Monday, January 16, 2012

What is an enrollment product in higher education?

When it comes to enrollment management, I hypothesize that institutions in the education industry share many common administrative concerns as companies in other industries.
  1. What's our forecast for the next quarter or year?
  2. How much are we allocating to Marketing?
  3. What's our historical ROI on past campaigns? And what are we expecting for new Marketing campaigns this year?

But one big difference I see between education institutions and other companies is how the above questions are answered. While other companies usually answer Questions 1 and 3 above with dollar amounts, education institutions (from the enrollment perspective) answer with student headcount or with class enrollments.

This may seem like a trivial distinction, but how useful would it be for Apple to announce their forecasts using the numbers of iPhones, iPads and MacBooks it plans to sell in the next year? Or worse yet, what if Apple simply said it would sell 1,000,000 products this year? And how would Apple's Marketing department calculate ROI for its myriad campaigns if this was the case?

Back in the world of education, I think there is a mental roadblock which prevents us from recognizing what our products truly are. Culturally, we, the administrators, think highly of education (which we should). But perhaps we've become ignorant of the underlying business model for education, which in the simplest sense revolves around the sale of products to customers. Put another way, the business model revolves around the enrollment of students in classes.

Let's explore the potential similarities and see whether they are legitimate.
  • Student vs. Customer
  • Enrollment vs. Sale
  • Course vs. Product
  • Class vs. Lot
  • Seat in a class vs. Asset

We have recruiters, enrollment coaches and advisers who work with students to identify which courses to take to best meet their career aspirations and personal goals. Once the courses are identified, our staff help students to register for classes, thereby reserving their seats in the upcoming term. Once the add/drop period ends for a term, the enrollments are "closed" and invoices are sent to the students.

Other companies have salespeople working with customers to pick the most suitable products for each customer. Once customers decide to buy, they put in orders that are fulfilled in lots, resulting in assets (and associated invoices) delivered to each individual customer.

So, how different is an education institution from other companies? And if it's not that different, could adoption (or at least reconciliation) of real sales terminology be the way for an education institution to start answering the tough questions directly with real dollar amounts?

Note: I speak largely from my own experiences, and I recognize that there are other institutions which are already far along on the path of leveraging the concept of products in their CRM operations.