To scale up enrollments for a world-renowned university’s online graduate programs in law by consistently attracting a community of highly qualified students and setting them up to succeed.
All Campus teams collaborated extensively with stakeholders at Northeastern University School of Law to grow enrollments for the online MLS and LLM programs while aligning with the law school’s high standards:
- Researchers examined market data and Northeastern Law’s long-term objectives to plot a trajectory for sustainable growth that would reach scale by the fourth year of the partnership.
- Digital marketers created automated emails specifically for people who had previously contacted Northeastern about law programs, deployed targeted advertising campaigns for search and social media, and developed content based on both search engine optimization principles and the university’s past successes.
- All Campus enrollment specialists gained a nuanced understanding of Northeastern Law’s culture and the law programs’ unique features as they prepared to engage with prospective students throughout the application process.
All Campus efficiently targeted marketing messages and nurtured qualified applicants for Northeastern’s online MLS and LLM. With overall interest in online graduate education on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment exceeded projections for the first year. Accordingly, All Campus revised the long-term expectations for both programs, planning to reach and maintain full scale a year ahead of schedule.
The All Campus Boost
- Enrollments in both the online MLS and LLM programs regularly exceeded projections throughout the first year of the partnership between Northeastern Law and All Campus.
- In addition to numerous students in the region, we successfully enrolled others living across the country and around the world, including residents of Germany, Turkey, Costa Rica, Mexico, Luxembourg, Uganda, Bahrain and Lebanon who joined the LLM program.
- Cooperation was crucial to achieving results in the early days of the partnership. About a quarter of students who started one of the programs in the first term were previously unconverted leads that Northeastern provided to All Campus.
- All Campus enrollment specialists garnered highly positive feedback from newly admitted students, who were impressed with the online learning environment, opportunities to interact with faculty and the sense of community they felt.
- Following a successful first year, we adapted our plans for future growth and made new investments in search marketing and international campaigns for the LLM, including a dedicated digital campaign in China.
Introduction: Customized Strategies for World-Class Online Education
Online programs have transformed higher education, empowering students to take courses from top thinkers in almost any field while working in a different state or on another continent. But to build online learning initiatives that thrive for years to come, universities must be able to routinely get in touch with prospective students, wherever they are, and guide them through the admissions process. Recalibrating a university’s marketing and enrollment efforts for this new era can be tough, and the challenges are exacerbated when it comes to launching and growing an online degree in a highly specialized or emerging area.
That’s why Northeastern University School of Law partnered with All Campus to boost the online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) and Master of Laws (LLM). All Campus came to the table with strategic plans, a targeted approach to digital marketing and a team of experienced enrollment specialists. With those resources in place, the faculty and administrators at Northeastern Law could focus on sharing their expertise with new students across the country and around the world.
The Challenge: Scale Up Without Watering Down
Northeastern Law partnered with All Campus to manage marketing and enrollment for two online programs. These master’s degrees each delve into advanced legal concepts and serve students who have distinct backgrounds and goals:
- The Master of Legal Studies provides non-lawyer professionals with a thorough understanding of legal issues as they apply to heavily regulated industries. Equipped with these cross-functional skills, graduates can be more effective leaders in fields such as business, healthcare and intellectual property.
- The Master of Laws helps lawyers who were trained overseas develop their knowledge of the U.S. legal field, but domestic attorneys can also bolster their credentials with this degree. Students choose from tracks focused on international business, intellectual property and technology, or preparing for the bar exam in the state of California.
All Campus set out to grow these online offerings by attracting students who fulfilled the expectations of a world-renowned private research university. That meant consistently finding and supporting people who would not just meet the admission requirements, but complete the programs successfully and become valuable members of the Northeastern community. To realize this partnership’s full potential would take close collaboration between the stakeholders at Northeastern and All Campus researchers, marketers and enrollment specialists.
Data-Driven Strategic Planning
All Campus customized a strategy to scale up Northeastern Law’s online master’s programs based on our years of domain experience and thorough quantitative analysis. Researchers took a deep dive into the market and competitive landscape for both degrees, examining the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), real-time labor data, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports and other proprietary sources to predict performance over the next several years.
Underlying all these figures, there were widespread shifts in law school enrollments that signaled possibilities for the future. An annual questionnaire from the American Bar Association found a 51% increase in enrollment in non-JD degree programs between 2015 and 2019. Plus, a higher proportion of those non-JD students took their courses online, rising from 17% In 2015 to 37% in 2019.
ABA Annual Questionnaire 2015-2019 Summary
|Year||Total Non-JD Enrollment||Online Enrollment In Non-JD Programs||YoY Change in Online Enrollment In Non-JD Programs||Proportion of Online Enrollment In Non-JD Programs||Total JD Entrollment||Total Enrollment *|
* Students enrolled in JD/Non-JD Joint Degrees are counted once in Total Enrollment
Proportion of Online Enrollment in Non-JD Programs
Since master’s-level law degrees may focus on a wide range of topics and fall under a variety of codes in the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) that’s employed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, developing a full picture of the market from these numbers required careful attention. Some of the data points that influenced our decisions included:
- Annual graduates with MLS and LLM degrees in the U.S.
- Number of institutions offering the degrees online
- Percentage of master’s degrees in these fields completed online
- Tuition costs for comparable programs
- Average monthly Google searches for degrees and related keywords
- An assessment of perceived value based on Northeastern’s brand and prestige
- U.S. News & World Report law school rankings
By examining these metrics and others, All Campus projected a trajectory for the law programs that coincided with Northeastern’s long-term objectives. Our researchers determined that an investment in marketing carefully aligned to those plans could bring enrollments to the desired scale by the fourth year of the partnership while laying the foundation to sustain the programs at that size.
“At All Campus, our paramount responsibility is to use our experience and resources to help our partners navigate the dramatic changes taking place in higher education,” Executive Vice President of Partnership Development Kyle Shea said. “If the past couple years have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t predict all the challenges that are coming, but we can work with our university partners to transform some of those disruptions into opportunities.”
An Integrated Approach to Marketing
Some graduate degrees, like an MBA, are familiar to just about everyone. But when it comes to more specialized, emerging programs, it’s especially necessary to grow awareness and provide informative content by connecting with audiences through multiple channels. The All Campus Formula centers on maximizing the value of marketing by targeting and nurturing relationships with the people who are best-suited to our partners’ programs.
Accordingly, All Campus went to work on an integrated marketing campaign for the online MLS and LLM that included a combination of emails, paid media and search engine optimization (SEO). The marketing and design teams customize creative assets for every partner, ensuring that messages and imagery fit a partner’s brand and the overall strategy for advancing each program.
“We’ve built a strong foundational approach based on our experience in recruiting on behalf of nearly 130 programs across over 25 partners,” said Andrea Maconachy, the executive vice president for marketing at All Campus. “But every university and program is different, and their audiences behave differently. That’s why it’s critical that we connect a partner like Northeastern directly with our experts. We ensure that our strategy is optimized based on testing, insights from market research, real-time search data and the feedback our enrollment specialists hear directly from prospects.”
1. Email Outreach to Previously Unconverted Leads
Cooperation is vital to every aspect of an All Campus partnership and can be especially beneficial for email campaigns. Carefully timed remarketing messages, sent to those who have shown an interest in the department or related offerings, are a powerful means of deepening relationships with prospective students. Thus, to ramp up enrollment as quickly as possible, All Campus coordinated with Northeastern on engaging with individuals who’d previously contacted the university about online law programs.
Operating in compliance with information privacy rules, All Campus created automated emails specifically for this audience. The messages invited qualified individuals to learn more about the options that the law school offered for earning an online master’s degree. Recipients could then choose to take the next step by downloading a brochure or getting in touch with an enrollment specialists.
The past contacts soon paid off and kickstarted the future of Northeastern Law’s online programs. Ultimately, about a quarter of students who started one of the programs during the partnership’s first term had been among the university’s previously unconverted leads.
2. Digital Advertising
As the email remarketing campaign illustrates, established relationships are crucial to scaling online enrollments. But one of the primary reasons why a university enlists an online program management partner is to find students who may have never even considered applying to that school before. Efficiently targeted digital marketing campaigns get the word out to a wider pool of future applicants through paid search, display ads and social media.
To promote the Northeastern Law master’s programs, All Campus digital marketing specialists drew on a budget that was closely tied to the projected enrollment targets. They constantly monitored results to find the best ways of drawing more visitors to our custom-designed landing pages and encouraging them to request program details. Achieving those objectives required marketers to research high-value keywords and embrace the differences between the two master’s programs:
- For the LLM, it was vital to reach international students and U.S. residents who graduated from international universities. Half of the inquiries that resulted from placements in paid media were from U.S. residents, but the rest were spread across 96 other countries.
- The audience for the MLS, on the other hand, is heavily concentrated in the university’s own geographic region. While inquiries through paid channels came from all over the county, 56% were located in the Northeastern U.S., and especially Massachusetts.
These insights served to guide both future targeting and the messaging choices in ads. For the MLS, the breadth of academic options in New England make it crucial to emphasize the specific characteristics that make a program different, like the available concentrations. In fact, the digital marketing team found that ads employing concentration-related keywords resulted in a 22% lower cost per inquiry and Facebook ads gained a 12% higher clickthrough rate.
One aspect that was the same for both programs was the importance of paid search, which became a key factor in how the digital marketing team directed their spending. A higher rate of potential students moved from an initial inquiry to starting their applications when compared display or social ads. Google and Bing drove more than three quarters of the initial inquiries for the LLM and over 80% of those for the MLS.
3. Organic Search Visibility
No matter where they live or what areas of law they’re interested in, potential students are likely to begin investigating their educational possibilities with an organic search. All Campus works to maximize organic search traffic by developing program websites showcasing content that’s both informative and rich in relevant keywords. The SEO team at All Campus took steps to grow the authority for the MLS and LLM websites associated with legal education through program content and articles.
Since the program sites launched, this SEO strategy has resulted in steadily improved rankings for targeted keywords and greater visibility for the homepages. Blog articles are currently the biggest driver of traffic to the sites: That’s in part because prior to the partnership, Northeastern had already posted blog articles on popular topics like “What Can You Do With a Master of Legal Studies Degree?” The university agreed to move two existing articles into the new AC-managed site, and we drew lessons from what had worked for the MLS to drive content production for the LLM. The result has been articles titled “What Can You Do With an LLM?” and “LLM vs. JD,” each promoted with remarketing emails sent to prospects who expressed interest in the program.
In addition to garnering attention from search engines, these sites serve to convey what students can expect from a master’s program, helping them through the often long and complicated process of deciding to apply. All Campus went beyond the usual explanations of the curriculum and admission requirements by providing pages featuring walkthrough videos as well as student profiles for both the LLM and MLS. Visitors who are contemplating one of these specialized law degrees can explore a firsthand perspective on what it’s like to learn from Northeastern faculty in an online format. With these experiences readily available, prospective students have ample opportunities to engage with a school and make more informed decisions about what programs are right for them.
Guiding Prospective Students Through the Next Steps
The All Campus philosophy and business model are built around ensuring every student who enrolls in an online program is in a position to succeed. Enrollment specialists make that possible by serving as the main points of contact to help qualified individuals throughout the application process and beyond. These personalized services ensure that the vast majority of those who make it as far as submitting their materials for review by Northeastern’s admissions committee are accepted to their respective programs.
For a demanding curriculum like a master’s degree in law, nurturing applicants who will not only be admitted, but retained through graduation requires a meaningful level of engagement. Each potential applicant who requests information about the online degrees is assigned a dedicated All Campus advisor. These professionals, most of whom hold master’s degrees themselves, don’t speak from a script as they communicate by phone, email and chat. They have candid, personal conversations while emphasizing the school’s strengths like:
- The quality of the online learning environment
- Opportunities for interacting directly with faculty
- The sense of community among online students
“All Campus advisors develop a nuanced understanding of every partner institution and what makes their programs and cultures unique to the marketplace,” said Director of Enrollment David Chiscon. “We’re so successful at enrolling and retaining students because we’re passionate about education and committed to making sure that a student’s program of choice is the correct one to help in the advancement of their careers. When it comes to the Northeastern Law programs, the feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Advisors are able to adapt to the needs of a diverse, geographically disparate population of individuals. About 44% of the MLS applicants enrolled through All Campus are located in Massachusetts. However, others live up and down the East Coast or on the other side of the country. Many are considering other types of professional programs, such as an MBA and Master of Human Resources, and discuss with their advisors what educational path will best serve their goals.
Meanwhile, 60% of LLM students now live in the U.S., but others are located around the world in countries including Germany, Turkey, Costa Rica, Mexico, Luxembourg, Uganda, Bahrain and Lebanon. That means applicants come from an enormous variety of backgrounds and may be available to communicate on very different schedules from one another. In addition, international students have specific needs for assembling their application materials, such as submitting results from an English language proficiency exam like TOEFL and collecting transcripts from schools they’ve attended outside the U.S. All Campus enrollment specialists assist throughout these processes, taking the time to forge the individual connections that result in high retention rates and satisfied graduates.
With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world, many unexpected things happened that affected people’s educational plans for the 2020-2021 school year. According to the National Student Resource Clearinghouse, while U.S. undergraduate programs experienced significant drops in attendance, enrollment in master’s programs in Spring 2021 were 5.2% higher than one year before.
All Campus was able to leverage the increased interest in graduate education by efficiently targeting marketing efforts and attentively helping students through the application pipeline, As a result, the first year of the partnership with Northeastern Law exceeded expectations with enrollments in the online MLS and LLM programs swiftly beginning to outpace projections:
% Increase in Total Enrollment
|Master of Legal Studies (MLS)||15%|
|Master of Laws (LLM)||18%|
With the programs hitting targets sooner than expected, All Campus was ready to adapt and increase our investment. We have accordingly revised projections, scaling up enrollments for both programs. We now expect to reach full scale a year ahead of schedule.
Meanwhile, our marketing team has gleaned important lessons from our early successes and plans to:
- Focus paid efforts on search marketing while also reaching out through social media.
- Consolidate our organic search authority and continue to build out high-quality content.
- Test more international campaigns for the LLM, including a dedicated digital campaign in China.
All Campus partnerships depend on careful attention to the key performance indicators, student feedback and broader conditions in the higher education landscape. Our quantitative insights gave direction to marketing and enrollment, setting up the online LLM and MLS programs for lasting success.
All Campus forms lasting relationships with some of the world’s greatest universities by always putting data at the forefront of our work. At every stage of a program’s lifecycle, we strive to maximize value with a flexible approach informed by research, testing and analysis.
For Northeastern Law, we discovered what elements worked best in our strategies and adjusted our marketing investments as necessary to reach scale a year ahead of schedule. By getting to know our partners, we can dispatch compelling messages to the right audiences and prepare our advisors to act seamlessly as an extension of the university. We customized our services for an emerging market in law education, connecting well-qualified individuals around the world with unique educational opportunities through a combination of quantitative research, marketing knowhow and high-touch advising.
But there’s always another semester coming. We prepare to meet the challenges ahead—whether foreseen or otherwise—by constantly improving our strategies, providing our partners with the information and expert guidance they need to adapt to a new era in education and deliver the best possible experiences for all their students.
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