College enrollments are in decline. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that from spring 2016 to spring 2017, overall postsecondary enrollment fell 1.5 percent. That’s not the whole story, however, enrollment for for-profit, postsecondary schools dropped 10.1 percent.
Pundits point out that reasons for the decline may be a good economy —when the economy is good, college enrollment tends to decrease — and lower birth rates in the 1990s — fewer student-age people, fewer students. The cost of enrollment is also likely a factor. A Student Loan Hero blog reports average student loan debt for 2017 graduates is $39,400, a 6 percent increase over 2016.
Whatever the reason fewer students are heading to college, especially four-year, for-profit institutions, it means schools will be more aggressively recruiting students who plan to pursue degrees. And they may be looking for ways to do that more efficiently and competitively.
Who is Attending College and How Can Schools Communicate with Them?
Part of the challenge is the changing profile of the student population. The last of the millennials are graduating from four-year institutions and Gen Z has arrived. This generation is characterized by self-awareness, social responsibility, and a drive for success. They’re often recognized as the first, true, digital-native generation who cut their teeth on the internet and video games and learned to quickly discern when digital content is authentic — or not. They won’t be sold. They’ll also be critical of tech and digital content that isn’t Grade A. They know what a good user experience is and expect the college they attend to have navigable, understandable, quality tools.
Educational institutions will need to follow the same guidelines as other businesses and organizations when it comes to marketing to this generation:
- Use social media, including Snapchat and Instagram
- Focus on storytelling, not selling
- Keep communications authentic; highlight user-generated content (UGC) when possible
- Personalize communications; leverage CRM and analytics
Challenges for Higher Education Marketing
As much as colleges and universities want to personally engage prospective students on social media and send original communications tailored to each one, the sheer volume of prospects and identifying which are most likely to enroll and be successful (i.e., ROI) is a huge hurdle to overcome. Once prospects are identified, schools will need “retail-like” CRM to collect, manage, and use student data to personalize communications —whether and build the “authentic” relationships that will win enrollees.
Using social media has additional challenges. Schools often have strict social media policies limiting what can be shared and who can share it. Attempting to engage individual students on social media could monopolize a college or university’s entire marketing team’s time — if they could manage it at all. Expanding efforts could mean the need for more robust access control, monitoring, and filtering to maintain control over messaging and the school’s brand image. In addition, schools also rely on social media for other purposes, such as engaging alumni or communicating closures or alerts, necessitating a solution that can coordinate all efforts.
It won’t escape Gen Z prospects’ attention if campaigns aren’t consistent across all departments, channels, and platforms. Higher education marketing teams will need solutions that down silos and integrate currently disparate solutions. Postsecondary institutions also need an effective way to monitor their brand image on digital channels and to quickly respond to negative comments, which could influence a Gen Z researcher looking for schools.
Graduating to a New Marketing Approach
Colleges and universities may be looking for ways to change the way they recruit new students to maintain the enrollment numbers they need. Furthermore, any institution, whether its freshman class numbers are decreasing or increasing, may be able to benefit from a solution that allows them to operate more efficiently and control costs. Do you have one to offer?