The Higher Ed Landscape
It’s no secret that higher education enrollment is down. While hardest hit are for-profit institutions and community colleges, overall enrollment was down year over year for the past several years. And while the National Center for Education Statistics projects enrollment to grow by some 2.3 million by 2026, that’s a long way off and a slow climb for most institutions. Now, more than ever, informed, targeted marketing and business branding techniques are critical to schools’ success in attracting and enrolling top student prospects.
To the average person, the higher education market in the United States would probably be considered to be competitive. To us, as marketers, it is crystal clear that it is actually one of the most competitive markets and sectors there is. There can be dozens of colleges within a few hours – or even a few miles – of each other. Some venerable, some upstarts, some niche, some state; hundreds of thousands of students are all making the first and biggest decision of their lives. Marketing for student recruitment is about helping one person make the most important decision of their lives; for alumni relations and development, it is about engagement, connection, and belonging to a tribe.
Today more money is being spent on marketing, but universities are not using marketing to truly differentiate themselves. In 2015, Gallup found that a survey of more than 50 higher education institutions showed that, no matter their size, they shared striking similarities in the way they marketed themselves. When you can’t tell one school from the other that means prospects can’t tell one school from another; and that makes it hard for prospects to make a decision about a school – never mind the right decision.
That doesn’t mean you need to throw more money at marketing your school, it may be that you simply need to use the money you have more wisely. All of the flashy and expensive television ads in the world can’t beat the ROI of digital ads (pay per click), or the reach of social media. When it comes to marketing your school, there are a few important areas to which you should dedicate your attention. One of the big ones is branding.