Thursday, April 30, 2015

College Admission Officers: 3 Ways to Maximize the Value of Higher Education

As an admissions expert, you well know that the cost of education is often not directly related to the sticker price. As a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill Integrated Marketing Program, and also as an admissions officer with experience in highly selective schools, I have found two articles that you will find both interesting and informative. 

A CNN Money article, by Emily Jane Fox  announced a controversial decision in April of 2015. The decision to offer free tuition for families making less than $125,000 is somewhat shocking, but is Stanford's attempt to provide a world class education to those who are fortunate enough to be offered admission. Stanford is committed to expanding access to higher education for qualified applicants. Given that Stanford is so highly ranked and respected, their acceptance rate is – at 5% – understandably low. The decision to waive tuition for these families is raising conversation and controversy, but for Stanford University, is a step towards expanding access and opportunity for admitted students.

Source:, The College Board

A second opinion article  challenges the decision to all but eliminate tuition. This model has failed with smaller, less prestigious schools, because while yes, these smaller schools are certainly committed to increasing access to education, they do not have the financial backing to reduce or eliminate tuition.  Smaller private schools that attempted to adopt this model did so out of desperation, given that many small schools are having trouble filling seats, and therefore are not able to maintain their operating budget each year. While the “no tuition” model is acceptable to schools like Harvard and Stanford, it does place smaller private schools at a disadvantage.
Contact the author, Danielle Douglas – Gabriel

Based on these two articles and my work at Northwestern University first as an Admission Director, and second as a graduate student in the Integrated Marketing Master's program, there are three recommendations you should consider in developing your programs. 

  •  Understand needs -  post blogs, allow for 1 to 1 communication through Twitter or a chat room session, and encourage students to ask real questions about paying for college.
  •  Assess peer institutions -  attend conferences and listen to the experts, and then connect with them on social media in order to receive the most accurate information directly from the source.  
  • Be authentic - keep expectations realistic, and continue to inform your client base. Encourage them to connect with you on your professional social media page, and include links to your professional social media pages in your signature.

Based upon these action items, it is important to begin this process now. The higher education market changes daily, and it is not wise to fall behind the current patterns and trends. It is imperative to keep the audience at the core. In this specific case, the audience consists of families who are applying to college. This group does a tremendous amount of research in order to gain the best understanding of their options, because they are overwhelmingly unfamiliar with the topic at hand. If your university can be seen as an honest, available (in terms of being able to communicate with students) and realistic option for this target market, you will likely see an increase in interest and applications that will continue to increase over time.

Elizabeth Harris received her B.A. in American Studies and Spanish from Northwestern University. She enjoys a rewarding career in education, formerly as Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University, and currently as an Admission Counselor at a highly selective private school in Los Angeles, California. She will graduate from the Integrated Marketing and Communications Master’s Program at Northwestern (@MedillSchool) University in June, 2015. If there is anything you would like to further discuss, please contact me @eliz_imc on Twitter. 

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