Ursinus College Hits Enrollment Goals
With a Start-to-Finish Partner
Ursinus College at a Glance
- Founded in 1869
- Prestigious national liberal arts college
- Consequential learning from personalized and rigorous academics is at the heart of its undergraduate education
2018–2019 Partnership Highlights
- Increased applicants, admits, and deposits
- Increased net tuition revenue
- 6th largest class in school history
- 60% of total deposits engaged with the student search campaign
- Decreased discount
“It’s a big load off someone’s shoulders knowing that [Whiteboard is …] working with us to hit our goals — not just for this cycle, but for two to three future cycles.”
Shannon Zottola, Vice President and Dean of Enrollment Management
When Shannon Zottola became Vice President and Dean of Enrollment Management at Ursinus College, she came to campus with a clear vision and goals for enrollment strategies. Among her goals were setting measurable, ambitious enrollment targets, increasing communication around those targets, and building stronger relationships between the enrollment office and prospective students. She also wanted to take a more systematic approach to optimizing financial aid.
Fortunately, Zottola’s personalized approach to student enrollment complemented the institution’s new strategic enrollment partner, Whiteboard. Whiteboard’s partnership with Ursinus had just begun, and the newly hired Zottola was the first at Ursinus to partner with Whiteboard on a complete enrollment cycle in the fall of 2018.
Perfect Timing to Rethink Search
Facing a slew of challenging goals for the year ahead, Zottola believes the timing couldn’t have been better for Whiteboard to take a fresh approach to the Ursinus student search strategy. “Identifying messaging and targets of potential growth was really valuable,” she explains, noting that, with her attention focused elsewhere, these elements had been deprioritized.
“We really needed to have a partner manage us on every level,” Zottola says. “Whiteboard did that and did that effectively. It’s a big load off someone’s shoulders knowing that they’re working with us to hit our goals — not just for this cycle, but for two to three future cycles.”
“Our search program is designed to create genuine interest instead of quick, transactional interest,” explains Brennan McDevitt, Vice President, Recruitment Services. “This was a good complement to Shannon’s personalized, high-touch approach to every student.”
The Whiteboard team also worked with Ursinus to launch a digital campaign targeting specific lists of students. Through the combined efforts of a customized search campaign and digital strategy, Whiteboard was able to identify and reach the right students, at which point Zottola was able to further engage with prospects.
Instituting an Aid Strategy
Running parallel to the search campaign was a deep effort to create an effective, systematic approach to institutional aid. Whiteboard had presented to key stakeholders before Zottola arrived on campus and returned after she arrived. “It’s important for them to hear these concepts from an outsider,” says Zottola. “Rob [Bielby, Vice President, Analytics and Insights at Whiteboard] discussed discounting strategies, national trends, and other insights — and he answered tough questions. The trustees really identified with his authenticity, even though we didn’t paint the rosiest picture. He really focused on strategies moving forward.”
“Rob was patient running through scenarios,” she continues. “We kept asking, ‘What if we tweak this?’ or ‘What if this doesn’t work? What if it lands here?’ People were skeptical changing the merit philosophy.”
Zottola mentions that Whiteboard’s transparency and alignment with her approach were critical to their partnership. “You could see that stakeholders wanted different answers, but Rob stuck to reality,” she recalls. “Having him explain, ‘Here’s why we’re doing this. This model shows where things are likely to land if all things happen the way they’re supposed to’ — that’s reassuring. It gave people a renewed sense of understanding and hope for what we can achieve.”
“We got more aggressive with merit awards and did a great job planning for add-on awards and appeals,” Bielby recalls.
Changing a strategy this drastically, Zottola notes, can be scary. “Luckily, Rob is levelheaded and really believed in what we were doing,” she shares. “Keeping me and the team calm when we were unsure of how things would shake out was really important. You need someone who is able to keep you focused, on track, and in a good headspace. Rob and Brennan have been able to do that.”
She notes it was a real partnership with the two teams counting on one another. It was also critical that Bielby deeply understood the Ursinus team. “The yield model showed similar yields to previous years,” says Bielby. But, knowing Ursinus and Zottola’s approach to enrollment, he anticipated that the model would be beaten — and it was.
Results by the Numbers
largest class in
Increased Applications, Admits, and Deposits
of total deposits engaged with the student search campaign
We approximate for every $1 invested in search, $16 is returned in first year revenue
A “Near Perfect” Cycle
Despite the various changes taking place internally, Ursinus was able to hit all its major goals. “It was as near perfect a cycle as you’re going to get,” says Zottola, mentioning they were up in applications, deposits, and academic quality with a decreased discount rate. “I’m very proud of all those things, but what I’m most proud of is how our team came together in the midst of change and we got the job done. All the amazing metrics and statistics are a byproduct of that.”
The metrics did provide a much-needed enrollment win to Ursinus who enrolled its sixth largest class in the school’s history.
“It was as near perfect a cycle as you’re going to get.”
With added transparency and improved communication throughout the entire enrollment process, Zottola can show alumni, the board, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders across campus where numbers stand at any point in the process. “It’s a complete change in how people operate together.”
Now, Zottola, who also oversees communications, is turning her sights on strengthening Ursinus’ awareness and position in the market. “Every conversation here tends to come back to enrollment and marketing, though not necessarily in that order,” she says. “We need to be innovators in that realm. In addition to continuing to make our class, that, for us, is the top priority.”
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