College Enrollment Growth And Advancement Success: Five Key Factors That Enhance Both!

By: Bill Crouch and Mike Carter

In today’s college environment, it does not take long for alumni, trustees, presidents, and other stakeholders to discuss the current state of enrollment and if fundraising efforts are meeting needed target numbers. 

“How big is that school?”

“Are they growing?”

“Are they raising any money?”

“What are they known for?”

Many times, these questions will go hand-in-hand since they give a quick synopsis of whether a college is moving in ways that are perceived to be “healthier and stronger,” or if they have peaked or are even in a period of decline. 

However, the link between admissions growth and enrollment stability is often not connected with fundraising and advancement. Many conversations will be about one or the other but fail to find the common links which can enhance both enrollment and fundraising. 

We at The BrightDot know that at the college level, success emanates from a number of important factors such as:

—strength of leadership,

—depth of faculty and staff,

—quality and range of academic programs,

—the number of student life opportunities,

—whether technical training is relevant to workforce demands,

—availability of scholarship assistance to make the affordability gap manageable,

—alumni support, and more.

But, without student enrollment and donor support, these points have little consequence! In other words, without students and dollars, little else matters.

The Shared Metric of Success

Many people use growth and quantifiable metrics before they use qualitative descriptions. Most cases of sustained success are the result of careful planning, data-driven assessment, and the ability to make needed changes. 

When one sums up whether success is present or not, it must be measured over and against the mission of the school. The critical question then for college leadership is whether the mission is being accomplished and to what extent?   

Common Factors for Success in Both Enrollment and FundRaising

As two long-term college presidents, we have found that success can come to both enrollment and fundraising through a series of mutually interactive and support activities. These connections, when maximized, can provide a series of primary supports and secondary supports which together result in each complimenting the other. 

While there are many factors that must be present for joint enrollment and advancement success, we have found these five conditions to be very important.  

1.Your College Must be Appealing

While this may sound elementary, academic and technical programs must be seen as a “good fit” for students. Donors also have certain expectations about the types of schools that they want their money spent on.

We have found that when alumni begin to actively voice their appreciation for their alma mater, primarily through social media, a surge in new student recruitment is possible as well as greater participation by alumni in annual, scholarship, and capital giving.

2.Serving the Needs of Clientele is a Must

Colleges often suffer from a tendency to focus on perceived needs that reside primarily within the organization. This can come from many causes, including fear and lack of attention towards their primary mission–which is meeting students’ aspirations or other stakeholders like donors who support this institution’s goals. 

Every college has a series of needs so that faculty and staff can be successful in fulfilling their roles. Securing adequate resources for all working towards the mission is an essential part of the institution’s success story.

3.Maintaining a Positive Organizational Atmosphere is Essential

Many organizations are often known by various descriptions and labels. When it comes to colleges, they may be referred to as academically strong in certain areas of study or for important programs such as diversity or for success in athletics. 

Developing and maintaining a positive organizational culture that is being shared by social media and other forms of communication is an absolute must if enrollment and donor support are to grow. 

Students want to attend a school that offers a positive rewarding experience. Donors must see the college as the type of environment they want to support. When donors can verify the impact of their giving, then they become student recruiters on their own. 

4.Mission Success Is Known

Division I universities experience a surge in enrollment after national championships and play-off exposure in athletics. Why? Because people like to be affiliated with success.  

Most development professionals agree that attracting a new donor and sustaining a current donor depends on the message of mission success. Donors want to give where their resources are making a difference. If their resources are making a difference, this positive message can be shared with prospective students so that they can participate in a new scholarship, new program, or take advantage of a new capital facility.  

5.Loyalty and Trust Create a Future

Creating a college where student appeal is present, relevant needs are being met, a positive atmosphere is noticeable, and the mission is being realized leads to donors who feel a sense of loyalty and trust through their giving. These stories must be told and shared at the appropriate times, but nonetheless, they are built on loyalty and trust.

One must keep the “why” behind the mission as a means to work daily at building loyalty and trust among the various publics the school serves. This level of integrity will enhance the ability to be enthusiastic about building enrollment, allow success stories of alumni to be shared, and undergird donors so they feel empowered to further the mission of the school.

Conclusion: Enrollment and Development Enhance One Another

Cross-matrix thinking and management create opportunities to share how a donor’s giving is making an impact and how advancement activities can help to recruit and/or retain students.

Countless other examples exist where marketing, preview events, alumni gatherings, special campus events such as lectures, performances in the arts, and athletics can allow the college to tell its story and demonstrate its mission to prospective students, current students, and alumni and friends.

At The BrightDot, we stand ready to help colleges re-frame how administrative and faculty units have historically interacted so that they might help secure additional development resources through creative management and processes. Enrollments can grow as well as dollars from donors when the right building blocks are put into place and careful planning is enacted. 


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