School admission and enrollment leaders from independent schools nationwide recently gathered for The Enrollment Management Association’s 2023 in-person conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. The annual, multi-day conference highlighted the emerging trends in enrollment management, advancements in admissions software, and best practices for engaging and retaining new students and families.
This year, EMA’s theme was “Champions for Transformation: Innovating, Growing, Enrolling...Together!" The event celebrated enrollment leaders and the vital roles they play every day in independent and private school schools around the county.
This year’s conference called attention to the post-COVID admissions landscape and the shifts in recruitment and admissions practices. As many sessions reiterated, the emphasis now lies in new methods of assessment, leveraging school partnerships, and utilizing tech to enhance the enrollment journey.
The conference’s main takeaways also covered:
- Strategic Enrollment Management
- Data-driven Decision Making
- Collaboration and Community Engagement
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in School Admissions
- Strategic Planning & Survey Creation
- Tech in Admissions
Strategic Enrollment Management
Many sessions underscored the transition from a traditional admissions approach to a more comprehensive enrollment management strategy. This approach encompasses admitting students and strategically attracting, enrolling, retaining, and advancing them in ways that align with the school's mission, vision, and values.
Private schools are facing increasing challenges in differentiating themselves in a competitive market. The importance of understanding and effectively communicating a school's unique value proposition was highlighted in sessions like "Why You? Creating a Compelling Value Proposition" and "A Tale of 2 Schools: Strengthening a School Brand." Schools were advised to move beyond generic mission statements and articulate what differentiates them from competitors.
Schools are recognizing the power of student involvement in the admissions process. By leveraging student ambassador programs and peer-to-peer interactions, schools can convey their culture and values to prospective families.
Several sessions touched on the importance of student retention, too. There’s a realization that it's not just about getting students into the school but ensuring they stay, which can be more cost-effective and beneficial for schools in the long run.
Data-driven Decision Making
The importance of research and data in guiding admissions and retention decisions was evident. Whether it's through analyzing admission data, studying outcomes based on admission ratings, or leveraging surveys, schools were urged to use a more data-informed approach.
Schools are now using data, surveys, and analytics to refine their admissions and enrollment processes. Whether it's to understand the effectiveness of their current systems, as showcased by "Decoding the DNA of Exceptional Enrollment Teams" and "Redefining and Measuring Excellence," or to create new strategies based on insights, such as "Advancing Strategy by Survey Design & Data Science," there's a clear emphasis on using data to guide decision-making.
The emphasis on using demographics, psychographics, and surveys, as highlighted in "Survey Says!" signified the move toward a more analytical and targeted approach to recruitment, helping schools align their efforts with objectives.
Collaboration and Community Engagement
Across the board, whether discussing admission strategies, financial aid, or addressing mental health, there's was a strong theme of schools needing to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of students.
The sessions indicated fostering a more collaborative environment within schools, especially smaller institutions. Schools can better align their teams with their overarching mission and goals by rethinking structures and roles.
Beyond just enrolling students, schools should strategically engage communities and their families even after they graduate. This focus on advancement aims to foster stronger ties with the alumni, potentially opening doors for fundraising and other opportunities that benefit the school.
Keynote speaker Mónica Guzmán explored the perspectives of people with different values and encouraged those with opposing views to move from "why" questions to "how does that make you feel" questions. The approach helps school staff, teachers, and students humanize the people behind a movement instead of exaggerating and personifying an entire movement as contentious.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in School Admissions
There's a growing emphasis on ensuring the admissions process is equitable and accessible. Schools are being encouraged to critically assess and reflect on their current practices in relation to their goals, especially those concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion. This involves a deep dive into current practices to identify potential biases and barriers to entry.
The emphasis on supporting BIPOC families and the importance of creating environments where everyone feels seen and energized was shared. The session on "The Barrier of Gratitude" highlighted the importance of understanding and supporting communities of color, while "Good Vibes & Great Energy" recognized the different needs, values, and preferences of various generations for effective communication and marketing in admissions, too.
With rising tuition fees, there's a focus on understanding and addressing the financial pressures families face, especially low-income ones. This directly ties into schools' diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as they work toward ensuring accessibility and affordability for all students.
Strategic Planning & Survey Creation
Your strategic plan should always serve as your north star when planning surveys because it guides your school's overarching goals and objectives. Surveys are invaluable tools for gathering data and insights, but without alignment with your strategic plan, they risk becoming disjointed and lacking purpose.
By tethering your survey efforts to your strategic plan, your school ensures that all information collected directly contributes to fulfilling your long-term vision. This alignment ensures that surveys are important pieces of a well-defined roadmap for admissions and retention.
Tech in Admissions
Sessions like "XR and ChatGPT as Recruitment & Admissions Tools" focused on using new-age technologies, particularly XR (Extended Reality) and generative AI tools like ChatGPT, in the admissions process. These tools can provide immersive experiences, streamline outreach, personalize the admissions process, and engage students creatively.
Marketing automation tools like those found in Finalsite Enrollment can assist schools in creating efficient and effective admissions processes that not only save time, but also enhance the overall admissions experience, leading to higher conversion rates.
EMA's enrollment management conference has always provided a chance for admission and enrollment professionals to gather and connect with colleagues. While this year's professional development event was another opportunity to celebrate and share the latest best practices and important initiatives with one another, the conference placed a focus on the inclusion of others; by recognizing the importance of DEI initiatives in admissions, creating better collaboration, and creating strong, more genuine connections with families to support the enrollment goals of schools.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.