What the Proposed Changes to NACAC’s CEPP Guidelines Mean For Your Enrollment Marketing Plan

In 2018 Google updated their code of conduct, removing “Don’t be Evil” as their mantra and replacing with a tweaked “Do the right thing”. This slight variance speaks volumes as the difference between “evil” and “right” can be in the eye of the beholder.

A lot can be said on both sides of the proposed changes to NACAC’s CEPP Guidelines. Are they in place to protect students? Are they anti-competitive? Does going against these guidelines make someone a bad person? A pioneer? I’ll leave that for the NACAC membership and the Department of Justice to figure out. The purpose of this post is to help us think about how we can purposefully and ethically continue the meaningful work of admissions recruitment while keeping students at the forefront regardless of if these guidelines existed in the first place. 

What Might Change?

For those who have not been keeping up with the news, NACAC membership will vote on a number of things at their upcoming conference in late September, 2019. Among these items are clauses that have been identified by the DOJ as potentially anti-competitive. These include what many see as ethical standards to help students make informed decisions while also discouraging “poaching” of students from peer institutions. 

You can read up on the situation using these links:

I will not be making any recommendations of which way NACAC members should feel about or vote on these measures. However, what I will do is seek to help institutions think of ways to protect their enrollments while continuing to act in the best interest of students.

What Can You Do?

The admissions and recruitment landscape has been getting more and more competitive in recent years. Shifts in demographics, questions regarding the value of higher education and of course the issues related to cost have all contributed to a zero sum game. With flat or declining prospect enrollment (versus growth), every student you gain is a student that someone else loses. 

As recently as 2014, Inside Higher Ed reported that the majority of admissions leaders believed that other institutions cheat when reporting data to rankings. And yet, very few felt that the rankings providers had processes in place to protect against such cheating. In this perceived reality, it’s no wonder some admissions leaders either do whatever they can to help their institution go up a single digit in the rankings or are disillusioned by the rankings completely. When guidelines that we feel are about “poaching” students are taken away, it is inevitable that there will be a perception that “everyone else does this” and “we have to compete to keep up”.

The reality, however, is that many of these things have been happening for years. Here’s a few examples:

  • Students submit double deposits and canceled their enrollment at their second choice school. Students are admitted off of a waitlist from their first choice and bail on their second or third choice … this is not new.
  • Institutions acquire lists from survey and testing providers late in the process hoping to reach “uncommitted” seniors late in the process with more emails and direct mail (and digital ads)
  • Marketing departments buy billboards off the highway off ramps near their competitors 

This list goes on and on. What’s most important for admissions and marketing professionals is to look more deeply at their marketing and recruitment plans and ask the hard question, “What are we doing to keep our deposits” versus simply building robust plans to “bring in more”. This can (and should) include:

  • Key reminders sent via video and SMS (versus solely long-form emails) like pre-arrival content ahead of orientation. This can help keep students excited about enrolling during what can be a stressful time
  • Providing meaningful opportunities for students to connect and engage, on their schedule and preferred medium. This means being truly omnichannel by looking at our combined methods of legacy channels like email, letters and phone and layering digital marketing, webcasting and live chat to boost conversion and yield
  • Don’t stop after the deposit. An enrollment doesn’t count until that student makes it to the start of their program. Students are consumers. Even after a purchase, people will return a product if they are having a bad experience. A tuition deposit is no different. Align your enrollment strategies, marketing automation and online engagement together to maximize impact.

What’s Next?

It shouldn’t matter if NACAC’s CEPP is amended or not. Ultimately it is up to you to have the conversation as a team and leadership to ensure you are doing what you can to protect your enrollments beyond simply dumping more data at the top of your funnel to make up for declines in conversion and yield. In a zero sum game that strategy is not sustainable as it leads to continued increases in discounting and practices that will likely negatively impact retention down the road.

Download our quick guide to help you with having this conversation on your campus. We hope that it will help build a meaningful dialogue for your team and help keep student success at the forefront of your practices.