Driving Improvement in 2019

As we near the end of 2018, and all too quickly approach the start of 2019, I thought that this would be a good time to invest some time into what lies ahead. 


As the Chronicle reported in January, “…52 percent of private colleges and 44 percent of public colleges didn’t meet their enrollment goals this past fall.”  

How many of you plan on continuing down that discount path? Is there a 70-percent discount rate in your near future? 

But more importantly, how many of you have a plan to test new strategies and tactics that you feel, based on data and market insight, will help improve performance with your existing resources? 

For those of you planning on doing more of the same thing yet remaining hopeful that the outcome will be different – please read on. And for those of you that have some new things planned for 2019, please read on because I am going to run you through some questions and suggestions that will either improve your chances for greater success or leave you a little more confident about the process you went through to develop those new approaches for 2019.  


With so much on your plates, it can be easy to just accept the successes and “work harder” to overcome failures. I strongly recommend making the time to look back and learn from both success and failure so that you can put that insight to use in future efforts. Towards that end, here are the key questions you should be sure to ask and answer. 

  • What worked for your institution last year?  
  • Why did it work?  
  • How do you really know that it worked? (Did it meet/surpass projected objectives or did it just ‘feel right’?) 
  • And what fell short of expectations? Why? 
  • How will you leverage that insight to develop new strategies and tactics to test in 2019? 

The first place to start is internally – and I suggest looking at the key metrics such as projected versus actual inquiries, applications started and submitted complete, registrations and enrollments. Remember to ask the tough question – which is ‘Why?’ Your goal here is to identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps so answering that question is important. 

I also suggest speaking with prospects that did and didn’t enroll so that you can understand why they did what they did. If they enrolled, ask them what motivated them to do so, and dig into their decision-making process and selection criteria. Where did they go to gather information? What information were they searching for at each stage of their process? What did they like – and dislike about their experiences with your institution? 

Keep in mind that the actual results could be due to several internal and external issues –so don’t limit your focus to promotional efforts. There can be reasons other than promotion for not generating enough inquiries or enrollments so use this opportunity to make sure your audience believes you have the right programs and services at the right price.   

Here’s what you really need to consider – look at the market dynamics and your target audience(s) in those market(s). How’s the economy in those markets? How’s the competition in those markets? How has your target audience in those markets been responding to your recruitment efforts? Why? 

A colleague of mine works for an institution that had seen tremendous success in the Mid-West until a few years ago when inquiries and enrollments fell well below projections. The reasons for the decline ranged from those factors outside my colleague’s control – the local economy was terrible, and this was causing a larger number of high school graduates to forgo college and work. And the post-traditional audience was working multiple jobs which impacted inquiries, applications and enrollments in certificate/certification programs, degree competition programs and graduate programs. 

This insight motivated them to change their offering and pricing in the Mid-West while also looking at other regions with stronger economies for opportunities to increase market share. 

Then, there was the small, private school in the Mid-Atlantic region that hadn’t been paying a great deal of attention to the local job market or the local competition – and had a consulting firm point out that they lacked the engineering and computer programming programs required for most of the job openings in their market. 

Instead of investing more money in trying to generate more inquiries and leads, financial resources were directed towards the development of new programs – a wiser investment than spending more on promoting programs that weren’t relevant to the audience and market.


As those examples above indicate, sometimes it’s the program and service offering, not the price charged, or dollars spent on advertising that matter most.   

And sometimes, you need to change your focus – to another geographic market or to another segment of the population in that market.    

So, what have you planned for 2019? What data have you based those decisions on – and what milestones and metrics have been established for these new strategies and tactics that will help you and your team determine if these changes are meeting or exceeding expectations? 

Written by

Strategic turnaround consultant and writer.

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