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This Yield Season, Don’t Leave Out Your Most Important Partner

It’s yield season in admissions, and enrollment departments across America are hard at work turning admitted students into enrolled students. We should always be in yield mode, as waiting until the late winter is much too late for this important work to begin. Just like March Madness, income taxes, and seasonal allergies, the season is upon us, and it’s time to get focused.

With application numbers up across the country, yield would seem an easier prospect this year. However, with many of our clients reporting they have fewer admitted students filing the FAFSA, they have fewer students making in-person visits to campus, and they have been assigned higher enrollment goals, it appears the pressure to yield the class this year will be more intense than ever.

Recently, my agency, Echo Delta, conducted original research, Uncovering the Attitudes of Today’s Gen X Parents, and found that among many Generation X parents, trust in higher education institutions is on the decline. Not a surprise, this phenomenon has appeared in a  number of surveys recently and has been widely reported in the media. Rising tuition costs, admissions scandals, and a sense that college does a poor job preparing students for careers have eroded trust in higher ed, and some believe that the industry as a whole is corrupt.

A forgotten audience

Research shows us that the Generation X parents of our Generation Z admitted students are more involved in the college search process than previous generations of parents. According to Encoura’s Eduventures Prospective Student Research Survey, 97% of parents are involved with their students in college searches; 41% are at least 50-50 partners. This data tells us that nearly all Generation X parents are involved in the college search, and nearly half are co-purchasers with their students. They’re not just supporters and advisors. They are actually involved and invested in the college search process at the same level as their students and see themselves as partners.

Unfortunately, college marketing messages are designed for and targeted to the prospective student, not the parents, and it’s time we made a shift and design and deploy messages specifically for and to parents that both inform and build trust. We acknowledge parents during the in-person campus visit and in fund-raising efforts, so let’s nurture the relationship further by creating messaging specifically for them.

To the parents of…

No, just no. It is 2023, and parents expect that we know who they are and that we will communicate with them personally. Sociologists, psychologists, and organizational experts have studied the impact of calling others by their names, and their results are notable. Not only does calling someone by their name connect you better with that person, but it also increases accountability, trust, empathy, and positive communication.  

While visiting client campuses, I often ask about their prospective student-parent communication. Most respond by telling me they don’t have any way to contact parents, as they don’t collect their information until orientation. Further, many don’t have fields built out in their CRM to house this information. If you’re following along closely, you know that orientation is just too late to collect this information. You need to build out your CRM to accommodate parent information as early as the prospect/inquiry phase. 

College Board is providing some parent contact information with search name purchases, but this alone won’t get you where you want to be. Consider adding parent name and email address to your RFIs and, because we know parents are the majority of the campus visit registrants, add parent contact fields to your campus visit registration forms. And lastly, consider creating a prospective student parent landing page where parents can fill out a form with their information to receive regular college updates. Sneaky, yes, but also effective.

Give them what they want – not what you think they want

Let research inform how often you’re communicating and what content you’re sharing. Let’s begin by meeting parents’ expectations. CampusESP’s research shows that most parents expect to be communicated with every week. In admissions we’re always concerned about over-communicating and “bugging” people. Research shows that we can probably increase our communication quite a bit without negatively affecting perceptions of us as institutions.

Next, let’s dig into the kind of content that Generation X parents really want. In our survey, Uncovering the Attitudes of Today’s Gen X Parents, we posed both attitudinal and behavioral questions to our participants and found that parents have myriad questions and concerns that can be used to inform the messages we push out to them. 

While no two parents are exactly alike, as a group, they do have some shared traits. Most parents agree that the most valuable things about higher education are independence, personal growth, and improved career opportunities. They are mostly influenced by programs of study, annual tuition costs (and the cost of going to college), and financial aid. And they worry the most about their child’s ability to keep up with academic pressure, to stay motivated and focused on their education, their safety, their mental health, and their job prospects upon graduation.

Four priorities for parent content

As you put together your content strategy, there are four areas on which you should focus:

  1. Outcomes/ROI –Your career center and faculty are your best sources of information. The depth you dive is up to you, but the more information you can share, in easily digestible bites, the better. Some colleges take this data collection very seriously and have web pages devoted to it. This one from St. Olaf is a good example.
  2. Cost – Be as transparent and inclusive as possible. We’re talking about affordability here, and there are some really great examples on how to talk about it well. Here’s one from Calvin College.
  3. Mental Health Support/Wellness – Talking about all your wellness services is important and really justifies its own page on your website. TCU has made this a university priority and has a great webpage that even includes a student health portal. You can share pieces of this information in emails to prospective student parents across the recruitment season and direct them back to the page.
  4. Safety – Leverage your campus partnerships to create content on everything from crime statistics to program details to how a student will experience issues of safety on campus. Parents are trusting you with their child and want to know how you’re going to keep them safe.  

The long-lasting impact of building trust

Communicating with the parents of prospective students early in the funnel starts a relationship-building process that higher education leaders are seeing have far-reaching effects throughout the college search process and continuing throughout a student’s time at the college.  

As you share content with parents in an authentic and transparent way, you are, in effect, gaining their trust. Parents who have a relationship of trust with their student’s college are more likely to see themselves as partners with the college in their student’s success. CampusESP shares a case study on Roane State Community College that reports a 25% increase in student retention with students whose families were engaged with the college. 

A marathon, not a sprint

The months ahead will be full of long hours and working weekends as you endeavor to fill your class, and it’s critical that you have a strategy that, above all else, communicates your institution’s distinctiveness and value in a transparent and authentic way. This year, be sure your strategy incorporates communicating with not just your admitted students, but their co-purchasing parent partners as well. 

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