Leveraging Technology Christian academia

By leveraging traditional marketing principles with cutting-edge technology, the impact on enrollment is impressive.


Rising student expectations, increased competition, and the pressure to reach enrollment goals means it is more important than ever for schools to differentiate themselves in this difficult landscape.

For Saint Leo University, a liberal arts-based school outside of Tampa, that differentiation comes from thinking more like a business in order to reach a global audience. Using this strategy, the university has amplified its message and grown enrollment to nearly 16,000 students worldwide.

With an enrollment of only 2,000 at the main Florida campus, more than 85% of its students are located remotely in 49 states and 86 countries. Through the use of technology, the university has been able to successfully integrate its culture into the global education market.

Curious about how companies engage with consumers, Reggie Hill, Assistant Vice President for Campus Enrollment at Saint Leo, is setting out to provide an innovative “Amazon-like” experience to potential students.

I always wondered what builds that market intelligence and how companies are building a profile based on how you engage with them, said Hill.

He discovered that by leveraging traditional marketing principles with cutting-edge technology, Saint Leo can embrace core business strategies and apply them to higher education, helping to more effectively reach a broader pool of potential students.

And it worked. With such a wide reach, Saint Leo has also discovered it needs to be laser-focused in its delivery of relevant communications to the highest quality prospects.

Through the use of the marketing automation platform HubSpot, Saint Leo streamlined its recruitment efforts to be more effective and target the applicants with the most interest. Hill, who has been at the heart of Saint Leo’s recruitment strategy for 10 years believes that this is a critical component to the school’s success.

Many schools make the mistake of spending an extensive amount of time with applicants that have no interest in the school, rather than focusing efforts on students that would appreciate a better, more relevant experience.

To target the students that have the greatest interest in the university, Saint Leo segments their pool of applicants and delivers personalized, relevant communications based on the stage of the process the student is in. This gives them the ability to then use behavioral engagement to understand the level of interest a student has by tracking how active they are on the Saint Leo website, how often they respond to email, and how engaged they are on social media. Then they rank the student accordingly and communicate with them based on how much or how little interest the student has at that time.

But success goes beyond just knowing and responding to a student’s level of interest. To reach the target audience (especially the millennial generation) it is critical for colleges and universities to stay up to date on the latest trends in technology that students use.

Saint Leo’s enrollment office focuses very closely on what its students are doing—how they use laptops, when they use mobile devices, which platforms or apps they leverage—to get an idea of what is popular in their daily lives. They can then collaborate to see how technology plays a role in enhancing their experience. From there, the university decides where it makes sense to implement the technology into its recruitment strategy.

For example, the school noticed the increasing popularity of a new mobile app among students, Snapchat, which allows users to send photos or videos that disappear after 10 seconds. Instead of just jumping into this new platform, Saint Leo developed a plan based on storytelling to engage the students on the app.

It now uses Snapchat as a way to build a story about the culture of the university, painting a picture of what students can expect to find on campus.

With an exceptional on-campus culture, the university also realized that it had to find a way to bring potential students into the Saint Leo experience, even if they were not physically located in Florida. Enter Periscope, a live video streaming app, which provides an authentic campus experience to prospective students.

Periscope took the place of pre-existing videos that were staged with very little authenticity. This new platform allows potential students to see a live and realistic view of what the college is really like on a daily basis. The app includes the option to view an online campus tour, see students walking around the facilities and even encounter things that they would find if they were actually visiting in-person.

Saint Leo’s use of Periscope illustrates how this university strives to meet students where they are, rather than expecting the market to come to them.

While many schools have yet to fully embrace social media tools for recruitment, Saint Leo knows that it has to be visible in that space to be considered by the new generation of students. By adopting new tactics and technology—such as its segmentation through HubSpot, storytelling with Snapchat, and campus tours on Periscope—it has helped to capture the attention of prospective students by differentiating the Saint Leo message in an extremely noisy and competitive market.

Hill believes many schools struggle to grow enrollment because of the resistance to adopt such new and innovative trends in technology. For Hill and Saint Leo, an enhanced focus on a better student experience, combined with embracing technology, has helped to capture the attention of prospective students globally.

With changing student behavior, Saint Leo has adapted to communicate its message to the right audience, in the right place, and at the right time.

About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, a Florida-based, Catholic, liberal arts university located near Tampa, is top ranked as one of the best regional universities by U.S. News & World Report. It educates students from more than 49 states and 86 countries and has a dedicated focus on improving its international reach and significance through the use of technology.


  • Tricia Dufek

    Tricia Dufek is a Vice President for First American Education Finance. First American Education Finance is a financial services company dedicated exclusively to education. The company provides financing for campus projects to over 600 schools nationwide. www.faeducationfinance.com

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