Higher Education - Increase Enrollment
Red Bank College, a small liberal arts school located in a the rural southeastern community had suffered from flat admissions of new students for the preceding 5 to 6 years. In an attempt to better understand the issues and provide market insight for a new enrollment strategy, PMG conducted a comprehensive market research study to assess the brand awareness and perception, identify competitive educational options and understand their strengths and weaknesses relative to Red Bank, and better understand segment differences among potential new students. PMG developed specific ways to improve Red Bank’s image with prospective students and parents, guidance counselors including: stronger encouragement and facilitation of campus visits, gradually increasing admissions standards, and developing centers of excellence in coordination with alumni and employers.
Red Bank College is a small, private, liberal arts college located in a rural area. The school markets itself as offering a challenging academic experience that integrates faith and service with career-oriented programs. Red Bank offers over 40 academic programs with personalized instruction and the opportunity to study abroad. The College also has a small but growing online degree program in eight disciplines.
The College experienced declining enrollment for several years. While the decrease was not substantial in number, it was large enough to have a significant impact on the College’s financial health since enrollment was just above break-even.
PMG developed a methodology to examine Red Bank’s brand and competitive positioning. We gathered substantial secondary information and completes surveys with faculty, development partners (donors), guidance counselors, current and prospective students and their parents, and alumni. Results of this data collection were used to:
- Measure brand awareness,
- Determine brand strengths and weaknesses,
- Uncover key differences by segment,
- Identify competitive colleges and universities and perceptions of their performance,
- Develop a competitive positioning map.
Working from this information, PMG identified specific opportunities, by segment, to increase its brand awareness and strengthen its overall position with the ultimate objective of increasing enrollment.
PMG learned brand awareness was below expected levels and well below that of peer schools. The school was characterized as being small, Christian, welcoming, safe and comfortable. It was also seen as restrictive, outdated and hidden. Red Bank was seen as being ahead of peer schools on the moral and ethical environment, having a small student population and small class sizes, and the quality of faculty.
Campus visits had a strong positive impact and led to an increased chance of enrollment. However, many parents and students did not visit due to travel time. But, if extended a personal invitation most said they would visit.
One school stood out as the primary competitor. That school also attempted to differentiate itself on its size, location, and faith-based atmosphere. In addition, it touted the career direction provided to all students, the range of degree programs and athletics. They also utilized a marketing and communication model targeting specific segments.
PMG developed specific ways to improve Red Bank’s image with prospective students and parents as well as guidance counselors including stronger encouragement and facilitation of campus visits, gradually increasing admissions standards, and developing centers of excellence in coordination with alumni and employers. PMG also recommended and developed a segmentation scheme that identified the highest likelihood students and a contact strategy to develop and nurture a positive, impactful relationship with these students.
Current enrollment numbers show the profound impact of project findings and Red Bank’s associated focused enrollment strategies. Following PMG’s study, Red Bank experienced an 8% CAGR in new student enrollment from 239 in 2016 to 278 in 2018.