Chowan Case Study

The Road to Becoming the Fastest-Growing Private College in North Carolina

Chowan University is a private, liberal-arts institution located in Murfreesboro, NC, an area of the state that locals refer to as the Inner Banks. Surrounded by small agrarian communities, and 45 minutes from I-95, Chowan is definitely off the beaten path, but as they put it, “only an hour from anywhere.” 

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Personalized, engaging microsite with targeted CTA’s.

Originally founded in 1848 as Chowan Baptist Female Institute, a 4-year women’s college, the school became Chowan College in 1910, and began enrolling male students in 1931. On the heels of the Great Depression, the school became a 2-year institute in 1937 but returned to 4-year status in 1992. In 2004, Chowan College was on wobbly footing. A new president was appointed, and a new course set for Chowan that involved a number of changes. The school was renamed Chowan University in 2006, and took an aggressive approach to recruiting students, recognizing them as the lifeblood of a tuition-supported institution.

Chowan began working with a well-respected higher education recruitment partner based in Richmond, VA. The aggressive direct mail approach of sending search letters to a pool of nearly 100,000 prospects successfully brought results, but it also resulted in other issues. First, while the approach brought in a lot of applications, it was an expensive pursuit. Second, with the new onslaught of applications, Chowan experienced too many “soft” applications and a lagging yield. Third, the quantity of soft applications really stretched the resources of the admissions office, which resulted in less than optimal use of the assets available.

In late 2008, Chowan University engaged New Reach Media as its strategic partner for enrollment communications to support the 2009 enrollment and employ a new strategy. The new approach was to address the shortcomings of the existing program; specifically, too many unqualified applications and its high expense.

The first step of the new strategy was to take a more targeted approach and reduce the size of the search pool. This was accomplished through a quantitative analysis of the three previous years’ search pools and their results by New Reach Media. Based on this analysis, the Dean of Admissions at Chowan University worked with New Reach Media and developed a plan that targeted only the higher potential candidates with a more effective and economical approach. The result was a reduction in the size of the search pool from nearly 100,000 to less than 40,000.

The smaller pool obviously demanded a higher conversion rate, and therefore the communication and recruitment process needed to be more effective, yet meet the new budget objectives at the same time. The new communication plan that was devised consisted of replacing the previous conventional search letter in a fancy four-color envelope with personalized four-color postcards and complementary emails to drive students to personal microsites where the recruitment message could be delivered on a one-to-one basis.

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Variable, 4-color postcard.

When students arrived at their personal microsites, they were addressed with personalized, targeted information based on what was already known about them, as well as given the opportunity to share more information about themselves and their preferences through a brief survey. Additionally, they had the option of completing a “VIP” application and other pre-populated sign-up forms that promoted campus visits and scholarship programs. 

Unlike the typical search approach that usually relies on a single communication to develop interest from a prospect, and then takes no further action unless a response is received, the new strategy involved leveraging the economy of the postcard and the email communications to reach out numerous times to the pool of higher potential candidates. 

At the heart of this campaign was New Reach Media’s Personal Relationship OptimizationSM (PROSM) platform. Unique student microsite visits and activities were tracked in real time and reported to the admissions staff on a daily basis. The data collected from microsite activity was also pushed back to the school and integrated into its Jenzabar enrollment management system. This process reduced much of the manual data input that was involved with past programs. 

The daily reports and data provided by the PROSM platform allowed the Chowan admissions staff to evaluate the level of interest of individual students based on their website activities. It was made obvious which students were showing interest by whether they visited their personal microsites and then how much interaction they engaged in there. This level of insight provided counselors the benefit of streamlining their efforts toward more qualified students, and eliminated time wasted on less-invested prospects. 

This data was also used to further refine ongoing personalized emails and intermittent postcards to interested students to drive applications, campus visits, and scholarship information at the appropriate times. The call to action of the postcards or links in the emails always involved sending the students to their personal microsites where personalized, pre-populated forms made it easy for the students to apply or respond. 

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Variable, whitelisted, and mobile responsive email.

This process was continued in the yield phase as well. Content on the personal microsites changed for accepted applicants to drive a new set of objectives. Promotion of campus visits to those that had not yet visited was critical to this effort, as well as financial aid and housing forms being provided. And of course, getting the commitment of the enrollment deposit was the paramount goal. The microsites continued to support the enrollment process up to matriculation. 

For the fall semester of 2009, Chowan University increased its new full-time enrollment by 29.5% over 2008. This was accomplished in light of a 2% decrease in inquiries, and a 25% reduction in applications, thereby demonstrating the effectiveness of New Reach Media’s and Chowan’s targeted and personalized approach with the support of a diligent staff. Key to the success of this program was the high conversion rate of the applicants. While there was nearly a 9% reduction in the total offers of admission, the total net deposits for 2009 exceeded 2008 by 32%. 

The partnership between Chowan University and New Reach Media continues to produce enrollment success. Enrollment statistics released in 2013 by North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) substantiated that Chowan University grew 41.4% in undergraduate enrollment for the five years between fall 2008 and fall 2012. That was more than any other institution in the organization. In fact, the next closest growth figure among the 35 institutions represented was 33.2%. The momentum has continued with Chowan realizing undergraduate growth of 3.9% over the previous year for fall 2013, and also achieving its highest total enrollment since 1971. Since 2013, Chowan has continued to succeed in its partnership with New Reach Media. In addition to recently celebrating another record enrollment class in 2016, they were named the 13th fastest-growing private nonprofit baccalaureate institution in the nation by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

To learn more about New Reach Media’s PRO platform and how it can benefit your organization and help you achieve success, please contact us at or 210-764-8881. Please tell us how and when you would like to be contacted, and we’ll be happy to reach out with a free assessment and consultation of your particular situation.