Admissions Offices spend twice more of their budget on print than on electronic student recruitment methods

May 2nd, 2008 Karine Joly 16 Comments

Exactly 10.6% on Web site and other electronic formats (e.g., e-mail, text messaging) and 24.1% on printed materials (e.g., viewbooks, brochures, letters) according to The Chronicle Survey of Undergraduate Admissions Officers published in its May 2 issue.

The survey results which are only available to subscribers of the print or digital versions (but if you really want to pick and can’t find the issue on campus, you can always get a Web pass for less than $7) give a good snapshot of the state of Admissions offices in the US (.

It was completed online by 461 admissions officials from all 50 states and the District of Columbia between February 26 and March 10, 2008.

Out of the 30 or so questions asked as part of this survey, I found the following one really interesting (and I’m sure you won’t be surprised by my choice).

Which of the following electronic or Web-based tools does your office actively employ in recruitment and communications?

  • Admissions-office Web site 98.0%
  • Virtual campus tour 56.2%
  • Blogs by current students 43.6%
  • Online chats 36.7%
  • Instant messaging 35.8%
  • Personalization of the college’s Web site according to prospect’s preferences 23.0%
  • Text messaging 18.7%
  • Live Webcam from one or more campus sites 17.1%
  • Podcasts 15.4%
  • Blogs by faculty members 6.5%
  • E-mail 5.0%
  • Social networking 3.9%
  • Interactive features on Web site 3.5%
  • Other 6.9%
  • Not reported 1.5%

I was actually surprised to see that student blogs made it to the top 3 most used electronic tools. But, this is coherent with the results of another survey about social media use in Admissions conducted last year by Dr. Barnes from the Center for Marketing Research of the University of Massachussets at Dartmouth (if you want to find out more about the results of this previous survey, you can check out the recording of the free 30-minute webinar Dr. Barnes presented for Higher Ed Experts.)

And, I find hard to believe that podcasting is used 3 times more than email as a digital recruiting method. Have admissions offices just tossed email?

Can my dear readers working in Admissions offices weight in on this one?

16 Responses

  1. Bradjward says:

    The budget sounds correct to me. My Budget? $0.00. Most of the stuff I do is free using online tools but other items we use (like Flip Cameras, Google Adwords, Facebook Ads) are out of my pocket. Our print budgets is hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet I can’t get $3500 to run some Google AdWords campaigns. It’s definitely frustrating.

    Surprising to see that email is so low. That is the one thing I do get to send on behalf of the budget. We’ve been having better success with it lately, it’s definitely not dead as most thought 6-18 months ago. Everyone just THINKS it’s dead because that’s what the Noel-Levitz reports tell them. :)

  2. Todd says:

    Am I missing something? Of course they’re going to spend more MONEY on glossy viewbooks and slick brochures. The cost to enter Web 2.0 isn’t about spending money, it’s about spending time.

    The last two projects I did for Admissions cost nothing but time and a commitment to nurture – Facebook page and Twitter account.

  3. Bradjward says:

    True, it definitely is going to cost more money. I’m just saying, throw a little chump change my way and let me do more.

    Show me a problem/need in your office and I’ll show you a free tool to solve it. That’s the beauty of web 2.0.

  4. Todd says:

    @Bradjward I posted my response before your response was posted, so I didn’t see it. So the “am I missing something” wasn’t directed at you, just Karine’s original blog post.

    The out of pocket thing sucks, I too wish that some money would be thrown my way on occasion. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on DV tapes alone, guess the Flip could have saved me money in the long run. The cool thing, if you spend your own money, the project can fail and people are less likely to notice. :)

  5. Karine Joly says:

    Well, Todd, first time is money, isn’t it?

    Then, I think this is the main problem.

    It’s true that you can do a lot without spending money, and obtain a lot of results. But, that’s probably why it isn’t valued by most decision makers.

    Look at what you can do without a budget, and imagine what you could do with a budget. I guess we should all collectively try to stop rescuing the day with the Web and start to ask for more time, staff and budget by showing what can be done without spending a dime and explaining what could be done by spending some money.

    Am I missing something?

  6. Jeremy says:

    I agree, Karine, but it’s more than just asking for it. The reality is that colleges (just like any other well established industry) have the right to be skeptical of new media for two very real reasons..


    1) Not completely dead: Postcards and glossy brochures have worked for decades and, to a certain extent, still do. After all, a 2% response rate (on mailings that cost a few dollars each to print and ship) still isn’t zero. Someone must care!

    2) The “too good to be true” syndrome: If you’ve been getting 2% response rates on your outreach campaigns for the past few years and someone offers you 20% for a small fraction of the cost, it’s rational to be skeptical and to look for a catch.

    The onus at this point, I feel, is on us. As the next generation of admissions officers and companies looking to improve the process, like Zinch, we know that there are a number of highly cost effective ways to reach students where they are. What we all still lack is a compelling way to present the data which proves, without a doubt, that online recruitment is ten times more effective (from a cost standpoint) than paper based mailings.

  7. Todd says:

    @Jeremy- A good way for companies like Zinch to help break the “too good to be true” syndrome is by providing free trial periods for products (much like Zinch has done for our university). If the trial period is a success, then the decision makers find proof in the pudding and the purse strings begin to loosen.

    @Karen- In my case, time isn’t money (for the university). Most of the fun/creative stuff I do is off the clock at home or well past 5pm at work — hours my salary doesn’t touch. If I were to “stop trying to rescue the day” with the Web, then I wouldn’t be fulfilling my job description’s assigned duties – plus, it makes the job more fun and doesn’t hurt the resume.

    The time that is money is that of the other staff members who aren’t responsible for the Web, ex. Admissions Counselor. There are lots of things to monitor and nurture, that takes time. They are the subject experts, so it is their time that must be dedicated to making sure the online conversation is working. And their time is real money for the university. They need to budget their time (not their money) for the Web.

    Here’s a post that better explains my problem:

  8. Brian Niles says:

    It was good to hear that the summary in the Chronicle was misleading and inaccurate. The researchers indicated their sense is that nearly 100% of colleges use email – but only 5% write it in under “other”.

    But podcasts at 15% – my guess is that if they have audio clips on their website, some may call that a “podcast” – if you do a search on iTunes you don’t find that many for recruiting purposes.

  9. Bradjward says:

    @Todd- “Most of the fun/creative stuff I do is off the clock at home or well past 5pm at work — hours my salary doesn’t touch. If I were to “stop trying to rescue the day” with the Web, then I wouldn’t be fulfilling my job description’s assigned duties – plus, it makes the job more fun and doesn’t hurt the resume.”

    Maybe you should get a job like mine ;) Still, your first sentence rings true. Most of my work is after 5 too. After all, that’s when the kids are online. Chats/Answering questions in the forums/interacting on Facebook. I just can’t do that during the 9-5, but I still have to be there.

    @Brian – another issue of all of this is what happens when an employee leaves. When I left my last university, my podcast and other projects (myspace, virtual tour) died with it.

  10. Rob S. says:

    I thought the definition of salaried meant you don’t (always? often?) get done at 5.

    Read blogs during work hours? Comment on them? How many are really “essential” to your job. After 5 work, as was mentioned, is often personal/professional development, resume builders, and fun projects you simply want to work on but have questionable ROI. Work-related? Sure. But justifiable ROI for daytime?

    Re: the survey, the fact that it skipped e-mail is ridiculous. It is far from dead. IMHO colleges/admissions offices should spend more time/resources to fully understand e-mail marketing, it is still so useful. Jump into the industry blogs – move beyond what the higher ed vendors are saying.

    Interactive recruiting positions seem to finally be gaining some momentum in admissions offices, and that itself is a money and mindset commitment.

    But it is not as though little money is being spent, and this survey almost certainly underestimates the amount.

    As someone said, time is money. Using an e-mail service provider costs money. Is your college paying for a CMS? That costs money, and much of a school’s Web site ties into recruiting. Paying for an extended profile on Peterson’s, Princeton Review, etc? That costs money (and probably a waste of money, imho). Athletic Web page updates? For many schools, a direct relationship with recruiting, and a money commitment. Web offices often don’t chargeback, so no budget item for admissions in a survey like this.

    @Todd, your dead on that admissions needs to make more of a commitment to the Web – they are the content experts not only for the Admissions portion of the Web site, but also have a great handle on what students are interested in outside of applying and visiting. If info on majors is hard to find or weak, for instance, it hurts recruiting…

    [Side rant Re: podcasts, there is life outside of iTunes. To the extent that the recruiting demographic even listens to podcasts, it is probably not uncommon to search for podcasts directly or stumble upon them, not search for them in iTunes. I personally do Web searches for specific/topic-related podcasts, and I tend to listen to them in Netvibes, where I can also download them if I want to toss them on my iPod.

    It cracks me up when companies or consultants that are supposed technology experts only link to iTunes for listening to a podcast. Let me listen to it embedded on the page. And if you're going to offer a subscription, give me some options. Even NPR offers iTunes, MyYahoo, and Zune as options, as well as the subscription URL itself. Go to a music site or music blog offering podcasts and you can easily find a dozen or more clickable podcast subscription options offered in addition to the subscription url.]

  11. Mike S says:

    There are a lot of affordable and neat options for engaging students via IM and webchat.

    I heard that a few universities publish certain hours and an IM address that potential applicants can use to IM the admissions office and ask questions.

    I know a couple admissions people at my school have been able to use University WebChat which is an inexpensive hosted webchat focused on admissions and recruitment.

    The last school I worked at invested in a University-wide chat server called Hobsons WebChat . They had also looked at using Volano Chat Server .

    I think that using social media and IM tools to interact with potential applicants and convert admitted students to enrollees is the wave of the future.

    Thanks for the great article!

    Mike S

  12. Brazell says:

    I’ve been working with a lot of these over the years. We have student and faculty blogs self-hosted, using WordPress; Social Networking using some modified forum software ($225 … but we’ll hopefully be phasing this out); mass e-mail using Hobsons; and ParaChat for our online chats. We had Chat University for years with blogs and chats, but technologically, they were behind the times, and the cost was much too much to spend… so we went self-hosted or co-hosted for those two.

    With the budget… I mean, this is no surprise. In terms of new web projects, I try to work with a budget close to about $0. We’re looking at Meebo for our “Chat now” features, hitting Facebook for social networking next year, and like somebody else said — it’s all a time committment, not necessarily a pecuniary commitment.

    The Chronical’s numbers are likely misleading. As someone else mentioned, somebody may have video or a few sound clips on their site that somebody at the Institution calls a “podcast” or a vlog, or what have you, but it really isn’t either — at least properly understood. I struggle with referring to our blog program as a blog, because it really isn’t one… these are focused messages that we have our students and faculty work on, but they are going out through Admissions and with the approval of Admissions. They aren’t a Potempkin program, but … certainly not blogs properly understood.

    The note about e-mail being 5%… I, like the author, doubt that number. E-mail is one of our strongest suits of regular communication.

  13. Genevieve says:

    I’m curious about the line, “Personalization of the college’s Web site according to prospect’s preferences 23.0%.”

    Can anyone share an example of a school that has done this?

  14. Rob says:

    There are a few vendors working in this area, such as Hobson’s.

    Want to find schools doing this? With a creative Google query, you can find many, many schools using the Hobson’s product:

    I honestly don’t buy into the concept as useful for a variety of reasons. And, as it is frequently implemented, I think it even deters prospect inquiries. Yikes!

    Instead of paying annual fees to a vendor for this type of service, or spending the time/money to develop it yourself, focus those efforts on improving your Web site (make info easier to find, don’t bury your inquiry form, etc.) instead of plugging in some sort of off-the-shelf product that might sound good in theory but is not heavily utilized by most prospects and doesn’t do a whole lot to accomplish the end goal – enrolling students!

    For anyone that can back up with some facts/figures that personalized sites do improve their recruiting, I’d love to hear it.

  15. [...] It amazes me how different the world is today than just 15 years ago.  What’s even more amazing is that many colleges have not adapted their recruiting strategy to fit students like my sister.  They still print the same mailers and send them out through snail mail only to become landfill within 24 hours.  What a waste.  Not only is this type of recruiting expensive, from the creative, to the printing, to the mailing, it’s also ineffective!  In fact, fellow blogger, Karine Joly, reported in May, 2008 that higher ed. spends twice as much on print as on electronic student recruitment methods. [...]

  16. [...] Admissions Offices spend twice more of their budget on print than on electronic student recruitment … [...]

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