Right-Fit Student Targeting at Saint Louis University

Budget line items for prospective student list buys can be staggering.

One university has discovered how to target those list buys in ways that improve prospect responsiveness, increase student retention, and enhance student satisfaction, all while reducing expenses.

Jay Goff, Vice President for Enrollment and Retention Management at Saint Louis University, came on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss how SLU has moved away from the spray-and-pray model when it comes to prospective student list buys and found a much more creative and data-driven targeting approach.

Targeted Student List Buys

“Our approach to the list buys,” Jay told us, “really came from developing a more comprehensive strategic enrollment management plan, or what we call SEM Plan.”

SLU’s SEM Plan started with the idea that research drives recruitment, and recruitment and research drive retention. At SLU, the process begins with looking at how to accomplish university-wide goals related to students’ success, satisfaction, diversity, access, and affordability.

From there, Jay and his team asked how to buy names appropriate to meeting those profile goals and student success goals

“When we initially looked at how we bought names” Jay said, “instead of just doing geographic regions, we actually went back and looked at students who were successful at the university.”

Jay defined success as students who started as freshmen and stayed at SLU until they graduated. He and his team looked for the common characteristics to create a profile that would allow them to their diversity, access, and affordability targets.

Finding Common Correlations Between High Satisfaction Students

Looking at the factors that correlate high satisfaction and finishing at SLU, Jay found the key was aligning new students  with the appropriate support groups when they arrived at the university. With that realization clear, Jay and his team looked at current resources, the types of students that SLU could support and the capacity for supporting them, and then actually related that information to their purchase strategy.

“And so what that gave us,” Jay said, “was about, oh, 12 to 15 different core populations that we were focusing on, and then within those populations, that helped us overall, in terms of increasing the number of underrepresented students. And so it really was the segmentation strategy that helped us target the buying.”

SLU’s student aid strategies focus on the university’s resources in terms of scholarships and need-based aid.  By having specific and clear goals, SLU can be more targeted in awarding aid. It takes a strong sense of program capacity and a knack for intuiting what the unmet needs really are to create a tight financial aid strategy.

Outcomes of the Strategic Enrollment Management Strategy

Since enacting this right-fit targeting strategy, SLU has reduced its list buys by 40%. The university has also enrolled five of the six largest freshmen classes in its history. We asked Jay if the right fit targeting strategy had realized the impact the university wanted.

“Over the last five years,” Jay told us, “we’ve seen our first to second year retention rates jump by about 6%. Our four year graduation rate has gone up 11%. I think we’re going to actually go higher than that this year. And our six year graduation rate, the one that everybody looks at, has jumped from 70% to 78% in just that five year period.”

Basically, students who are attending St. Louis University are successful. The university is seeing lower indebtedness, higher satisfaction rates, and high percentages of students who say they made the right choice for their educational experience.

The Future of Strategic Enrollment Management at Saint Louis Univesrity

Jay and his team are reviewing the project’s internal data to build models that can create personalized experience portfolios for all of SLU graduates. They’ve launched a PEP Program Pilot, which offers a personalized experience portfolio. Using student interest data, PEP creates an eight-semester experience, including academics, on-campus experiences, and career development.

Ultimately, PEP is a community building tool. As a Jesuit institution, SLU does over a million hours of service each year, and as a global institution, it maintains a campus in Madrid and partnerships with over 50 different study abroad sites. The goal is to  combine career development, community development, and global perspectives together.

Getting Started with Targeted Student List Buys

Ask yourself what data you are collecting and what you need to collect. Then, determine the core competencies of your institution and what you can deliver. When you start aligning those competencies with the data, you’ll see what types of students you succeed best with.

“It’s the backward engineering,” Jay said. “Start by first looking at your successful students. Let’s find out why they’re doing so well, and then find ways that we can replicate those processes for all the students that you’re enrolling.”

This post is based on a podcast interview with Jay Goff from St. Louis University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.