Slipping Through the Cracks: An (Imagined) Unenrolled Student’s Story


By: Jill Kapinus Jun 09, 2017

Whether or not you enroll a student can come down to how and when you respond to their inquiry. How many students are you letting slip through the cracks?

The Decision that Leads to the Search

I decided to go back to school for the same reason as many others: I wanted to switch careers. I didn’t think I could do so with my present level of education. I’d made it through a bit of school but entered the workforce out of the necessity to earn a living. FACT: According to Aslanian Market Research’s ebook, Post-Traditional College Students – Attracting and Serving the New Majority, the largest group of respondents (29%) was motivated to enroll in undergraduate study in order to ‘transition to a new career.’ My first step was to search the internet for the program I was interested in: bachelor in business administration. As you can imagine, there were about a bazillion search results. Even though I was looking for an online degree program, I liked the idea of campus being near me. Maybe I’d want to attend graduation to celebrate my achievement. Maybe I’d want to go on campus to attend an event or performance. So, I narrowed my search: bachelor in business administration programs near me. FACT: 41% of students surveyed preferred to enroll at an institution that was 11-30 miles from where they live.

More Information, Please.

I spent a few weeks reading different course descriptions and getting an idea of time commitments. Finally, I felt ready to apply. I chose Tomorrow University* because it was about 20 miles from where I live… Not too far to make the occasional trip, but far enough that an online program was much more convenient. FACT: Approximately 40% of students decide where they will enroll within 4 weeks. Thirty-two percent make the decision in 1-3 months. During my Friday lunch hour, I filled out an inquiry form on Tomorrow University’s website. At the end of the form, it said that I’d be hearing from a representative from the school shortly. That afternoon came and went. The weekend came and went. Then Tuesday came and went. So, too, went my momentum to apply to their program. That Tuesday evening, I filled out an inquiry on my second-choice school’s website, Ready College**. Their website’s form was as easy to fill out as Tomorrow University’s. I got a similar message about how I’d hear from a representative soon. Except this time, I did hear from them! A rep from Ready College called me about 20 minutes after my inquiry. She had answers to the questions about time commitment, whether I could transfer credits, when I could start classes, etc. She even had some information on what my financial aid options were! I was concerned, since I knew going back to school would be a bit of a financial strain. I enrolled in Ready College while I was on the phone with her and hung up feeling excited about what the future might hold after I earned my degree. FACT: 52% of students inquire/apply to only one institution before enrolling. Twenty-nine percent inquire/apply to two, and 19% inquire/apply to 3 or more institutions.

Two days later…

I heard from Tomorrow University’s rep. He said he wanted to speak to me about my request for more information their business program, but it was too late. I let him know that I had already enrolled in a different school a few days prior. He wished me all the luck with my education.

Lessons to Learn

Although this story was an imagined scenario of what one student might experience, there is truth and consequence in the message. In 2016, 57% of online undergraduate (and 49% of grad) students enrolled in the first institution that responded to their inquiries. This was an increase from 49% and 40% respectively in 2015. While to speed to lead is not the only thing that matters, it can matter a great deal when a student is ready to pull the trigger on the application process. Some things to consider after hearing that:

Is your staff trained to handle questions and concerns of perspective students?

You may have the most knowledgeable two enrollment team members. But if they’re busy with other students and can only do so much, you can’t let other prospective students languish because of that. If you don’t have enough internal bandwidth to deliver, consider using an outside call center to make immediate contact with inquiries. Even if they aren’t as knowledgeable as your internal staff, they can give a basis of information, communicate your institution’s unique value props, and set up a convenient time for your staff to reach out to the student.

Can you respond to students immediately after they’ve submitted an inquiry—even on weekends or evenings?

Since 40% of post-traditional students are working full-time , there’s a good chance they’ll be inquiring or available off business hours or when they have free time on the weekends. If you don’t have an enrollment management system or CRM to send an automatic thank-you message via email or text, are you relying on your staff to send a personal message when they’re out of the office? Again, a call center may be the answer here. Or an automated email that contains a call-to-action, like a link to schedule a phone call. Anything you can do to keep the student engaged may be the key to earning their enrollment. In the end, making the case for more marketing dollars can be crucial to nabbing these students when they’re at their most likely time to enroll. *Nope, not a real institution. ** Yeah, also not a real institution.