Cost Per Enrollment: Adding Value to an Efficiency Metric

Cost per enrollment (CPE) is one of the chief metrics used to evaluate marketing efforts in higher education. In simplistic terms, CPE tracks the “cost” of putting a student in the classroom by comparing how much an institution spends in marketing with how many enrollments that generates.

Like other quantitative measures of success in higher ed, CPE can easily be manipulated as there are costs beyond marketing that are associated with actually getting a student into a classroom. For example, many institutions don’t take into account overhead for marketing and enrollment staff nor the amount of hours, touches, calls and emails it actually takes for admissions to convert a lead into a student. Furthermore, effects of enrollment on downstream entities such as financial aid and student services are not taken into account by the CPE calculation.

Therefore, CPE is limited to an efficiency rating. It can help determine how much it “costs” to fill cohorts and hit enrollment goals, but it does not take into account the qualitative factors involved in making an institution successful as a whole.

Syncing CPE and LTV

The race-for-efficiency nature of CPE means its value to a marketing department is purely numbers-based. In conversations surrounding student Lifetime Value, (LTV), numbers-based metrics fail to take into account a large portion of what’s required for a higher ed institution to be successful. Apart from simply filling cohorts and hitting enrollment goals, an institution still has to pay salaries, have conversations with students and make decisions that will ensure the students they admit are going to succeed through their educational journey and beyond.

In order for CPE to sync with concepts surrounding student LTV, there must be a balance between the money a school spends in market and the downstream effects on enrollment teams in terms of converting leads that may or may not be qualified. For example, if a marketing department meets their lead generation goals but enrollment has to discount the price of admission in order to enroll those leads, it does a disservice to both the student who is less likely to graduate and the institution who is less likely to hit revenue goals.

As marketing departments create their strategies, they should always ensure that dollars spent in a certain channel will create a better opportunity for admissions to convert on that dollar. Alternatively, marketing dollars shouldn’t be spent where the goal is to simply “get more leads” without consideration of admissions’ abilities to speak to and convert qualified prospects.

An element of altruism and synergy between marketing and enrollment departments is the first step in turning CPE into a metric indicative of overall higher ed success.