Three smart ways to put a chill on evaporating recruits.
GUEST COLUMN | by Bob Patterson
You just brought in your class, you have reported your deposit numbers to your President and Board of Trustees and you are gearing up for the next recruitment season in the fall. Then your data analyst tells you, we just lost 3. What happened? She replies, “Summer melt!” ‘Summer melt’ is a term that has been around the profession for quite some time now, however it is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in recent years. Summer melt basically means a deposited student decides to enroll somewhere else before the start of the fall term.
When I was the Director of Admission at Stanford, I would attend a conference of other Deans and Directors during the month of July. We would discuss our application numbers, admit numbers, deferred students, wait-list offers, deposit numbers and then the dreaded summer melt. What was happening to our students? Were they getting admitted late off another wait list, were they just changing their mind over the summer, were they double depositing and just making a decision late, or was there something else going on? Why did we have to admit more than our anticipated yield rates to accommodate for summer melt? What could we do to ensure these students did in fact feel connected to our respective campus?
Here are three different ways that were often discussed and I felt useful during my 16 years in college admission.
1. Create a Social Media Network for Deposited Students
The next generation of students is connecting around the globe through social media. Why would they stop when they send their enrollment deposit to your campus? Students are often finding your campus through various social media networks, asking their peers on message boards about your school, sharing information through their own networks and utilizing the internet in ways many of us never thought. As I write this article, I am on a plane headed to Chicago and to find the best rate for my flight I went directly to Orbitz and Priceline. Even though I always try to fly US Airways, for my points of course, I find that I sometimes get a better rate through one of these aggregators of flights instead of going directly to the source. Students are doing the same thing.
When I was at Stanford, we had one staff member whose sole responsibility for the year was to plan the only on-campus event for admitted students. He spent many days, evenings and weekends talking with staff, faculty, facilities, students and the keynote speakers for the signature event of the year. He put his heart and soul into the event and believed he knew exactly what students would want to do when they came to campus. However, a week before the event we noticed on our admitted student Facebook page that our admitted students were discussing the event and had in fact decided to have their own activities on campus during the entire weekend. Of course we panicked because the activities had been planned a year in advance, but then we realized the students were still coming to campus and they were bonding as a class even before they stepped on to campus. This is the true power of creating a social network. There is an affiliation that is formed and students start to feel connected to your campus and more importantly to each other.
It is important for you to find a way to create a social network this summer for your incoming class. However, be careful to not be too intrusive or descriptive because if you push students into what you want them to do they will inevitably go in a different direction. There are simple ways to create a network and you can easily start by seeing if students already created a network for their class of 2013/2017.
2. Put a Freeze on Rumors
Students are visiting various websites and talking about your institution. Enrolled students are also visiting these sites to make sure they made the right decision. When I was at UC Berkeley we were faced with major budget cuts during the month of May and several student support services were cut. There was a buzz on several student sites about cutting services and how students could no longer graduate in four years. We needed to address this concern immediately and communicate with enrolled students the services that were available and that they could graduate on time. We sent emails to both the students’ new Berkeley email accounts and their personal addresses and also communicated through our own social media platform for enrolled students. We addressed the concern head-on so that we wouldn’t see a large melt and we didn’t hide the fact that we indeed cut some services. However, we explained the cuts and we spoke to the fact that we centralized services so that students would still have what they needed. Students then started communicating with each other to share our messages and the rumor seemed to subside. As a result, we didn’t see an increase in our melt.
It is important to monitor the chatter that is out there about your campus and have an action plan in place to act swiftly. There are many ways in which you can communicate the truth to students and overcome all rumors that may have a negative impact on your campus. Establishing an official university social network page, creating a validated twitter feed or just being upfront through emails are all good strategies to put a freeze on the rumors that may be detrimental to your enrollment numbers.
3. Get Students Excited About Attending
Students want to feel excited about attending your campus in the fall. They have made a commitment to you and you have done a great job communicating from the time you offered them a space in your class. You want to keep that momentum going and ensure that all of your deposited students walk on to campus in the fall. You have put a lot of time, effort and financial resources into recruiting each deposited student but now you likely have handed over the enrolled student into an orientation program, housing or central student affairs. Your job is done, right? Well not necessarily. It is important that you stay connected and remain focused on bringing in “the class.” There are small things that you can do to keep that great relationship you already started, while still focusing on your recruitment strategies for the next year.
This past year, I decided to leave my post at Stanford to join an organization that helps students from the time they start their college search through their college graduation. I joined Chegg, the student hub, serving as an enrollment consultant to universities, assisting students in their college selection process and advising the organization about the inner workings of higher education. Over the last year, I have seen firsthand the power of keeping students connected and invested in a brand. One of the services that we offer students is the availability to rent or buy textbooks – at a significant cost savings. When a student receives textbooks from Chegg they are shipped in a bright orange box that often includes product samples or promotional offers from partner organizations that share our focus on students. Last year, we launched an Instagram and Twitter scholarship contest for students to take creative pictures of the Chegg boxes. Thousands of students took fun pictures of their Chegg box as computer stands, file cabinets and various other dorm room decorations and also tweeted about how excited they were about the free gum, drink or coupon they received. They realized that they were not only saving money by renting a book but also that being part of the Chegg community provides additional value.
This is something that you can do as an enrollment manager as well. Find ways for students to submit photos of getting ready for college, buying their college hoody, packing up their clothes to come to school and share these with other enrolled students to keep the excitement of attending your school in the fall. Start a tweet about #excitedtocometo(x)university and tie a scholarship to the most creative submission. You have worked hard to bring in “the class” and there is no reason your students should want to go somewhere else.
Over my 16 years in higher education, I have seen summer melt become an increasingly important issue to address. Most schools will see a melt of 2-3% of their incoming class and it is critical to connect with students in the ways that they want to connect in order for them to feel part of your university community. Over half of all high school students are using social media to find more about your institution before they apply. They may go directly to your website, use third party sites or rely heavily on what others are saying about your school. There is no reason to believe that they will stop doing these things after they have sent in their enrollment deposit. It is important that you know how your students behave and implement strategies to ensure your summer doesn’t get too hot!
Bob Patterson is the Director of College Outreach for Zinch, a Chegg service. He has worked for Stanford University, UC Berkeley and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He decided to leave 15 years of enrollment management experience to join the Zinch team because he knew that it was the future of recruiting freshman, transfer and graduate students in the platform that they are most comfortable. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org