Reboot to recruit
UND plans $3 million in marketing initiatives to tell the University story, boost recruitment and heighten tuition revenue
In 2011 and 2012, UND was celebrating its two largest freshman classes on record.
Five years later, there are fewer boots on the campus sidewalks and fewer students studying fireside in the Memorial Union.
“Those students are now graduating,” said Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Services Sol Jensen. “During that peak, we made the decision to start targeting high-achieving students, so we could improve our overall GPA and ACT. In turn, it was going to impact retention and graduation rates, which it has. But that also meant we weren’t bringing in the same rate of new freshmen.”
According to the official report released today, spring enrollment is down 350 students from this time last year—a drop of 2.5 percent. And this fall, Jensen suspects UND will see another small dip in the overall enrollment.
That’s why, in alignment with the University’s Strategic Planning Committee goal of increasing enrollment, UND plans to invest about $3 million dollars in marketing.
“Our lack of enrollment growth further constrains us in a time of tightened budgets,” UND President Mark Kennedy said. “To have the revenues we hope to invest tomorrow, we must invest in marketing today.”
An investment of that caliber may be hard to digest in the midst of budget reductions, but research conducted by Frank Swiontek, interim associate director for Institutional Effectiveness, shows the investment will pay out swiftly.
“The number comes out to 117 students that we would need to recruit to justify the increase of $3 million dollars over the course of a four-year enrollment period. At that four-year mark you see that return,” Swiontek explained. “And if retention is increasing as is assumed in the Strategic Plan, we’ll actually end up with more because we’re retaining more students.”
The investment in marketing will target three key areas—a University branding study, upgrades to the look and functionality of the UND.edu website and a heavy push on digital advertising.
UND Assistant Professor of Marketing Jennifer Stoner brings her academic expertise in branding research to the UND Marketing Council as a member of the branding sub-committee. She said that while many people think that branding is simply colors, a logo and a motto, it goes beyond that.
“Branding identifies what your strategic strengths are, and how that can make you different from competitors,” Stoner said. “A brand is these abstract concepts that we connect with on a personal basis, and it helps prospective students make a better decision about whether they’re the right fit for this university.”
UND has hired a marketing firm to conduct a branding study, which will begin with identifying the University’s strengths, values and priorities. When that process concludes in May, the firm will work with the UND Marketing Council to create a branding plan for campus.
“Right now we don’t have one. We’re lost,” Jensen said. “Ask 20 different people—a student, an alum, a donor, a faculty member, a staff member—ask them, ‘Who is UND?’ You’ll probably get different answers. This brand development is to help us to truly bring the whole UND community around who we are and who we want to be—and then be able to back it up.”
UND is also in the process of upgrading its website to be cleaner, easier to navigate and responsive to on-the-go platforms like smartphones and tablets. The upgrade will be a multi-year process with a full rollout expected around April 2018.
Associate Professor and Chair of the Communication Department Timothy Pasch is assisting with scholarly research related to responsive websites for enhancing digital recruitment. He says institutions without this resource risk immediately losing applicants if their site doesn’t impress or inspire potential students with its digital innovation.
“One study found, of prospective students who complete applications, only 15 percent apply on their first visit, and more than 54 percent of applicants will visit potential university websites five or more times before applying,” Pasch said. “The user experience is critical in order to retain potential applicants throughout the process until the final application is submitted.”
Jensen adds that a modern website is a must for recruiting in two important areas for UND—graduate and online.
“Half of our graduate students here are online. If potential students see our website and it’s not mobile-friendly—we’re not telling that student we’re a tech-savvy institution and we’re going to have all of the technology needs to get you your online degree,” Jensen said.
Approximately $2.5 million of the $3 million investment in marketing will go into advertising, mostly digital. UND will commission a firm to research and analyze recruitment needs, and then offer suggestions on where advertising funds would be best allocated—digitally, in the form of Google and social media ads, online TV/radio subscription ads, search optimization and more, or more tangibly with elements like mailers and merchandise.
The urgency to share UND’s story through marketing is not just reactive to flat enrollment numbers and tuition revenue. Capitalizing now is a timing opportunity.
“The thing about investing in marketing when there are budget cuts—especially if there are others in your industry going through the same budget turmoil—is you tend to get more bang for your buck,” Stoner explained. “If you’re investing while others are pulling back, it’s going to make that much bigger of an impact.”
UND will push forward with its renewed marketing initiatives to not only maintain and grow enrollment, but to provide the future revenue for the University to continue to grow in other ways—like improving facilities, bringing in the best faculty and creating a top-notch student experience.
“It truly has to be considered an investment,” Jensen said. “It will help us get to the goals that President Kennedy has laid out and to the vision that is coming together with the Strategic Plan of what we want to become as a premier flagship institution.”