Four Common Financial Aid Failures

NACAC 2017 – Time for Some Upgrades

Only through evolution and adaptation can we expect better results.

As we reflect on the wonderful experience at the 2017 NACAC National Conference in Boston, we find it remarkable just how much higher education has evolved since we were all together last year in Columbus.

Our article following last year’s conference focused on how “high-touch outpaces high-tech,” even in today’s technologically saturated environment. What we heard this year felt much more in sync with NACACs of the past, when optimism and enthusiasm remained strong in the face of many challenges.

But the enthusiasm and optimism we witnessed this year comes with a big caveat, particularly after many have experienced difficult or (by their own standards) unsuccessful enrollment cycles: We can’t keep doing things in the same way and expect different results.

Reset or Retrench?

One of the most dramatic and newsworthy questions in higher education enrollment at the moment is: To Reset or Not to Reset?

Tuition reset conversations are taking place in board meetings across the country; many have even announced such actions this very month. However, when it comes to setting tuition, it’s clear that one size does not fit all. We have noticed a wide range in institutions’ motivations for pursuing a tuition reset, in their financial aid and recruitment strategies to enroll the right class at the lowered tuition, and in the degree to which they are willing to risk substantial losses in revenue.

While some institutions have justified slashing their tuition to make college more affordable, the requisite reduction in financial aid budget results in many families paying the same net price, albeit with added transparency. Furthermore, although some institutions are ready to face a loss in net tuition revenue, others are relying on growth in application volume and enrollment to make the numbers work. Whatever the goal, institutions that are having honest conversations about their identity, their value, and their position in the ecology of colleges and universities are the ones best positioned to successfully navigate a tuition-reset decision.

Identification or Cultivation?

At each of the past several NACAC National Conferences, there’s been a great deal of conversation about different tactics used in student search. There has been tremendous consolidation on the service-provider side, which many have felt has led to the stagnation of certain student-search approaches. In some cases, institutions have begun to question the value and return on investment that some longstanding methodologies deliver.

This year, the changes we have been spearheading, and the overwhelming feedback we’ve received, have led us to believe that it’s incredibly important, when it comes to large-scale student outreach, for search to be more than simply an “interest identification” tactic. It needs to be an interest cultivation strategy unto itself.

Student search can no longer be about just splitting large lists into undifferentiated “responders” and “non-responders.” Search needs to generate new student interest, substantively cultivate it, solicit feedback from the audience, and proactively support converting that interest into additional action among those students – most importantly applications and enrollment.

Narration or Conversation?

While in Boston, we heard over and over again how important it has become that all aspects of recruitment – from student search to information sessions, admissions mailings to campus tours, admissions webpages to financial aid packages – must move beyond being exclusively narration and become a two-way conversation.

It’s essential to be nimble in the process, providing vibrant, compelling outbound communication with large numbers of prospective students and families and, at the same time, high-touch, one-on-one discussion and follow-up with those who indicate a desire for more personal interactions. These types of communications can be driven by front-end logic or through a prospect’s behavior, as identified in thoughtful data analysis.

This is where Whiteboard has had tremendous success, because data analysis is part of our DNA. We use this approach to help our clients deliver most effectively on their promises to prospective students and families.

Whether it’s through our advanced student-search methodology, parent-search email campaigns, financial aid strategies, digital marketing, student micro-polls, or national research studies, we’re offering a very different type of partnership and a greater commitment to the highest aspirations of our clients.

We continue to be encouraged by the degree of deeply authentic communication and focused personal attention that we see. And with our growing Client Think Tank working hard to generate and test new and creative ways to solve the enrollment puzzle, we hope we can be a part of your success as well.

Thanks for coming to see the Whiteboard Higher Education team at the NACAC National Conference in Boston. As always, we are optimistic and enthusiastic about the great things we will accomplish together.


Whiteboard can help. Give us a call at (215) 282-0852 or email info@gowhiteboard.net to discuss all the possibilities.