Graduate Management News

November 2016

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Using Data, People and Technology as Catalysts to Accelerate Enrollment Management

Gain insights into building a recruitment strategy and tips for leveraging an outside technology partner.

Enrollment Feature Thumb

When the George Washington University School of Business (GWBS) set out to reshape our approach to graduate recruitment, we used the opportunity to develop a strategy from the ground up. We evaluated each piece of the enrollment funnel, as well as the student experience, and identified three key areas of opportunity: technology, data, and people.

We also recognized our need for a partner to help implement these changes and create an impact. We selected Blackboard based on their knowledge of the recruiting and marketing space. Together, we developed a strategy to revamp our processes and increase our application volume. This partnership has been a great success. Fall 2016 applications were up 30 percent over the previous year and we exceeded our enrollment targets. We’ve learned a lot from our partnership with Blackboard, and we continue to learn and grow, evaluating and identifying areas of opportunity.

Like many other institutions, GWSB faces challenges recruiting for graduate business programs. As the market becomes more crowded, students have more part-time and online options than ever before. And with the advent of certificate programs and online academies, we face the question of how to continue recruiting and enrolling high-quality candidates into our programs. It was this question that led us to begin analyzing our processes and opportunities, and resulted in a near top-to-bottom overhaul of how we recruited.

Initially, we recognized an opportunity to improve our processes through technology. Many of our previous processes were manual, with admissions staff reviewing paper files, printed transcripts and letters of recommendation, and filing cabinets overflowing with application materials. We needed new technology that was simple to use and would allow us to transition to a digital platform, while maintaining our workflows. We selected Salesforce as our customer relationship management (CRM) system and Marketo as our new marketing software. Linked together, these two platforms gave us a powerful ability to reach our students in ways we never could before, as detailed below. They came with a new set of challenges, however, in building and maintaining the systems:

  • Nurture Campaigns – Marketo gave us the ability to leverage this powerful marketing tool to drive targeted campaigns for prospective students. Together with Blackboard, we redesigned and implemented new nurture plans, extending the duration of communication from eight weeks to 12+ months to continue communication with prospective students after they aged out of our previous communications.

  • Tasks and follow ups – As a CRM, Salesforce allowed us to centralize our lead processing. All communications with students are documented, both email and phone conversations, and all members of the admissions staff have visibility into these records. Task documentation quickly became useful in determining when a student was communicated with, by whom, and what was discussed. It also gave us the ability to schedule follow-up conversations with a working calendar of future activities for resource planning. With our new technologies implemented, we began capturing and leveraging data to better align with our strategy.

  • Lead scoring – Our technologies allowed us to prioritize leads for communications based on a scoring model. By assigning a point value to various activities, including website hits, information session attendance, and email activity, we are better able to predict which students are more engaged in the process, and communicate with them accordingly. Over time, we found opportunities to improve our model and have made periodic updates to ensure accuracy of the scoring model.

  • The right message at the right time – When it comes to communicating with prospective students, we did not want to take a “one size fits all” approach. By utilizing the lead scoring and other key data points, we can drive our emails and phone calls strategically to prospective students in the enrollment funnel. We separated our nurture plans into tracks based on engagement, including the creation of a “stalled” funnel, which allows us to drive targeted communication to these populations. One of the most beneficial process updates implemented centers around people. Our admissions staff did a great job of communicating with students once they applied, but we recognized an opportunity to engage with students earlier in the funnel. Without the resources to hire several new staff members, we saw an opportunity to partner closely with and leverage Blackboard’s team of enrollment advisors to speak with our prospective students prior to application submission.

  • Phone outreach and follow up – Prospective students who provide their phone number are contacted by an enrollment coach to establish a relationship and work through the application process. Coaches develop a rapport with students, discussing their goals and desired outcomes for seeking their graduate degree, providing them information on our school and programs, and walking them through the application process and admissions next-steps. We found that many of our applicants found this to be key to them making their decision to apply to GWSB, and we frequently receive notes of thanks from students, letting us know how helpful the coaching process was for them.

  • High-touch nurture – We also found that many prospective students benefited from a high-touch communication strategy. The average speed to apply for many prospective students is months, not days or weeks. Our Enrollment coaches maintain communications and check-ins with prospective students with frequent follow up.

  • Outreach to aged leads – Coaches reach out to aged (old) leads, which before was something we never would have been able to do. By reconnecting with these prospective students, we’re able to determine whether they are still interested and ready to move forward. We’ve found several in this category who ultimately applied for admission, and thanked our staff for not “forgetting” about them. 

Over the past two years, Blackboard has become more than a partner. Coaches are seen as an extension of our GWSB community, and we continue to grow this meaningful relationship, adding new programs and benefiting from Blackboard’s capabilities, insights, and expertise.

About the Author

Jason Garner is Senior Associate Director, Graduate Admissions, The George Washington University School of Business.