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Posted at 04:22 PM ET, 01/09/2012

Ohio school doubles early decision numbers by promoting value

Miami University in Ohio is an oft-overlooked public university. It ranks 90th among national universities in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, although it has an extraordinarily strong reputation for undergraduate education. With a total comprehensive cost under $40,000 for non-resident students, it’s also something of a value.

Miami made news this winter by posting a 96-percent increase in early decision applications, a remarkable one-year jump. The early-decision pool swelled to 912 students, of whom 684 were accepted.

Early decision is an admission option for students who really, really want to attend a particular school. They apply early and agree to enroll if admitted. In exchange for that pledge, they are admitted at a favorable rate. Early decision is controversial, because it forces students into making a decision rather than play the collegiate field, and also because it works to the advantage of the wealthy (who can afford not to shop around). But students say it brings peace of mind.

Several prominent national universities reported double-digit increases in early admission applications this year. (The exception is Yale, whose early action program took a double-digit hit because arch-rival Harvard revived its own early admissions program this year.)

But none of the major programs generated numbers like this.

I asked Michael Kabbaz, associate vice president for enrollment management at Miami, to explain the increase.

He said the key factor was a decision to emphasize the value of a Miami education in the school’s marketing and recruitment efforts.

“Parents want to know, what is my child going to get in terms of return on investment,” he said. “All we started to do was to be much more explicit about the outcomes.”

The university didn’t spend much more money marketing itself this year than last year. But the marketing push, Kabbaz said, focused much more bluntly on such factors as the university’s relatively high 80-percent graduation rate, the strength of its undergraduate program, its pipeline to the Peace Corps and other worthy metrics.

That message was directed particularly at nonresident students, who make up 38 percent of Miami’s incoming freshmen and who pay higher tuition — although, it should be noted, Miami’s nonresident fees remain well below those of its private competitors.

The university hired regional recruiters in Connecticut, San Francisco and Chicago, and planted ads on television, billboards, Facebook, Pandora and even movie screens.

That sounds to me like enough of a blitz to double early-decision numbers at any university. But Kabbaz contends the marketing effort was not significantly larger than in prior years.

“I really believe it was the marriage of stronger marketing efforts around return on investment,” he said.

By  |  04:22 PM ET, 01/09/2012

Categories:  Admissions, Marketing

 
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