Q&A with Martin Lind: Admissions

Are there really differences between admissions processes for traditional schools and those for private sector schools?

Yes, and understanding these differences is fundamental to having an effective and successful admissions process. Both types of schools need to be diligent in cultivating their prospective student populations and can benefit from a strategic enrollment planning process.  But the inquiry/applicant pools are typically very different. Traditional schools typically have large inquiry or applicant pools.

While students compete with each other to get into traditional schools, the opposite is true for private sector schools, which compete with each other for students. This necessitates two distinct selection processes and different outreach approaches.  Traditional schools tend to do what their peers do: send mail, email and use social media.  Proprietary schools use those channels as well, but they are more focused on rapid outreach. Because proprietary schools are competing with other proprietary schools to get the attention of the prospective student first, they are heavily focused on phone outreach.

Proprietary schools have acknowledged for years that an efficient, quick outreach program is essential.  To some, that process seems like “sales” and they turn their noses up at the concept.  Smart admissions department in every type of school, however, realize that their admissions and marketing teams are selling their school.  Yes, some are easier sales than others: the top 1% of schools don’t have to expend much effort to get America’s best and brightest to apply.  But 99% of schools are — by definition — not in the top 1% of schools.  Once you come to grips with the fact that you’re selling your school, you will be more open to technologies, processes and techniques that make you more competitive in admissions.

Where do adult and continuing education fall along this spectrum? Are their admissions just like their undergrad counterparts or do their non-traditional student bodies make them more like a private sector school?

Non-traditional programs at traditional schools, in general, have a lot in common with proprietary schools programs.  Whether traditional schools like it or not, their non-traditional programs are competing with similar programs at the for-profits.  They can keep denying it and win on price for as long as they can, but they can’t fill all the spots and they won’t always be that price competitive.  Ultimately, I don’t think many people care if their C++ programming certificate comes from Big State University Extension School where adjuncts teach the classes or from the local IT-focused career school where adjuncts teach the class.  If the price is right, the classes are taught at convenient times and places, and the resulting education is similar, why wouldn’t someone go to a proprietary school?

What can traditional schools admissions learn from proprietary schools?

According to Inside Higher Ed, college enrollments declined by 1.8 percent in fall 2012, driven by larger drops for for-profit colleges (-7.2 percent) and community colleges (-3.1 percent). Enrollment fell by 0.6 percent at four-year public colleges and universities, and rose by half a percentage point at four-year private nonprofit colleges.

Shrinking enrollment means increased competition among schools – both proprietary and traditional –  to meet enrollment goals. In addition, more traditional schools are moving online and adding more adult/continuing education programs, putting them squarely in competition with the proprietary schools. At the same time, recent regulations and lawsuits have made proprietary schools act more like traditional schools.  This nexus will surely bring about more collisions where schools that didn’t used to compete find themselves going after the same pool of students.  While there are differentiators (e.g., job placement, cost), each type of school will have to learn from the other to succeed.

Here’s what it comes down to: knowing your competition makes it easier to understand how to effectively compete against them. Look for a related blog post on how understanding these different types of admissions processes is essential for knowing how to fill the funnel with the best-fit prospective students.  Just as admission processes necessarily differ, so will the marketing tactics to support enrollment objectives.


Steve Winchester

Steve is the CMO at Helix Education. He has been an advertising account executive for more than 20 years. Steve received his BS from the University of Utah.