note, I often get those same students who ‘bit’ on the free iPad offer elsewhere in my classes later, explaining that although they got a new iPad, they now need to actually learn something. In those cases they don’t personally pay the tuition, so to them it’s a ‘free’ iPad and two weeks out of the office, so they see it as win-win-win!)
Full disclosure: I do offer promotional products to students while in class, but I don’t expect students to enroll in my program as compared to another one because I have nice coffee cups or highlighters.
Thanks again for your question, and keeping the conversation going. What do you think about incentive-based enrollment offers?

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