Exceeding Enrollment Goals:
Jefferson Merger Prompts New Pricing and Discount Strategy That Hits All Targets
- Founded in 1824
- Originally Jefferson Medical College
- Merged with Philadelphia University in 2017 to become the model for a 21st-century education
- 160 undergraduate and graduate programs across colleges, including Sidney Kimmel Medical College, College of Architecture and the Built Environment, and Kanbar College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce
2018–2019 Partnership Highlights
- Set universal tuition rate
- Increased enrollment and quality
- Decreased discount rate
- Improved academic composition
- Implemented successful award structure for graduate school
- Conducted on-campus working sessions to create understanding around tuition strategy
“Whiteboard made an immediate impression. They are accessible, they understand our distinct message, and they aren’t a one-size-fits-all company.”
Erin Finn, Senior Associate Provost for Enrollment Management
Major Merger, New Opportunities
Before forming a comprehensive university in 2017, Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University were both known for their innovative, transdisciplinary approaches to education. Jefferson set the highest standards in healthcare education through its graduate programs while Philadelphia infused the liberal arts into its real-world learning approach to undergraduate and graduate programs. The institutions set out to transform higher education by delivering a high-impact, high-value education for students, focused on preparing them for yet-to-be-created professions.
With the merging of the institutions came new opportunities across campus, including those for Erin Finn, Senior Associate Provost for Enrollment Management. Taking advantage of those opportunities, however, would require ambition and perseverance.
“Because Thomas Jefferson didn’t have a freshman class, there were a lot of leaders who had no experience with discounting or financial aid strategies,” explains Finn.
She was looking for a partner who could help her create a pricing strategy for all academic offerings, develop and administer a discounting strategy, and educate the leadership. “We needed a partner who could do the nuts and bolts but who also understood the broader strategy in recruiting a freshman class and could act as advocates for that strategy.”
An Extension of the Team
Given Jefferson’s unique situation, Whiteboard knew meeting the university’s objectives would require a multiphase project beginning with intensive research and a comprehensive strategy before aiming for buy-in.
“When we went in, Jefferson had more than 30 tuition models across two campuses in undergraduate and graduate programs,” says Rob Bielby, Vice President of Analytics and Insights at Whiteboard, describing just one piece of the challenge.
“Whiteboard made an immediate impression,” recalls Finn. “They are accessible, they understand our distinct message, and they aren’t a one-size-fits-all company.” She noted that this wasn’t an original requirement in a partnership but became a clear priority as the university navigated the vendor selection process.
“The word that keeps coming to mind is ‘hungry,’” she adds. “Whiteboard has an appetite for this kind of challenge.”
The partnership fell into place quickly as the Whiteboard team embedded itself into Finn’s team, absorbing everything there was to know about Jefferson and their enrollment goals.
“Pretty immediately we felt like we had an extension of our team,” Finn says. “Rob was another member of the senior leadership team. I can honestly say I felt like his only client.”
Educating the Educators
Whiteboard kicked off its work with Jefferson with three on-campus workshops to create transparency around the strategy and unpack the implications of tuition policy.
“Originally, Whiteboard suggested a workgroup of around 10 people. I said, ‘How about 35?’” Finn says, laughing. Workgroups involved several leadership teams, including the provost, finance, and deans across academic departments. “The strategy touches every college.”
“We also sent out follow-up surveys to make sure we had buy-in of the different strategies we were going to implement,” says Bielby.
But there was zero pushback from any office. “A lot had to do with the upfront initial investment,” admits Finn. “Rob has a great teaching style.”
In smaller groups, Bielby presented a series of recommendations for tuition and discounting policies and practices along with relative trade-offs. “We probably had close to 30 scenarios we went through,” remembers Finn. “We kept asking Rob for iterations.”
“We developed a balanced approach to pricing that was both sound econometrically and also had the added benefit of presenting a clear and intuitive pricing model to prospective students,” Bielby explains.
enrollment and quality
Surpassing All Targets
The team’s work paid off. Jefferson hit all their objectives, ranging from being more transparent to how the process works to setting universal tuition rates, improving academic profile, reducing discount rate, and increasing enrollment.
Whiteboard also helped build and implement a brand-new awarding structure for all undergraduate students, including transfer students, and successfully implemented a pilot graduate awarding strategy for the College of Architecture and the Built Environment.
Even more important for the Jefferson team was the culture shift around collaboration. “The COO said it was one of the best-run projects from the university the past year,” Finn shares. “I think it’s because they all knew what was going on, understood it, and were able to weigh in on decisions.”
She adds that Whiteboard was a major part of the collaborative effort. “I had very specific preferences about how we outline objectives or frame a particular part of the explanation,” she acknowledges. “The 50/50 relationship really helped me as a project leader.”
As Jefferson and Whiteboard continue and expand their partnership — Whiteboard will extend the graduate award structure pilot program to another graduate program — Finn is thrilled that the Whiteboard team remains just as responsive and commitment to Jefferson’s success as they were from day one. “You expect that year one of a partnership,” she explains. “But I’m thrilled by the continued high-level of involvement. That’s exactly what we need Whiteboard to do —
maintain the project as a priority for us.”
“We’re ecstatic about the momentum and excited to see it continue.”
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