From The Yield, Spring 2015
Schools invest much in their recruitment and retention strategies, yet the single biggest issue for many families— tuition—often plays second fiddle when it comes to messaging and how the process is operationalized. Families often hear, “If you need aid, we’re here for you.” But that is not enough. Why not tell that story in your school’s marketing?
Here are five ways to work financial aid into your school’s marketing program:
1. Push it out front during recruitment: Whatever your financial aid message is, put it front and center—not just to financial aid families, but to everyone. Be the one to talk about money first, in the same tone you would use with any other topic. If you have one, invite your financial aid director to speak at admission events and to hold financial aid workshops at your recruiting events. Feature it prominently on your website and in all printed materials. As you promote your school’s value proposition, your financial aid policies should complement it, supporting your school’s culture. Families will appreciate the transparency and respect that you did not make them ask about money first! An added bonus is the implicit appeal to potential donors in your audience.
2. Put just as much effort into financial aid during your retention marketing: Current families should hear about financial aid at every opportunity, whether they receive aid or not! Parents will begin to notice how they benefit every single day; even if their own child does not receive aid, their best friend does. They will see that their children would not have the opportunities for academics, sports teams, performances, and clubs that a mass of talent requires and the financial aid program provides. Make sure everyone knows that a strong financial aid program benefits the culture and sustainability of the school. Emphasize that if their own circumstances change, you will be there for them.
3. Find the right “face of financial aid”: Often the “face of financial aid” is the admission office, but admission and aid must be treated separately to help families find comfort. No matter who has authority internally, there should be one designated person who personifies the program and on whom families can count on to be helpful, friendly, patient, and non-judgmental. It is more important that the one person is a good communicator than a financial wizard. If the highest authority for financial aid is also the director of admission or the CFO, schools should designate an assistant director for financial aid, a coordinator, or even a very able administrative assistant.
4. Personalize the Process: Families are already apologetic when they call a financial aid office. They need to feel better, not worse. Devoting one person to quell their fears and answer questions may be more important than a person who has more authority but pays less attention to their worries. This person should have time dedicated to face-to-face meetings and plan to be on the phone most of the day. Take the time to put his/her face on the website. This may sound overly dramatic, but if families can go from sleepless nights to a helping hand, they are yours forever.
5. Stretch your budget and your yield: Financial aid is labor intensive, but the more you put into the program, the more students you will enroll. The difference between a depersonalized process and an intensely personal one is a higher admission yield. Maybe you enroll three more students, maybe more. Three can be a lot for a school, and it’s not always a matter of budget. A skilled financial aid professional or committee can tinker with the numbers, talk with the family, tinker again, and push toward the finish line for the applicants that will add value to the school community that you are building now and in the future. As the enrollment manager, it’s your job to ensure that the CFO and board of trustees understand this and commit the necessary resources.