Description of Organization
Students interested in earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree have a multitude of options. Online programs, evening programs, weekend programs, and one year programs are just some of the examples students can choose from. The current global and highly competitive environment among MBA programs is contributing to the development of unique marketing and effective recruiting strategies with a greater focus on the student (Giner, 2016; Winn, 2014). As such, MBA programs are consistently evaluating techniques and strategies to differentiate themselves in an effort to attract the most talented and qualified students.
Attracting talented and qualified MBA students is challenging. Ashland University (AU) is a small private institution in the Midwest region of the United States, located in Ohio. Conveniently situated between two major cities, Cleveland and Columbus, AU is physically positioned well to be competitive with both private and public university MBA programs. At AU, the primary demographical cohorts in the MBA program are generation-x and millennials. This is important because these demographical cohorts will be attracted to different tactics, messages, and strategies.
AU’s MBA program has experienced moderate increases in enrollment since 2016. This moderate growth can be attributed to new leadership, improved rankings, effective marketing tactics, and improved student services resulting in positive experiences for students. However, in the competitive environment MBA programs are nested in, change is constant and immediate.
Description of the Problem
An example of a recent change to the MBA program environment has been the result of the current political environment in the United States. As a result of changes to immigration laws and regulations, student visas have been declined or delayed at a rate not previously experienced. These changes have had a significant impact on MBA enrollment nationwide as institutions such as AU rely on international student registrations not only for enrollment purposes, but also for diversity purposes in the classroom.
One strategy to counteract the decline in international student enrollment would be to focus more on domestic students. However, this strategy is wrought with complications as company reimbursements are not increasing and the primary student populations attracted to AU are fearful of taking out loans. Due to these issues, creating marketing tactics becomes challenging to craft the right message.
While the international visa situation is beyond the control of AU, there are marketing tactics that are currently lacking at the institution which can be deployed. AU has a very successful MBA alumni base who are eager to contribute to the institution in more than just monetary donations. Utilizing MBA alumni, both domestic and international, coupled with the MBA marketing tactics can contribute to future enrollment.
Much time and effort are devoted by marketing professionals in developing conventional targeted marketing campaigns. However, often overlooked is the power of word-of-mouth (WOM) referrals as it is much more difficult to calculate a return on investment (ROI). WOM referrals are extremely influential on a prospective MBA student’s decision to enroll, and methods used can be social media posts, blogs, face-to-face, email, or even part of a buzz marketing program (Bruce & Edgington, 2008, p. 79).
When designing any MBA marketing tactic, it is important to understand the needs and wants of prospective MBA students, given the highly competitive global environment. This understanding lays the foundation for the creation and delivery of messages with the goal of influencing the students’ decision to enroll. The power of WOM referrals affords MBA program administrators the opportunity to re-evaluate the services and experiences of students within the MBA program to capitalize on enrollment.
Gaining the perspectives of alumni who have gone through the MBA program yields the most relevant opinions for not only programmatic and service changes, but also for recruitment. Additionally, the current MBA student body are also impactful on referring people they know who would benefit from AU’s MBA program. The plan for this intervention will be to create a WOM referral program, relying on alumni and current students, to serve as recruiters for future enrollment which will aid in combating the decline in international student enrollment and challenges of attracting domestic students.
Objective of Study
The objectives of the study are to determine the likelihood and willingness of students to recommend AU for graduate business education and implement a WOM referral program. Responses to questions about the students’ experience, value, quality, and satisfaction are intended to provide the Dean and Associate Dean of the College of Business and Economics (COBE) at AU as well as the Chairman of the Business Advisory Council (BAC) of COBE at AU with a better understanding of alumni and current students’ experience with the MBA Program. The information gathered will then be able to determine the likelihood of positive WOM referrals, at which point, a WOM referral program will be implemented.
I will use a qualitative research methodology to conduct this research. I will also meet monthly with the Dean and Associate Dean to provide updates on the information gathered. I will distribute surveys to alumni and current MBA students using a Likert scale survey. I will develop a WOM referral program rewarding the new student entering the program. To aid in the implementation of a WOM referral program, I will identify similar MBA programs who have a WOM referral program to assess the structure and the reward. I will create a survey to determine the students’ experience and likelihood of referring Ashland University for graduate business education as well as explain the referral program. I have not yet created the survey for this study or identified the institutions I will research containing WOM referral programs.
The following is a suggested timeline for this proposal.
October, 2019 – approval of mentorship
– meet with Dean and Associate Dean of COBE
– meet with Chairman of BAC of COBE
November, 2019 – identify five MBA WOM referral programs
– establish main questions to distribute to alumni and current students
– begin developing budget for referral program
December, 2019 – prepare HSRB application and supporting documents
– outline WOM referral program and reward system
– create tracking mechanism for WOM referral program
January, 2020 – gain HSRB approval
– collect contact information of MBA alumni and current students
– create survey to alumni and current students
February, 2020 – distribute explanation of WOM referral program to current students and
– distribute survey to alumni and current students
– finalize budget and secure funds
March, 2020 – compile and analyze data
April, 2020 – present findings to COBE Dean, Associate Dean, and BAC
May, 2020 – track referrals to date and calculate ROI
June, 2020 – continue tracking referrals to date and calculate ROI
July, 2020 – update COBE Dean and Associate Dean with progress of WOM referral
August, 2020 – present final report to COBE faculty
September, 2020 – write mentorship paper
October, 2020 – present final report to COBE BAC
November, 2020 – finalize presentation of mentorship
December, 2020 – presentation of mentorship program
I will need to gain access to alumni and current student contact information. I will also need flexibility in my work schedule to conduct the research of other MBA referral programs, creating the survey, and creation of the appropriate tracking mechanism for the referral program. Furthermore, additional funding and a budget will need to be supported and developed for the referral program so as to award the student being referred and the person(s) serving as the referral with a thank you note. Finally, I will need to gain approval from the Human Subjects Review Board (HSRB) at AU.
Formal approval of this mentorship project will involve AU’s COBE Dean, Associate Dean, BAC, and the University’s HSRB Committee officially accepting the developed program, reward system, and method(s) of contacting current students and alumni.
The evaluation of this project will be made by AU’s COBE Dean, Associate Dean, and BAC. They will determine if this newly developed program is sufficient for attracting new students and maintaining positive relationships with students and alumni. Additionally, ROI will be monitored to determine the impact this program had on enrollment and time invested to track and coordinate with both students being referred to the MBA program as well as those making the referrals.
Bruce, G., & Edgington, R. (2008). Factors influencing word-of-mouth recommendations by
MBA students: An examination of school quality, educational outcomes, and value of
the MBA. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 18(1), pgs. 79-101.
Giner, G.R. & Rillo, A.P. (2016). Structural equation modeling of co-creation and its influence
on the student’s satisfaction and loyalty towards university. Journal of Computational
and Applied Mathematics, 291, pgs. 257-263. DOI: 10.1016/2015.02.044
Winn, P., Leach, L., Erwin, S., & Benedict, L. (2014). Factors that influence student selection of
Educational leadership master’s programs at regional universities. Administrative
Journal, 4(1), pgs. 74-86. DOI: 10.5929/2014.4.1.4
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