Want to limit your melt? Adopt a strategic approach.

If you work in enrollment management or marketing, May 1 can only mean one thing: Deposits.

May 1 is the unofficial day where you really know where you stand. If you’re looking to make enrollment numbers (and who isn’t?), things just got serious.

But the fight is far from over May 1. In fact, for most schools, it’s just beginning. Students drop out all the way up to and through orientation or class enrollment.

You probably hear these terms around the office all the time: Melt, of course, is the percentage of students who commit but don't attend. Yield Rate measures the retention rate from confirmation to enrollment. When yield is high, times are good. When that number is low, there’s something wrong. The big boys provide a lot of information about yield rate, which tell you a lot about where you need to be, but at the end of the day, there’s really only your number and how to get it higher.

To influence it, you have to influence your prospective students by encouraging students you think would be a good fit for your university to truly commit to you. That means you have to understand their needs and mindset.

Do you want to know what’s on students' minds? Money. The big questions students are looking to answer relate to the value of the education, the price of the education, and their ability to afford it. You won’t go wrong developing answers to these questions in modern higher education.

Here’s a good rubric to approach developing your yield strategy:

  • Message – Clearly expressing your value while providing tools for the student to make his or her own decision.
  • Partnerships – Effectively collaborating with your team members across campus to deliver that message
  • Education – Education is the collaborated effort of you and your partners to deliver that yield message. I’m specifically not discussing marketing channels, because that is a much more detailed discussion.
  • Measurement – This is the coordinated effort of you and your partners to monitor your message and educational platform’s effectiveness.

Tighten Your Financial Aid Message

Like we said above, your message is made up of two parts: Clearly expressing your institution’s value and providing tools for the student to make his or her own decision. To develop that message, you need to understand your competition. Is your pricing more or less than other institutions?

You also need to understand your ideal students. Are they first-generation students? Are they low-income? Do they come from more affluent backgrounds? The better you understand your target student’s world, the better you can craft an effective message to reach them.

You might consider a multi-channel effort that includes promotion of school spirit, traditions and other high-value assets that increase a sense of welcome. At the same time, consider your processes – how students sign up for orientation, how they read their award letter – and make them as clear as easy as possible. This is where you really deliver the brand promise.

Strengthen Your Campus Partnerships

Instead of waiting, wishing and hoping that your confirmed students matriculate, take a proactive approach by creating a partnership between your admissions, financial aid and any other office or partner that should be included at your institution. Create a financial aid counseling initiative focusing on your confirmed students who have signed up for orientation.

If you work at a smaller institution, make the focus on one-on-one counseling sessions. If you work at a larger institution, you might consider a way to scale this idea by holding a special session, webinar or even sending FA counselors out into territories with your admissions team.

The goal is simple – don’t wait. Many of us have worked with students who have let very small gaps keep them from increasing their lifetime earnings through a college degree.

While you are discussing your coordination, consider logistics and tactics: How do we transfer students between offices? Will we walk them over, make a phone call with a warm transfer or just leave them to fend for themselves? Many students are won and lost in the transition between offices – do not underestimate the importance of delivering first-rate student service.

Double-Down on Student Education

Your website, as well as the print, email and social media channels you use to bring people to your site are essential tools in your yield efforts. Do you have blog posts, articles and resources that help first-generation students and their parents understand financial aid? Information like “how to read your award letter” is essential. Do you have, as we discussed earlier, dedicated counseling sessions with marketing tracks promoting them? There is no magic trick that yields students – it’s not one thing you do – it’s all the things you do.

Is your website easy to navigate? Clear paths to important information for confirmed students is important. This is why Amazon spends so much time and effort to make the purchase process, from search to send, as easy as possible. Your logistics create impressions.

While we’re all thinking about yield, it’s a great time to start planning ahead as well. Financial aid education should start well before senior year. Start working with your team to develop a plan that includes financial aid education for freshman and sophomore high school students. These efforts will pay off long-term as these students begin to seriously consider their college education.

Keep an Eye on the Scoreboard

It’s important to set clear goals. What was your yield rate last year? Based on that yield rate and the other data points available to you, what is a realistic goal to increase yield this year? You wouldn’t drive a car without a speedometer – why do so many of us make strategic decisions without them?

As you’re thinking of your measurements, make sure that you are segmenting your groups appropriately. For example, an institution I work with segmented its groups and found that while its transfer yield rates were very strong, its first-year efforts could use some work. By segmenting, we were able to focus their resources on the place where they would have the most benefit.

Higher education is a space where we can partner together and learn from each other. I would love to hear from marketing and enrollment management professionals and how they have developed successful yield strategies.

Darren White is the principal consultant at D. White & Company, LLC, a higher education marketing & management consulting firm. We help institutions capture more students by using effective yield strategies. Want to get started? Set up an appointment for a free consultation today.