May 1st is a watershed date for many institutions, but even among the most selective, the work is far from finished. We all know we need to protect ourselves from summer melt, but at Maguire Associates we continue to be amazed by the number of colleges and universities that overlook a critical issue – institution-wide summer communications. Yes, it isn’t over until it’s over. Are you doing everything you can to ensure that your high level of service to prospective students is consistently carried forward by other offices on your campus over the summer months? We have five recommendations for the development of a vitalized, more effective summer communications plan that will synchronize the efforts of all offices involved.
For at least two years, the Admissions and Financial Aid Offices have worked hard to build a relationship with prospective students and sometimes (not often enough) their parents. The distinctive rhythm and personal tone of communications need to be reinforced by all offices on campus, even those who send out the bills. The message can be just as clear and directive when adapted to a family-centered, second-person voice.
Personalization extends well beyond tone or voice. Whatever level of personalization in correspondence was achieved during the recruitment cycle should be adopted by every office that connects with newly enrolled families. And personalization needs to be evident in service. We hear horror stories about the unavailability of staff and faculty when families are most eager to ask questions and/or are struggling to make important decisions. Those vital, well-deserved vacations must be planned to ensure continued, open access to anxious families who are contemplating a big step into the unknown.
3. Quality of Communications
Deposited students will benefit from ongoing reinforcement of key messages that highlight the distinctive qualities of the institution. Far too often, the content of communications shifts nearly entirely to process. Do not abandon the development of key concepts throughout the summer that will remind students of their reasons for enrolling. Continue to send the latest proof points about the benefits of your institution; continue to build pride; continue to express your excitement about welcoming new students and their families to your community. Another common faux pas is the lack of attention to the quality of materials (print and electronic) sent to students and parents. We often see low-quality, photocopied forms and duplicate requests for information that can be extracted from an integrated student database. This diminution in quality and under-utilization of a student information system begin to unravel the multi-year service of, and impressions delivered by, recruitment communications.
More and more colleges are sponsoring orientation during the summer months, but we are also seeing a trend to offer them earlier to “lock in” new students. These important events are ideal vehicles for making incoming students feel welcome, especially if they get the message that faculty and staff already consider them valued members of their academic community. Summer communication is a flow of important information. A carefully orchestrated roll-out plan can make a big difference in students’ and parents’ impressions of your organizational attention to detail. Plot every communication on a time line and even out the gaps and log jams. Good pacing makes it easier for families to get ready for their arrival on campus.
We can hear you thinking, “Easier said than done.” We realize that a successful summer communications program requires cooperation across many lines of authority. As a critical first step, we recommend getting acknowledgement at the top that the transition from deposit to enrollment is the capstone of a multi-year investment in recruitment. Losing students over the summer is a terrible waste of effort and dollars – and the melt can be minimized with an integrated plan. With the firm expectation of senior leadership that offices should work together, a coordinated execution of summer communications is much more likely to happen. And a final point for execution — we strongly recommend that the enrollment team serve as the hub for editing, approving, and orchestrating delivery of every communication. Yogi Berra, in his rarified wisdom, reminds us of the importance of sustained effort to get the job done. So don’t lose sight of the importance of high level service to your new families from all corners of your institution, all summer long.