“More is not better when your team is small.”
That was the sentiment for Minnehaha Academy, a top-ranked college prep school located in the heart of the Twin Cities.
As a private Christian school for students from preschool to grade 12, Minnehaha is a welcoming community that focuses on academics, as well as developing personal passions and faith, and, as their admission page aptly phrases it, they “see the light that shines in each child.”
But like many other schools, they faced the challenges experienced by admissions and marketing teams everywhere — siloed admission databases, manual processes, and limited resources, all of which worked against the mounting pressure of increased enrollment goals.
The solution, the school realized, could be found in a smarter enrollment strategy and powerful partnerships: collaboration between marketing and admission offices, as well as a streamlined enrollment process that leveraged admissions data and the storytelling power of their website.
At a Glance
Established in 1913, Minnehaha Academy is a Christian private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota for students in preschool through 12th grade. Students are encouraged explore their gifts and talents as they become next generation thought leaders and change makers.
The Challenge — Split data and a clear enrollment strategy
When looking at their enrollment data, the marketing and admission teams at Minnehaha knew something was off. “We had these great marketing ideas,'' shared Rebekah Peterson, director of marketing and communications, “but how do you define and measure success and know that you’re doing a great job?”
Peterson had been assessing the marketing department’s success through the number of inquiries, defined as anyone who requests information within a certain timeframe, regardless of what school year they’re interested in. That gave Minnehaha two pieces of valuable information: it answered if its current marketing strategy was working and then, based on their historical conversion rate from admissions, it signaled if they were on track to meet their goals for enrollment in the coming year.
But, there had been a long conversation about what an inquiry is, and when to call someone an inquiry.
“Is it someone who attends an event or is it someone who reaches out and says 'I want information on your school?'” Peterson asked. “That was a conversation we had, and it took a while to figure out how to count those numbers. We realized we needed to count them in two different ways: we needed to count them through a marketing lens and we needed to count them through an admission lens — and both of those numbers are valuable.” To add to that, both marketing and admissions teams felt there was too much focus on reaching new audiences and not enough effort on converting families who had already inquired.
“We were just in too many databases and to pull a report took a lot of time and a lot of spot-checking,” added Michelle Ulland, director of admission and enrollment at Minnehaha. “That's where Rebekah and I were running into issues — our numbers were not the same, and for good reason.”
“These inquiry numbers in marketing are critical lead indicators for the admission team, the development office, and for the board,” Peterson said. “They’re valuable because, without them, we are only running on our best guesses and our feelings, which is not a great answer to have when people are asking questions.”
The inquiries were coming in, but they needed to get better benchmarks and develop a strong strategy that could grow year after year.
“SchoolAdmin and Finalsite combined everything from the first click on the website to the enrollment deposit.”
DIR. OF ADMISSION & ENROLLMENT
The Solution — A better way to measure success
That’s when Minnehaha turned to SchoolAdmin, Finalsite’s enrollment management system, designed to help schools streamline the enrollment journey for families, personalize communications, and leverage critical admissions data to grow enrollment. “Before SchoolAdmin, we were using HubSpot and Ravenna — two totally different programs that were really disjointed,” Ulland said. With integrated admissions, enrollment, and tuition billing tools, SchoolAdmin allows teams to automate processes and create a better enrollment experience for families and admissions offices of any size.
“SchoolAdmin and Finalsite combined everything from the first click on the website to the enrollment deposit,” Ulland said. “Our solution was to find a better way of tracking and a better way of seeing where the bottlenecks are during conversion and not just after the fact, but during the fact.”
They went into the system, reviewed the admissions data, and started asking important questions: If they need X many new students and X inquiries, how were they ever going to get the inquiries needed with a small team? That’s when the team asked, “Where can we make the biggest impact?”
By comparing accepted and enrolled rates, they discovered they should dedicate more resources, time, money, and energy, to conversion. If the conversion rate could increase by just one percent, they realized, then the school wouldn’t need to rely on as many inquiries.
SchoolAdmin helped Minnehaha identify and track the same inquiries without getting numbers or families confused; an important step in the team's ability to start thinking more strategically about conversions. “Having that shared platform has really helped us to be able to track the same people, not get numbers confused, not get people confused, and be working from the same list,” Ulland said.
“If I had those families slated for another academic year, now my conversion rate goes down, so we’ve had to re-educate the board and our supervisor and show them what it means because the work that Rebekah‘s done for future years will come in to play.”
Now, the two offices can better track inquiries from families for the upcoming year and compare and differentiate conversion rates between families interested in enrolling in later academic years.
One of the most critical points for the school has always been converting accepted families to enrolled families, and it was the perfect opportunity to pull data from SchoolAdmin and market an upcoming summer theater camp to students who had indicated an interest in performing arts.
“We had a focused approach,” said Peterson. “It helped us be strategic in how we are dedicating our resources because we’re a small team.”
The system has also created better relationships with prospective families — by gaining more information about academic and personal interests on their inquiry form, the team is now able to personalize communications from the admissions office, and create a custom enrollment experience that speaks to different families’ interests.
“We have a lot of ways to go in and personalize communications based on the information we get from the forms,” said Ulland, adding that the email templates that her team can customize and then send to families to automatically create appointments for interviews and 1:1 meetings have been a big time-saver. “My team is able to send emails on my behalf, and then the appointments show up on my calendar and the family doesn't know any different.”
The idea of creating a longer inquiry form brought some skepticism at first. After all, it is a best practice to keep inquiry forms concise, but the team quickly realized the benefits of being able to collect a little more information so they could personalize communications and automate messages with SchoolAdmin.
“Our biggest fear was that fewer people would fill it out,” Ulland admitted. “But with a slightly longer inquiry form, we started getting higher-quality inquiries from better fit families.”
The Result — An efficient admissions and enrollment system
Since integrating SchoolAdmin with their Finalsite website, Ulland feels she’s able to spend her time more wisely while empowering her team to access the information they need to work more strategically and more independently.
“My upper school admissions counselor put it best when he said, ‘SchoolAdmin has allowed Michelle to stay above the clouds — she can now look at things at a much higher level.’”
“I can now give reports in minutes,” Ulland said, adding that she’s able to provide key data points about enrollment for any grade level in moments — a task that would have previously required a significant amount of time, number crunching, and spreadsheets.
“I've been able to get my financial aid director the information she needs,” Ulland said. “The reporting tool is very self-service — it’s been a huge savings of time, resources, and energy.”
“My team really feels like everyone has what they need at their fingertips and that's not always been the case,” Ulland added. “Our team can now access the information they would've had to go through me for, questions like ‘where are we at in the funnel, how many applications are still coming?’ They just have so much more accessibility to run their own reports.”
Minnehaha is now seeing a wave of multi-grade level families taking interest in the school. “We're enrolling first-contact people,” said Ulland, noting that their conversion rates are higher than they were in previous years. “I feel like our enrollments are more secure,” Ulland said. “Our families are more excited.”
And with another academic year on the horizon, Minnehaha’s excited, too.
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