NIU spent $789K to up retention


By Leah Nicolini

NIU administrators are attributing an increase in retention and a smaller enrollment decrease than anticipated to more than $600,000 worth of marketing strategies from a consulting firm hired in December.

The fall 2015 retention rate increased by 1 percent and enrollment decreased by half of what was anticipated with the help of consulting group Lipman Hearne and a larger Admissions staff, said Eric Weldy, vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

The Board of Trustees voted to support the December hiring of the Chicago-based consulting company, which specializes in marketing and communication. The group was hired until June to boost enrollment and increase retention, Weldy said.

“The important thing behind the decision to have [Lipman Hearne] here was to immediately impact our fall [2015] enrollment,” Weldy said.

NIU’s anticipated enrollment decrease was 900 to 1,000 students for fall 2015, but the actual enrollment decrease turned out to be 481 students. The university potentially saved more than $1 million in tuition and fees in comparison to its anticipated enrollment drop and after paying for the consultation and enrollment initiatives.

Consultation fees for Lipman Hearne added up to $150,000, and the firm initiated $639,000 worth of strategies for marketing and ad placements, Weldy said.

Among the initiatives Lipman Hearne recommended was for NIU to follow up with people who were accepted, but didn’t register, as well as people who registered but didn’t attend class. By identifying these people, Admissions could engage with them and increase the chance they’d enroll in the future, Weldy said.

“I think the best thing that came out of it was it really got people talking and really got them engaged in the process,” said Dani Rollins, director of Admissions. “It helped them see their place in the bigger picture. You’d have people who don’t always interact with students one on one, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that enrollment and retention and graduation is sort of everyone’s goal here.”

Weldy said he does not intend to rehire Lipman Hearne now that Admissions has established a stronger foundation.

“We didn’t have the resources and house to market the way we needed,” Rollins said. “Now we’re more able to closely meet those needs. It does point to the fact that NIU probably needs to spend more money on centralized marketing and centralized recruitment.”

The sole impact from Lipman Hearne may not be clearly defined, and a numerical goal for fall 2016 admission has not yet been defined either, Rollins said.

“We were working on enrolling [students in fall] 2015, but during that last month with … Lipman Hearne, we opened the fall of 2016 application,” Rollins said. “There could be some bleed over of kids in our pool that could be prospects from 2015 that ended up enrolling in 2016.”