John Wooden, who coached the UCLA men’s basketball team to 10 national championships, started the first day of practice each fall by teaching his immensely talented athletes… how to put on their socks and properly tie their shoes.

His rationale was simple. If players wore their socks and tied their shoes correctly, they wouldn’t get blisters. If they weren’t distracted by blisters, they’d be able to focus on his coaching, which would make them better players and a better team. During games, their shoes would stay tied, which would keep them from missing opportunities.

I’ve never heard a player thank their shoelaces while hoisting a championship trophy. But I’ve also never seen a one-shoed basketball champion.

 Sadly, this year, my data colleagues at Fire Engine RED and I have seen an unprecedented number of admissions offices trip over the equivalents of untied shoes. Reaching enrollment goals is challenging enough without operational missteps such as:

  1. Mismanagement of foundational enrollment data (tagging applicants as inquiries or inquiries as applicants, neglecting to store key data elements such as inquiry sources and/or campus visits, and the list goes on and on).

Potential consequences: On an individual basis, you’re guaranteed to confuse or irritate a student by sending them the wrong message, which bad data ensures you’ll do. In aggregate, financial aid models are only as good as the data they’re built on, so bad data will drive poor results. 

  1. Failure to import Search-generated inquiries into their CRM.

Potential consequences: A student responds to your carefully framed outreach, whether enthusiastically or tentatively, and then… never hears from you again.

  1. Failure to record CEEB codes from inquiry sources that include them (like College Board, Encoura, or – most stunning to us – the institution’s own inquiry form).

Potential consequences: A strong student tells you which high school they attend, but never receives an invitation to meet with you when you visit their school – while their friend with weaker academics does receive an invitation.

  1. Failure to resolve massive numbers of duplicate records (most dramatically, nearly 40% of one institution’s sophomore cohort). 

Potential consequences: You look ahead two years and think the class of 2022 looks promising because your pool has grown, and you call off your search.

And/or: A student receives two identical emails telling them how your institution values the qualities that make them special and unique.

And/or: A parent receives duplicate print pieces in their mailbox and thinks, “You’re charging thousands of dollars for tuition, and you’re already squandering money on my 10th-grader?”

Individually and collectively, such operational failures waste resources, squander enrollment opportunities, damage institutional reputations, and ultimately, cost some enrollment leaders their jobs.

What’s creating these serious errors and omissions? Ironically, the relentless drive for more data and more complexity has distracted admissions offices from their least-exciting but most-critical operational responsibilities.

As a company, here’s what we’re doing at Fire Engine RED to help on the data front. 

First, we take the time to verify, correct, and update bad data.

Result: Our identification of 22,000 duplicate records of 10th-graders saved one institution at least $65,000 in subsequent mailings (not to mention embarrassment!)

Second, we report issues back to our clients and make suggestions about how those issues can be avoided in future cycles.

Result: We ensure that Search-generated inquiries receive consistent communications, which drives applications in future enrollment cycles.

Third, we build effective models based on actual patterns identified within our cleaned and updated data.

Result: We know that comprehensive and accurate data drives results. Including CEEB codes and associated high school data in our modeling ensures that we’re targeting the best markets for our clients.

Fourth, we run and rerun processes, and check and recheck data, literally every day, whether the data comes from clients, vendors, or other outside sources. 

Result: We catch things that others miss; we avoid mistakes; and what we catch, we share – all of which improves results and saves our clients both time and money.

We welcome the chance to review your underlying data, complete an initial data audit, or perform a full data and operational review. We can do a lot with a little, very quickly, and we are confident you’ll see immediate returns on even a modest investment.

You’re already running at full speed to get everything done. You can count on Fire Engine RED to make sure your shoelaces are tightened, so you won’t stumble over them as you drive toward your enrollment goals.

Read more by Jeff:

Now Is The Beginning
Keep Calm, Act Expeditiously, Look Ahead
What Enrollment Professionals can Learn from the Airlines and Fire Engine RED
What I Wished I Knew About Student Search When I Was Dean


Jeff McLaughlin is the Executive Vice President of Data, Strategy & Analytics at Fire Engine RED. He has led Fire Engine RED’s data team since 2015. Prior to joining Fire Engine RED, he was Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.