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Wayland Academy

Wayland Academy knows there are a lot of factors that go into why a student chooses to enroll — everything from a pleasant website experience to knowing what international student health insurance costs, and more.

For Wayland’s former Dean of Enrollment and Financial Aid, Josh Labove, there was friction in that process, not just for prospective families, but also for the admissions team.

Labove saw that onboarding families was a challenging process that required too much intervention. Many families were struggling with reviewing and signing a contract, and even making a deposit could be difficult. Contracts would ‘lock’ or ‘time out’ and Wayland, despite having students from 28 countries, had no easy way to collect deposits from international students.

“This should be the simplest thing,” Labove thought. “This should be a moment when you’re most happy and delighted and excited about the way we’ve taken you through the enrollment process. This should be Wayland at its best.”

The Challenge | Tech Triage

Labove and the Wayland admissions staff wanted software that could allow their team to focus on prospective students and families and less on the “technology triage.”

With monthly and quarterly reporting to the finance committee, the Board of Trustees, and other members of Wayland’s administration, everyone understood the importance of admissions having better tools and actionable insights.

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At a Glance

Established in 1855, Wayland Academy is a private, coeducational college preparatory boarding high school located in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. With nearly three-quarters of the students board at the school, Wayland prepares each student for college and life beyond through a liberal arts curriculum and multiple campus programs.

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The Board was hungry for enrollment data, asking the right questions, and ready, willing, and able to be strategic partners, but the admissions team was still unable to provide the on-the-fly reporting and data analysis that everyone wanted for better decision-making.

A board report required multiple days of preparation for Labove. “To say I was spending ‘hours’ would be disingenuous,” Labove remembered. “Sometimes it took the better part of a week, if not longer, to put together a board report, and I realized that there had to be a better way.”

The Solution | A Seamless Process

That’s when Wayland welcomed Finalsite’s enrollment management system to its suite of software, which already included Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, and the school’s SIS integration with Blackbaud

“Before, everything was siloed,” Labove remembered. “Now, we have that information in a student's file, and we’re all able to see the communications, the outreaches, and all of the connections that we've had with the family in one place. It's helped us have a better sense of how to predict and plan for healthy retention.”

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The admissions team is well aware that every child eligible to re-enroll is an active case, an idea that’s baked into the DNA of the Finalsite Enrollment system. “Other systems assume the admissions process is over when a student enrolls,” Labove said. “The big competitor out there didn't allow us to upload new material, new data, or new phone calls to a student's record if they were returning.”

“Now, parents don't complain about signing their contract. They know how to do it, and they don't need tech support from us along the way,” Labove said, remembering a time he was concerned about a change in the process and how returning families would respond to a new system and a new login. 

“Families bank online, buy their cars online, schedule doctor appointments online, and they’re very nimble at making a new account, especially if the end result was a really delightful and easy-to-use process.”

The Results | Accurate, real-time data

Now, the team can access to-the-minute data for creating reports and assessing the progress toward Wayland’s enrollment goals. With the admissions reports and funnel snapshots within Finalsite Enrollment, the Board reports that once took hours away from Labove’s busy schedule now only takes minutes.

Labove’s able to compare data showing how their conversion rates compare year over year — a Finalsite Enrollment dashboard feature that supports strategic, macro-level conversations with the Board. “We’re able to discuss the patterns and conversion rates between inquiries and applicants and that starts to make a trend.”

Wayland knows the spring enrollment season is just the first of many rounds to come, and the planning and execution of its enrollment strategy is a year-round effort, an idea previous systems didn’t support as well. “Now, we're starting to see what we can predict and plan for and we can stop having those hazy, crystal ball conversations and get to actually planning.”


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Collaboration across teams

Wayland’s admission and marketing teams are now able to rely less on instincts and more on data — not just in previous year’s numbers but current, real-time enrollment stats. Inquiries are up a staggering 245% and applications have grown 200% since making the switch to Finalsite Enrollment.

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“Part of that is Finalsite Enrollment part of that is having a really delightful website with good SEO that people want to browse around and spend time on. Part of that is having a more robust marketing communications team,” Labove said.

“Admissions and marketing should go hand-in-hand,” Labove explained. “Admissions often does a lot of the human-facing work of marketing, so it’s important to make sure those departments are operating in partnership and in collaboration. With Finalsite Enrollment, I don't have to say, ‘trust me.’ I can point to data. That's more reassuring to our colleagues as well, to see very clearly how our intuitions can be tested.” 

Supporting school leadership

When researching enrollment solutions, Labove had considered the head of school’s involvement with strategic fundraising and enrollment goals, asking: “How could I make that a healthy and supportive relationship, but one that would feel like the appropriate amount of information?” 

Wayland’s dashboard provides just that — a high-level overview for school leadership to discern whether or not enrollment numbers are on track. “It’s someplace where he feels like he can take the temperature and understand what's going on,” Labove said. “I'm not preparing reports for the head of school; he’s empowered to be able to go check out the dashboard.”

“There are many factors involved with enrollment, but the website was clearly ground zero,” added Wayland Academy Head of School Jason Warnick. “We saw an over 60 percent increase in completed apps in one year, and we’re experiencing an enrollment increase of over 30 percent. We also made strides with fundraising and constituent engagement and went public with a successful capital campaign. We have lots of work to do, but getting the enrollment project done in such a short period was unreal. The Finalsite team helped make it possible.”

Stronger relationships with families

“We used to spend time working with current families to get them through the re-enrollment process,” Labove said, “but now we’re spending time with prospective families to bring them into the admissions process.” And for a small team that aspires to offer a human touch to each family, that makes a world of difference. 

“Sometimes I pick up the phone, and sometimes my colleagues do,” Labove explained. ”I've taken calls with families in Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Israel that began as notes logged in a Finalsite Enrollment file — it's making sure whoever picks up the phone is well-prepared and well-positioned to continue the conversation. There’s a seamlessness through which we can all communicate internally, add more information, and that has been really valuable.”

Continued growth

Over the last few years, Wayland’s growth has been exceptional. “We grew as a school by over 30 percent, and it positions us to do what we thought might take five years to do in maybe two,” Labove said.

And with a larger volume of work, the admissions team itself has grown over the years, opening the doors to even more collaboration between departments. “I look at Finalsite Enrollment as the sixth member of our office. Our team can do what they do best, which is to make sure the value proposition of Wayland Academy is top of mind for families. Now we’re comfortably at a 60 percent yield, which is an inconceivable jump from where we were just a few years ago.”  

“Finalsite Enrollment has helped us hone the message with families,” Labove added. “But we're still a relatively small team, and there's still lots more to tap into — it’s kind of amazing when you know that you haven't really reached the full capacity of what a product can offer and you're already delighted.”

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