YSU Hires a Third-party to Raise Enrollment

Graphic by Corin Miller/ The Jambar

Already moving quickly through the 2014 fall semester, early enrollment predictions — before the official 14 day enrollment numbers are released — has Youngstown State University down another 6.5 percent from last fall. As a response to faltering enrollment over the past few years, YSU has decided to enter into a one-year contract with Royall & Company — a third-party enrollment manager.

Jacob Schriner-Briggs, a third year YSU student and the vice president of the Student Government Association, was involved in the process of contracting Royall several weeks before the school year began. He said the company’s primary role is to increase the pool of applicants available to YSU.

“Royall and Company would give us the names and the contact information, and they would also facilitate the deliverance of market material,” Schriner-Briggs said. “It would be on YSU to process the application, but what Royal and Company does is they increase the number of applicants.”

Gary Swegan, the associate vice president of enrollment planning and management, said Royall is not here to change how YSU brands itself, but to simply make sure the university is reaching as many potential students as possible. And he is confident they will fulfill this role.

“I think they would describe themselves as a direct recruitment and marketing company. … They have not been hired to change the university’s branding or the tag-lines. They take the university’s existing information and they now help us to shape communication plans. … They are going to assist us with prospective students for fall 2015, school counselors and parents by doing a much more effective job of reaching out to them and communicating with them,” he said. “This organization has about 250 clients nationally, and I feel extraordinarily comfortable that they are going to help us to significantly increase our applicant pool.”

Swegan said Royall will act within a certain range determined by their contract with the university.

“We have basically taken a circle that goes from about Columbus, over to Pittsburgh, up to Buffalo, around to Cleveland, to about Lorain and then closes the loop back to Columbus,” Swegan said.

Jim Tressel, YSU’s president, proposed using Royall & Company after his positive dealings with them at the University of Akron. He also was able to raise the money from donors, through the YSU Foundation, to pay for the $300,987 contract.

Gary Swegan said Royall only accepts one-year contracts, so Tressel was able to give YSU a year to test the group out — at no cost to the university.

“They come in and they are going to expect to help us with a 20 to 30 percent application increase,” Swegan said. “They are very competitive. … They only accept one-year contracts, so they come in and expect they are going to have to prove themselves. If they don’t prove themselves, and we don’t get enough enrollment — above and beyond what we otherwise would have — to justify the cost, that is going to be it. They know that.”

The breadth of Royall & Company’s services to the university is not simply limited to getting in touch with applicants and mailing them marketing pamphlets, though. Swegan said they also identify students with the greatest chance of success at the university, they continuously follow-up with interested students and they host a new electronic application on the YSU website for both freshmen and transfer students — among other things.

Royall does all of this by essentially assigning nine employees to work with each client.

“There are a million vendors that are in the higher ed space, but Royall is really a bit unique in just the things they do,” Swegan said. “They have Akron as a client. … The first thing people think of when they hear this is, ‘oh my gosh, they are working with another Ohio school; how can they work with us?’ Well the fact is the way they staff — they dedicate a team of nine people [to each client]. So we basically have nine new staff members.”

Swegan pointed out that YSU would need at least five new full-time staff members to replicate Royall & Company’s services, which would be an even greater expenditure than this yearly contract.

“We have got some system limitations and we definitely have staffing [limitations],” Swegan said. “At Bowling Green, I had three full-time programmers that worked for me, as the director of admissions. I am not talking that they worked in I.T. No, they worked in my office. They basically developed what Royall does. I didn’t need to use Royall there. But I would probably need five people [here]. … As long as they continue to perform, this is probably a fairly ongoing relationship.”

When asked if this would be the most practical use of the university’s money in the future, Swegan responded that even small increases to enrollment could easily cover the price of the contract and then some.

“How do you get the needle point back in the right direction? You only have one way to do that. You have got to bring in more incoming students in the fall of ‘15. Alright, we have dealt with the quality issue. We just brought in the best class ever, but it is much smaller,” Swegan said. “Let’s say we bring in a 100 more students. That is probably worth somewhere in the neighborhood of a million to a 1.2 million to the university. We are spending $300,000. What if we bring in 200 more? We are still paying $300,000.”

Though Royall & Company’s impact on enrollment may not be seen until the spring semester, they have been working with YSU since the contract was signed. If their involvement yields positive results, YSU may choose to expand their role in the university down the road.

“We believe it will be very successful and when we can show that it is very successful then we would like to go back and contract with them to do underclass recruitment,” Swegan said. “We start with rising high school junior and sophomores. Now we start to put YSU on the map with better students and that is only going to help us down the road.”

Swegan said that he had long since predicted another drop in enrollment this year, pointing toward the improvement of the economy — recessions often drive enrollment at universities up temporarily as citizens lose their jobs and decide to enroll — and Randy Dunn’s, YSU’s previous president, decision to tighten the conditional enrollment policy — which lead to a sharp decrease of low achieving students. With initiatives like the Royall & Company contract, Swegan said 2015 will be the year YSU starts “fighting back.”