A systemic shift yields results
Tolles Career & Technical Center was located in a growing and vibrant region of the state Ohio, yet Tolles had issues when it came to its own growth. Enrollment was stagnant and awareness of what the school even did was low. To bring about significant change requires significant disruption, something not always welcomed in the education industry. Here’s how the change took shape at this career and technical school district.
After assessing why the school’s enrollment had remained pretty much the same over the course of its 40-year history, and in fact had begun to drop significantly in recent years, the district went through a re-branding process. There was no central identity or mission that was driving the district. While great things were happening, hardly anyone seemed to notice. The new brand simplified the school’s mission, brought forward a strong visual identity, and empowered the district to tell stories focused on students.
SYSTEMS & PROCESSES
Mired in an application process that one would describe as inefficient and random, we had to fix how the district conducted the business of reaching out to students, their families, and its partnering school districts. Yes, internal processes needed to be corrected, but the district wanted to own their admissions experience. This involved doing away with paper applications and put in place an online application process that had a clear “window”. It involved taking away options to apply for two programs and having families decide on one program that they truly wanted. This led to stronger retention rates because students are enrolling for the right reasons and choosing programs that they are passionate about. Nothing ruffles feathers or makes people squirm more than changing systems and processes that “have always been done that way”. But in order for real, systemic change to occur, a district that relies on recruiting students has to be bold and own their processes and experiences.
By controlling the cycle of admissions and creating excitement, interest, and demand, students literally lined up to apply for a special “first chance” application event. In December 2014, 257 students applied in just two hours; in 2015, 323 students applied in two hours; in 2016, 256 students applied in two hours. Keep this in mind: in April of 2014, the school had collected only 390 paper applications total. In three years, overall applications improved an average of 37% compared to the previous three admissions cycles.
The success of this effort was supported by a series of traditional, experiential, content and social media marketing. The district took their programs on the road to their partner schools, they formed a partnership with one of their largest partner districts to send 1,100 sophomores to campus to visit, earned media placements happened more consistently, community and parent influencers help spread the word, and the district invested strongly in content marketing, especially video.
Combining all of this with personal experiential marketing and social media content campaigns, we helped the district break through the noise and re-framed the conversation about the school and career-tech in general.