The Direct Network

What Kind of Marketing Will Give Your School an Edge?

Posted by Lori Reese on Apr 24, 2018 10:30:00 AM
Topics: Higher Ed, enrollment, marketing

AAs college and university enrollment drops nationwide, more schools are ramping up their marketing and recruitment efforts. Administrators are finding innovative ways to reach out to Gen Z, young people aged 17 to 25, as well as adult, “nontraditional” students interested in boosting their careers. What can your school do to compete?

What Kind of Marketing Will Give Your School an Edge?

Marketing is not a hard science. There is no way to determine with absolute certainty whether your investment will pay off. However, if your school’s enrollment is going down, it’s best to avoid the blame game. Yes, you could complain that the number of high school graduates has tanked or that the current political scene is hostile to higher education. You wouldn’t be all wrong. But you wouldn’t be giving your school a chance to grow. Nor would you be giving the many thousands of students eager for college education an opportunity to thrive on your campus.

The truth is that some schools are experiencing enrollment growth right now — despite many challenges that might leave administrators feeling helpless. Two current standouts in the world of educational marketing include University of Detroit Mercy and nearby Wayne State University.

These institutions are experiencing an enrollment boom despite difficulties that could be crippling. The number of students graduating high school in Michigan has been in decline for years. Meanwhile, Detroit’s reputation as the depressed wasteland of a once-grand city has grown. What kind of young person wants to live in Detroit?

Well, Detroit Mercy and Wayne State have discovered ways to bring in young people who are not only enthusiastic about higher education but interested in helping to transform Detroit into a revived urban mecca.

The best way to determine whether a revamped marketing campaign will succeed is to look at what others do that works for them right now.

Here’s what Wayne State and Detroit Mercy have done that you can do, too

Market locally — Private schools with national reputations can avoid the kind of recruitment issues that state universities and small private schools have. They face a glut of applicants. However, schools that attract students from nearby locales should focus their marketing efforts on those they’re more likely to reach. The school’s local reputation matters more than its standing in a national magazine like U.S. News & World Report. Nearly 90% of Wayne State and Detroit Mercy’s students come from areas within 100 miles of Detroit. The schools ditched expensive outreach to prospects outside Michigan and emphasized burnishing their local reputations.

Make personal school visits — Administrators from Wayne State and Detroit Mercy made visits to high schools throughout the area. Each schools’ president showed up to make a speech. When students are able to see, hear and actually meet the people who run the school, higher education seems more feasible. Prospects discover that people who work for the institution are friendly, helpful and, in general, not remotely intimidating.

Make recruitment a campus-wide effort — Both schools include staff, faculty and students in their recruitment efforts. Students can make especially effective evangelists. After all, they understand what prospective students want to achieve — and want to avoid — better than anyone else. Why not offer small incentives for students who refer others? Include a campaign within your larger marketing effort that encourages current students to go out and tell everyone they meet why your school is the best. 

Keep communication short, frequent and supportive — Wayne State shifted from sending massive packages of brochures, financial aid forms and welcome packets all at once to reaching out via phone, email and text repeatedly within a short time frame. This approach allows them to remind applicants about upcoming deadlines and even ensure enrolled students actually get payments in and get signed up for classes on time. Instead of being perceived as an opaque, expensive institution, Wayne State is seen as a support network that helps candidates on a path to greater success later in life.

Clean up financial aid — Wayne State reviewed its financial aid to ensure students who needed money the most were receiving it. They introduced a new award designed to make up for gaps left by Pell Grants — a move that boosted retention and made education more feasible for those in the greatest need.

Maximize outside resources — Even after revamping their financial aid offerings, administrators at Detroit Mercy and Wayne State  made the effort to educate themselves and prospective students about awards available off campus. Wayne State refers students to Raise Me, the micro-scholarship program begun by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization offers small awards for educational milestones, which bolster students’ confidence and effort. A student who earns an A in a course, for instance, qualifies for a $150 award. It doesn’t sound like much, but that kind of support can motivate students to stay in school.

Find out what might attract Gen Z to your locale — Selling Detroit’s assets might seem tough, but Detroit Mercy and Wayne State’s recruiters found a way. They researched Gen Z characteristics and discovered an appetite for volunteer work and community-building that fit right in with Detroit’s ongoing revitalization efforts. Then they emphasized those opportunities in their marketing campaigns. Look into the research available on Gen Z, then find out what your area offers that will appeal to this up-and-coming cohort. What’s different about your location that will draw this new generation to you?

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About Lori Reese

Lori Reese is a writer and an educator with 20 years of experience in higher education teaching.

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