As a higher education marketer, increasing student applications and, ultimately, enrollment is likely your number one goal.  In fact, increasing student enrollment topped the list of marketing challenges amongst participants of our 2018 State of Higher Ed Marketing study. However, relying solely on applications and enrollment numbers to measure higher ed marketing performance can be misleading.

Before students apply to your college or university, they typically go through several phases, each of which work together like different pieces of the same puzzle.  The decision to apply may take months from the time a student first becomes aware of a program, and in the case of graduate degrees, sometimes years. This means that even the most successful campaign may not see an immediate uptick in enrollment numbers.

Moreover, the application itself may prove difficult to track. For example, if your student application platform is not fully integrated with your analytics, marketing, or CRM software, you may find yourself out of the loop after a student has applied – largely relying on an admission or recruitment team with access to provide a final tally. This can make it more difficult to identify which campaign(s) successfully influenced which enrollee.

How do you measure higher ed marketing performance in the face of these challenges?

Start with a measurement plan to outline your goals as they fall along your higher ed marketing funnel. Ideally, you should work with your enrollment and/or admissions team so you can incorporate the metrics that matter to them. Together, consider “top-of-the-funnel” goals such as increases in traffic as well as “bottom-of-the-funnel” goals like inquiries or pre-assessments. And don’t forget to plan for any incremental conversions in between (middle-of-the-funnel) such as e-book downloads or webinar registrations. Once measurement is implemented, these categories will help you understand the impact your marketing activities have before students submit their applications. Knowing sooner means you can optimize your marketing tactics to generate more leads and even accelerate the path to enrollment by doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. By focusing first on the measurable data you can control, you can begin to put together the pieces of your higher ed marketing performance puzzle.

In the next phase, you will want to dig deeper to understand whether the leads you generate are the right leads, whether they become applicants, and, ultimately, if they enroll.

As a step toward your future state, adapt your measurement plan to include a roadmap for integrating your marketing, application, and CRM solutions to close the loop with the measurement of qualified leads, applications, and enrollees.

While there is no magic formula that can draw a direct, immediate connection between your many marketing efforts and enrollment numbers, you can close the loop when you have the right technology and a solid measurement plan.