2016 Online College Students Report Webinar

2016 Online College Students Webinar

Author’s note: This post is a transcription of the 2016 Online College Students Webinar.

Scott Jeffe: And with no further ado, I will hand the presentation over to Carol.

Carol Aslanian: Great. Thank you, Scott. Great to be here today with all of you. I know we have friends where I could say “Good morning,” “Good afternoon.” We have so many of you from the West Coast and many from the East Coast and the Midwest. It’s a great representation, and I’m glad to say we have over 300 people participating. I think the news is good news for you, and it’s a steady stream ahead. And I hope you take some of our advice and some of the findings that will lead you in new directions, and please feel free, as Scott nicely pointed out, to call me to discuss things further. As many of you know, we’ve conducted the annual 2016 Online College Students Report now for five years in cooperation with Learning House, and each year we learn more and more things. We try to add new data, but we keep some questions the same, so we can look at patterns overall. And you’ll see where we are able to do that in some of our slides.

So, let’s begin with the very good news. This is what your future looks like with online education. It’s almost like nowhere to go but up. As you can see today, the light green are, of course, projections and estimates because we can’t get firm data until we’re almost toward the year that we’re discussing, but you can see that sitting here in 2016, we’re almost—I think it’s about 16% of all college students today study fully online. I’m looking at 2016, and as you follow that up, it’s about 3.5 million students. Many of you know we’ve got about 19 million students overall in American higher education. Three and a half million study fully online, and that’s about 16-17% of the market. And, as you can see, the projections look like steady growth ahead, so we’re in the right territory, we’re in the right mode. More and more people are looking toward higher education in an online format, and I personally predict that within… By 2020, we’ll be easily at 20% of all college students. Now, these are only the students in this study, and for the past 5 years, that are fully online. As you know, you have many, many students who take a course here or a course there and even our traditional students are doing that. That is not in this count. We’re only looking at head count for fully online. So, this is promising news, and it’s a great chart to share with your colleagues.

Let me tell you about the methodology, which has been standard for 5 years because we want to be able to compare the data. We go out to a representative sample of 1,500 students nationwide, and this is done by our panel, we have a national panel of representatives, and they are screened carefully to get the kinds of people we need to talk to to get the best and most reliable information, and so they have to be able to have the following attributes: number one, we are including anyone 18 years of age or older; number two, you’ve got to have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED; and, most important because we’re based on demand and not need, you have to have been recently enrolled—and that’s within the last 3 years—or currently enrolled or have firm plans to enroll in a fully online degree program, certificate, or license program. So, we’re not talking to anybody walking down the street who said, “Oh, maybe someday with the right resources and the right time, I’d love to learn online and this is what I want to learn.” No, no. We only talk to past, current, or near future buyers. So, in all our market research across the several hundred colleges that we work with, it’s always looking for the most reliable information, and that’s talking to recent or current customers. So, you can have a lot of faith in these data.

 

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Let’s look at the typical online college student, and this is summarizing a lot of the data, which I will go into a little bit more in detail. No news, and here we’re comparing 2012 to 2016. We are continuing to be dominated by female, and, as you know, that’s true across all higher education, which I think is about 58% female, but of course, among older learners and online learners, it’s always been a dominant 60-65% female education, so online follows suit. You’ll see we’re going to make a lot of mention of the age declining. That is, online students are getting younger and younger, and you’ll see more about that shortly. Their average income has dipped a bit, and this follows with all the literature we’ve been reading about people are far more conscious about price, income levels are down, and they’re looking for good buys on the street—things that they can afford and not get into too much debt about. So, we don’t like the fact the income is going down, but that’s a reality we need to deal with when we promote our programs. They’re employed full-time, and when we say this, we say the majority. You’ll see the breakdown later, but what I’m giving you is the pattern, which means over half are employed full-time. And another change, interestingly enough, and I bet you’re seeing this in your regions, is the decline a bit in employer tuition reimbursement. We saw a dramatic change over the 4 or 5 years, and the majority of our students now saying they did not receive employer tuition reimbursement. That doesn’t mean that some didn’t. It’s just that the mode, the typical, lower than 50% did not receive it. So, that’s another factor that you should relate to the income dropping as well, in terms of, what are they looking for at the best price to study as quickly as they can.

Scott Jeffe: Carol, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but we’ve figured out some folks may have what is called the “questions” window, rather than the “chat” window. And that is what seems to be working for everyone in order to pose their questions. So, sorry to interrupt, but if you have a question, folks, use the “questions” window in your box.

Carol Aslanian: I hope you all get that. Okay, wonderful. Let’s look in detail at age, and let’s take that first column of undergraduates. And it’s dramatic that in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 years, how much that age has dropped. So, the former pictures of gray-haired women or older men walking through the classroom door, or in your case, on their computers, has got to be reinvented because we are getting younger and younger, in terms of who’s turning to online education. And you might say, “My goodness, some high schools already require an online course.” And many of your students at your institutions at the traditional level and at the undergraduate level are taking online courses. It is no surprise that when they come to finish their degrees or finish their Master’s degrees, they’re turning to online education. I think we’re going to see this average age number dropping even further in the next few years. At the graduate level, they, too, are getting younger. So, this has a great message for your marketing appeal and what you say, and in terms of looking at younger and younger students, as well as the middle age. It’s something we didn’t emphasize in years earlier, but now we see there is a definite trend.

We have a poll question for you. And my colleague here, Anthony, is going to take your answers, and I’ll reflect them back to you. And my question is: What percent of online undergraduate students live, in general, within 100 miles of the school they attend? Okay? In general, you have to think about it. Of all the online undergraduate students we have in the country, how many of you think they live within 100 miles of the school in which they enrolled? How much time do we give for this, Anthony?  A few minutes? A minute or two? So, we need your answers quickly. One out of four? A half? One hundred miles. You can see your own institution and say, “100 miles? How many do I think I would have as online students emanating from that closer region?” And then I’ll give you the answer.

And here, I’m going to look over here for the answer. Okay, they’re giving me 5 percent think it’s within 25 percent? Oh, 5 percent say 25 percent—5 percent of you are choosing 25. And, 22 percent have selecting 50, 70 percent have selected 75 percent, and 2 percent said 100 percent. So, what percent of online students live within 100 miles of the school they attend? Here are the answers. And if you look at 50 miles, it’s 53 percent, right? And if you look—oh, wait a minute that’s the graduate. Look at the undergraduate first. I talk to you in general, so in the undergraduate, you have 57 percent of undergraduate online learners learning with an institution that is located less than 50 miles away from where the live. If you add the 57 to the 17, you get 74 percent, we’re roughly saying, 3 out of 4 online students live within 100 miles of the institution in which they enroll. And what was the answer? Seventy? So, they were right on target. So, you understand that, and that is a pattern we showed in earlier years. So, for you marketing people out there, it’s very clear where your marketing dollars have to go primarily, and that’s to the region closest to where you reside. This is an interesting pattern, and it’s so hopeful for many of my institutions in the audience. I know we have Mercer, we have Mercy, Muhlenberg, Ryder, smaller privates, Viola out there in the West Coast, and for you, this is very important because that means you don’t have to compete with many institutions throughout the country. Your competition is closer than farther away. With that information, you’re able to focus in on who to compete with in online markets because 3 out of 4 will live within 100 miles of where you reside. Very important information. And the pattern isn’t too different with the—in fact, it’s almost identical—at the graduate level, being 73 percent. Again, 3 out of 4 study with an institution within 100 miles. Now, 5 or 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have had that when the for-profits were largely in the game, and people from Massachusetts to Florida to California were studying with the Kaplans, the Phoenixes, and others, but now that the not-for-profits are coming to the market, they find that proximity draws them to institutions that are closer than farther away. Good information for your planning.

 

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How many visits do they make to the campus annually? And if you look on the left, you’ll see in 2016—we’ll pay attention to 2016 only—that 32 percent, 1 out of 3, make 1 to 2 visits to the institution. And if you look at 1 to 5, it’s something like—wow—57 percent. Why are they coming to campus? Number one, they may want to talk to a faculty member. Number two, they may want to pay bills. Number three, they may need resources, but also it’s nice and convenient to do things on a campus when and if you need to be there. And, by the way, probably a major reason for selecting an institution in your neighborhood is number one, the employers you want to impress know the institution. Number two, they’re available when you need them. Number three, your friends and relatives understand who they are. Number four, it’s convenient when you have to use them, so there’s a lot of good reasons. Now, as you become more and more selective in the topics you’re studying… For example, I dealt with an institution the other day that has a PhD program online in family counseling and guidance. They’re not going to stick to the region because they can’t find enough PhD prospects. They’re going to go throughout the United States to find those individuals. So, you might say the high-demand topics, be they business or health and those areas, your market is more closely aligned to where you’re located, but when you have specialty topics, boutique topics, you can reach a wider audience throughout the country to get the sufficient numbers you need. We can talk about that more later.

Here’s a good one. How many credits do they bring, and they want you to address and accept, from their prior study? Let’s just look at 2016. We have over 85 percent bring some credits, and I think the average here… the median here is about 30. That’s right. The average online student will bring 30 prior credits, which they deeply want you to accept because it means saving money and saving time. Very, very important to be kind to former credits. And you know that many of them do come to online education after they have spent some time in a ground- or campus-based program because their life changes, they’ve become more work-oriented, they don’t have enough money to study full-time or even part-time on a campus basis, and so they look at online, and they bring their prior credits, and they want you to accept them. Extremely important and a good message in your advertisements.

Fields of study, let’s look at undergraduate first, and let’s look at 2016 because the pattern has not changed very much. Of course, it’s business, business, business. And then it’s health, and computers have come up and taken third place, okay? So, those are your high-hitting areas. Arts and humanities comes in because a lot of the social sciences, which comes in next, but your three main hitters are business, health, and computers and IT, and IT and computers is growing steadily. Those are the ones you’ll compete with most regionally, so you have to look at your neighbors who are offering online also at the undergraduate level and say, “How can we beat them in these areas?” But if you happen to have an engineering topic at the Master’s level, you will probably have to go farther away from your region, so that you get a larger audience throughout the country.

Next, we’ll look at the graduate, and computers have come up again to second place, 20 percent, 1 out of 5. And many of you are kind of slow to respond to the computers and IT majors, which we need badly. We even need them merged with some of the business- and education- and health-related topics because computer analytics is very important as an interdisciplinary study with the other topics, but this is a clear map of where you spend your marketing dollars and where you say to your anxious professors that want to get online, “Let’s see, counseling and human services, what do you have that makes you different throughout the nation, not in our backyard, because we’ve got to go far and wide to find enough people?”

Moving on to… We said to them, we know that the majority didn’t finish their first program because of all the credits they brought in, correct? So, the question is, “Why didn’t you finish that program in the past when you started at a nearby or faraway institution? What happened that prevented you from completing?” And, of course, “family circumstances” is the number one reason—someone got ill in the family, we had more children, I got divorced—and my plans had to change. “Ran out of funds”—How many students look back after a year and a half in school and say, “My God, the loans are mounting up. I’m majoring in philosophy. Is this what I really want to do? I have no work experience. Let me stop, let me work for four or five years.” And guess what happens in four or five years. They realize they don’t have the credentials or know-how or skills or competency to make it in the career field they’re seeking, so they come back to school. And now that they’ve been out working, they don’t want to sit in a classroom, they want to do it online. So, the running out of funds highly correlates with online-seeking students. And as I just mentioned, number three, “I didn’t see the relevancy of what I was studying, so why am I takin gall these loans out and learning in a way that is not my niche?” And so on and so forth. You can use these top three or four in terms of stimulating messages as you send out your ads and go digital on marketing channels and so forth.

So, is it no surprise that the number one factor in choosing you is tuition and fees? Okay? What is your price? How does it compare to the others? And recently, some new things have popped up in that respect. I’ve been encountering a number of institutions who have now proposed four-credit courses, and it’s kind of hard for a prospective student to compare four-credit courses to the dominant three-credit courses, and you’ve got to explain that you finish faster or whatever it is, but that is a complication. And yesterday and the day before, Scott and I were really not excited but somewhat surprised to see at a showcase meeting we had with about 13 or 15 or 16 different institutions how many are considering lowering tuition. I used to say, 2 or 3 years ago, I’d never met an institution that would lower its tuition, and I’m now going to stop saying that because we had at least 2 or 3 hands raised that said, “No, we’re considering lowering it because our competitive nearby institution has lowered tuition to compete in this highly money-sensitive population. I don’t know if you’re thinking out there of that kind of alternative, but many of you privates out there have that choice; the publics out there probably are more limited. It’s very interesting to see how it’s affecting the tuition rates up or down among many privates. And reputation, reputation of course, how can we say in our advertisements and our marketing, “We are good, look at our faculty, what they’ve accomplished, but most importantly, look at our graduates and where they end up.” Very important. Your reputation is built largely on your graduates.

 

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Next, what do they look for in choosing an online program? Well, flexible class schedules is number one. How many starts do you have in a year? I’m dealing with an institution that has maybe one or two starts a year, and that is highly problematical. They want flexibility, they want to enter when they want to enter. If they want to begin to select an institution in March, they want to enter in April, so “how many terms do you have” is very important. Yesterday in our discussion, we said, “Wow, those six-week courses over 8 terms a year, that’s really smart. Or eight-week courses over six terms a year, and frequent start dates are very important to this online population.” Of course, time to complete, and that relates to the credits you accept, and also the frequency of learning throughout the year. I don’t need my summers off; I don’t need to stop in May and come back in September. I want to get out of here because—guess what?—I want to make that career change and get that income increase. And so on down the line. Probably… And this next table speaks for itself. These are the least important factors in choosing a program.

Marketing channels. This is very interesting. We said, “What are the best ways for us to alert you to an institution? Or if I’m… Let’s see, let me look here. We have Mary Baldwin in the audience, we have Liberty in the audience, what can we do, what mechanisms, what channels can we use to make you aware of our existence? And look at number one—Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Your search optimization is extremely important. Yesterday at our little showcase meeting here in New York, we had a great representative from Google, and she couldn’t make this point any louder or clearer. And she gave us great statistics on this, but look at number two. Scott and I are often amazed, even in our regional surveys of online demand, about the interest in direct mail, and what we conclude is that there’s a lot of email inundating now to us every day, every hour, every 10 minutes. So sometimes, and guess what? Because you’re going to be doing a lot of marketing regionally, direct mail is still a good idea. Something in their hands, in their mailbox, that they can hold and look at in contrast to all the media-oriented ways of communicating. And on down the line, you can see for yourself how this is a good way to identify how you should spend your marketing dollars. And we go down and down and down, and you can see of least importance is billboards and ads on Facebook in terms of making prospective students aware of your institution.

And here is some great news, I think this is the first time we’ve asked this question. What percent of online students use their mobile device—and that includes, correct me if I’m wrong, Scott, but that includes cell phones and iPads—in the selection process? And if you look at the “all” is 19 percent and “almost all” is 23, so you’ve got 42 percent that are die-hard mobile users, and 50 percent are “some” that are using it, so there’s no question that your advertisements, your marketing messages have to be mobile-friendly. And likewise, in online learning, we asked an interesting question. We said, “How interested would you be in using your mobile device for learning the curriculum?” And two-thirds—two-thirds, now I might say, “I don’t know how to learn on my mobile device,” but I’m not that 29-year-old undergraduate online student. But two-thirds of prospective online students expressed interest in using mobile during their studies, so that has something to do with the way you shape and format your curriculum. And very, very important information.

Speed of decision-making. Oh, goodness. We’re just doing a survey now for a college—we call it our lost customer surveys—of people who inquired but never took the next step in completing an application, and one of the reasons was they never heard back from the institutions. Somebody else got to them quicker, and some of our institutions wait days and weeks to get back to a prospect, and that is not fast enough. So, the question here was, “Did you enroll in the school that got back to you first with the information you requested?” Undergraduates, half, 50 percent almost, said, “Yes.” So, go back to your institutions or back to your offices, and say, “How long does it take us to respond to an inquiry?” In fact, in the survey I just told you about, in our first day of calling, we got 10 individuals that said, “Would you have the institution call us?” So, following up on why they left, it was because the institution didn’t get back with them, which is really sort of amazing. At the graduate level, it’s 57 percent—absolutely astonishing. And then the next question, in terms of speediness, “How long did it take you from the time you first started your search to completing your application?” And the answer was “less than 2 weeks,” 35 percent, “2-4 weeks,” 60 almost 70 percent. These aren’t people who are taking a long time; when they move, they’re ready to move. And you have to be ready to act. I talked to a school the other day where their call centers operate from 9 to 6 without Saturdays or Sundays, and that just doesn’t make it with this population. They’re working, they’re busy. I heard Sundays are the best days for calls, but you can’t do it your time. You have to do it their time.

 

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So, here’s our next poll question, right, Anthony? Let’s ask what it’s like out at your place. After an online student has applied to your school, how long does it take them to enroll in their first class? And so, the answers seem to be “less than 4 weeks” is… You got it yet? “Less than two weeks” 82 percent? … 62 percent. Very good, that’s excellent. And now, the rest of you, the 40 other percent, need to act… What is it? 36 or so percent. So, that’s not bad. A lot of you are paying attention. After submitting your application, how long did it take to enroll in your first class? Wow. And these are… They’re dealing with schools that have flexible terms, by the way, because if you’re going to do it in less than 2 weeks, those terms have to begin periodically, not just September and January or February. So, what is it? 28, 35, 63 percent enroll in their first class within the month. Are you able to say that to your students?

How do they pay for their online programs? Scholarships, if you’ve noticed among your competition, they are enticing individuals to come to their institutions, to make contact and become an inquire by saying, “We offer scholarships.” Very hot item. Of all the things you can offer to entice students to begin a discussion or an inquiry with your institution, is to promote a scholarship. And that’s way ahead of all the others. Many people in our audience yesterday wanted to know about the effect of scholarships, and both Scott and I say, “It’s a good effect and something you should be doing if you’re not going to lower your prices.” Okay, paying for online programs—so, we said to them, “Gee, what would be the minimum annual scholarship that would really influence your decision to go to college A versus college B?” It’s only $500 for about 40 percent of them. So, rather than give them discounts after they inquire, announce the scholarship to get them to inquire. That’s the message here.

And so, another question dealt with features of online programs that they found attractive or not. And the most attractive was, “one or more required on-campus courses to meet with classmates and instructors.” And guess what? Since most of them study within 100 miles, they can do that. And that’s a nice added feature. That they do get a bit of touch and feel, and if 70 percent of your people are within 100 miles, you can offer that contact, which obviously is very important to them. They also like internships, and the same things with on-campus face-to-face. And the reason they can say that is—don’t forget—70 percent of them were studying within 100 miles if it was not a little bit more. So, you can do things, now that you know that, at least with your nearby students, give them these opportunities and market these opportunities because this will make them reach out and will even begin a conversation for enrolling at your place.

Everybody’s been talking about competency-based education for so long, so we decided to ask online students about it. And here were the options: 20 percent at the bottom had never even heard of competency-based. At the top, 14 percent had enrolled or completed it, and there was some familiarity, but it doesn’t seem to be a loud message here. I think it still stands on the fringes, and really I don’t have a conclusion about this, but it was interesting to see the familiarity and the fact that 40 percent had never heard of it. And so on and so forth. Just something to bear in mind since many of you wonder about competency-based built into online programs and here’s what the prospective student knows or believes.

 

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So, we got some key takeaways. And Scott, do I have about 5 or 10 minutes?

Scott Jeffe: You do.

Carol Aslanian: Okay, I’ll be quick because I know… Do we have questions?

Scott Jeffe: We’ve got some rolling in already.

Carol Aslanian: Good. I’ll make this as quick as I can. So, some of the key takeaways, some of the conclusions from this earlier data, and some of the data we have that we can’t show you but if you get the full report, you’ll get it all. We’re growing in numbers of students who want online. It is not a stagnant format. It is not declining. There’s steady increase. So, if you’re going to do anything, if you’re going to expand it, that’s the right way ahead. They are cost sensitive, and we’ve given you some ideas about making cost more palatable and the scholarship idea and the fact that we do see some schools lowering their tuition, particularly those who say our online education is more expensive than our regular education—that doesn’t make sense, but they are cost sensitive. And when you can’t give them a big break in cost, there is something almost equally important and that is time. So, if you can say, “Look, we offer back-to-back courses over the course of the year, we get you out of here faster, you can get your salaries upgraded or change your job quickly, and that’s what you want. So, whereas we can’t give you cost reductions, we do give you time reductions, which is another way of measuring cost.” Mobile devices, without doubt, I think this is the first year we’ve asked this question and the data are quite clear. Both your search channels and approaches as well as your curriculum have to be mobile-friendly. They make decisions quickly, and you need to respond quickly. Based on your results, or at least those who gave us your answers, you seem to be doing that, but most of the schools I’ve visited and analyzed are a little bit too slow in getting their fair shares of those inquiries who happen to go elsewhere only because they happen to get their attentions from another school.

And here’s your key to success, where to spend your marketing dollars, spend most of it nearer than farther, unless you’re marketing special topics that you have to have a wider audience for, unique areas of study at higher levels of instruction, and so on and so forth. You have to analyze that for yourself by doing some demand studies on regional and national demand on the topics you want to offer. Yeah, computer science and IT graduate is growing, growing, growing, and as education declines, I guess what Scott and I’ve seen is not enough push on the computer and IT programs of studies that we think are merited or wanted. And, the best message I think here, online learning is ageless. You can’t have age minimums, you can’t say, “If you’re under 23, you can’t learn online.” You have to be inviting to everybody, those post-traditional students that we’ve talked about in the past are very online-oriented. It doesn’t matter their age; it depends on what their online format is, preference is. So, you’re marketing to younger, middle-aged, and somewhat older, but mostly younger and middle-aged people, but don’t ignore that younger population I think is going to grow at a faster pace than others. So, here we are and right on time. We are about 15 minutes to deadline. And so, Scott, you can take it from here, and you and I can both answer some questions.

Scott Jeffe: Alright. Can you hear me? Excellent, I’m going to jump right in to some questions that have already come in. And, Carol, the first question is, and this was a 2-part question. I’m going to ask you in 2 parts. The first question was, “Where can we find students who need an online education?” Note that I know we’re going to have a response for her about those who need it versus those who are demanding it. So, you may want to talk about that.

Carol Aslanian: What do we mean by “who needs it”? Do we mean, you’re not convincing them? Are you saying, “Where do we find students in our region that are seeking online education?” Because they know they are seeking it, I don’t think you talk them into online, I think they go to their websites, and they look for the areas of study they are looking to get involved in, and they probably know by then they wanted online.

Scott Jeffe: That’s exactly what I was getting. You know, all Aslanian research is based on the concept that you cannot create demand. You can meet demand and you can find the demander, but you’re not going to have much success if your campaign is on finding people who need it rather than finding people who want it. And, Carol, the follow-up question—and this might be seen as kind of a promotion but it literally did come in from the audience—“Are there businesses that are better than others at helping us find such students?”

Carol Aslanian: Sure. There are. There are a lot that really don’t give you much return for your dollar. There are businesses, and I guess we can say our own business—Education Dynamics has an excellent division called “Student Acquisition Services” where we offer hand-to-hand marketing advice, and we find the inquiries you need for special programs. We’re working right now with a Midwestern institution on a bachelor’s degree in leadership, and we are doing a great job in finding prospects in an area that is sort of new to them and maybe new to the public in general and finding prospects across the country. So, that’s something where it’s not regional, it could be regional, but this is something we go to a larger range for. And if you’re interested in more information about that capability, just give Scott or me a call and we’ll refer you to the right person. Yesterday, when we had our forum showcase in New York City, we had about, as I said, 20 schools represented, and that was the same question here: “How can we increase our inquiries?” Some of you are saying, it’s not as much the process of getting them enrolled, but we need the inquiries, especially for unique type programs that we have. For example, that PhD that we’re working on in Family Counseling and Guidance.

 

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Scott Jeffe: Alright. Someone else wrote in, “Does the decline in demand for graduate education programs correlate to a decrease in the total number of grads in that field since 2014?”

C: I don’t have the data for that. I’m sorry, but we would have to look overall at the topic whether it’s class-based or online to say that topic… For example, education has gone down. I think, Scott, this is one answer. Education as an area of study has decreased both on campus and online.

Scott Jeffe: Yeah.

C: Go ahead.

Scott Jeffe: There are two factors at play. One is that the demand for—the literal demand for—graduate education degrees has gone down because state after state is no longer incentivizing going after the master’s, but there is another factor at play in the data that we are presenting in that the increased demand for computer science degrees and a few other things makes the relative proportion of the market that is looking for education a less big piece of the pie, because, quite frankly, although educators are often ambivalent about online education, at the end of the day they love it. And there were certainly more graduate level education programs than there were graduate level computer science programs even two years ago. But this cannot mask the fact that overall demand for graduate level education programs have declined because of what the states are doing. Okay, another question, Carol. This is another interesting one, and this came in right after you made the point about direct mail. And somebody said, “Who do I direct mail for an online program?”

C: Good question. Well, once upon a time when we dealt with direct mail, we would… One way to look at it is we look at the demographics. If you can trace within 100 miles of your region, the demographics of what we’re showing you is to their income level and so forth, and there’s far more detail in the report. You can do searches for households that have—and they can only give you the head of household that have these characteristics.

Scott Jeffe: And the other point being that that doesn’t have to be a national campaign.

C: Oh, no. Locals.

Scott Jeffe: Yes. The increasing nature of online just being another local option that we’re not talking about, by any means, national direct mail.

C: No. Now, you could also go to your past inquiries who did not enroll. You can also go to your alumni who are still in the region, and many of them are, because they might’ve taken their undergraduate course and don’t think they can have the time to do online. So, you have two samples right at your fingertips that you can go to: inquires who did not enroll and it could’ve been because of your formats earlier, and alumni who did undergraduate work at your institution and now you may want to alert them to your online graduate.

Scott Jeffe: Yeah. There’s two questions about competency-based education. The first one is, “What is competency-based education?” And, do you want to take that one?

C: No, I’ll let you take it.

Scott Jeffe: Okay, well, competency-based education, for anyone that is unclear, is the computer-adaptive learning where there are not set courses of 8-week terms or 12-week terms or semesters. It is… You are working on a module of learning and if you could master that by pre-test by post-test—you could master it in a day—then you can move on to the next thing. If you can’t, you just keep on working on it until you’ve mastered it. You just get your certificate or degree in that manner. The second question is, “Is competency-based education the next emerging market?” Before you take a stab at that, Carol, here’s one thing from the data. When we first asked the question about competency-based five years ago, more than half the respondents knew nothing. Now we’re down to 20 percent that knew nothing. Now, there’s not a lot of participation and there’s not a lot of people that have a lot of in-depth knowledge, but visibility of such programs has increased significantly. Now, Carol, what do you think about that being the next emerging market?

Carol Aslanian: Well, I am not entirely sure it is. I’ve heard about competency-based education for five to six years. I’m still hearing about… I haven’t visited a college, and I visit maybe 15-25 institutions in a year, I haven’t been brought to an institution that says, “Help us with our competency-based education,” but maybe that’s just a bias on my part.

Scott Jeffe: Not a bias, and I think you’re absolutely right. My only PS on it is, as Carol and I always say, if Paul Leblanc at Southern New Hampshire University is doing it, you may want to at least put it on the back burner. And, of course, we know that he is with his college for America. Okay, let’s go on. We had a question that said, “How can I get a copy of the 2016 report?” I’ll just add that one. You can go to educationdynamics.com, look for our resources, and then whitepapers, it’s along the horizontal nav bar towards the right-hand side and you can download a copy of the report. What’s next? “When will CALEM 2017 registration be available?” Registration will be a couple of weeks, but we will have a request for proposals out—we’re targeting October 5th for having an email out to all of you that are on this call and a much wider audience, but we are hoping to have a shell program around October 15th. We have a lot of time, but we want to get people registered. And by the way, this year’s discounting of CALEM is going to be kind of inverse discounting. 50 percent off all registrations til a certain point, going to 40 percent, going to 30 percent, so we really are going to try to line up our audience and our speakers as early as possible. Alright, Carol, the next question for you. Oh, this is interesting. We’re back to the education topic. “Do you think the teacher shortage in places like Texas, California, Florida, and other states influences a change, will influence a change, or rebound graduate education programs?”

Carol Aslanian: Of course, because it would be demand. If you’re going to offer the programs, you need the teachers. That’s why we say, “This is your national template.” What we presented today is the nation, but when we recently went out to Indiana, for example, and took demand in Indiana and contiguous states for online education, that would be completely different if we went down to Houston or if we went down to Tampa or if we went to Oregon. What we present here is a national template. It is always very smart to be sensitive in projections for your immediate—and let’s say 100-mile radius—of what’s happening to jobs and the labor market. And that’s secondary data. You can get that from files and information bases at the national level and at the state level. What we do is get you primary data, as you can see, from actual consumers that will tell you, for example, if we did come down and analyze that area, we would find that demand because individuals are not going to demand topics of study for which there are no jobs, and when jobs seem to be growing, or the population needs to be changing in certain directions like pharmaceuticals in the twin cities of Minnesota, you will see it reflected in the demands of the prospective consumer.

 

Click Here to Watch the 2016 Online College Students Webinar

 

Scott Jeffe: I only have one little PS on that. Before you invest in a new graduate online education program, do take a look at whether your state… If there’s a teacher shortage but the state is still not incentivizing getting a master’s, be very careful. You may want to go with a  teacher prep program at an undergraduate level before you go with a graduate level one, so look at your state regulations and see what they’re doing for teachers being required a master’s degree. Carol, another question…

Carol Aslanian: One more point on that, Scott, it’s always good. And we had this many times yesterday, is check with your employers as well. All of you should have tight relationships with employers in your region, whether they’re on advisory councils or whether you have direct contact by invitational meetings to your institution and so forth, because they are a good reflection of what their market demands are. For example, in the study you’re doing right now for Brandman, in terms of what employers want on a contract basis, is also a good reflection of what the market is calling for from the employment sector.

Scott Jeffe: Alright. Another question: “In mounting our first online program, should we be looking for a niche program or a market-leading program?”

Carol Aslanian: Aha. Very good question. I’d say I’d do both. To cover myself, I’d probably do both. And it depends, remember, on your reputation in the area, your pricing, and that’s something I’d love you to call me about and we can discuss specifically your institution, what the topics are, because Scott and I have thought about this. For example, for one university we did an analysis nationwide for a sustainability certificate because we knew in this particular state there wouldn’t be enough people wanting a post-graduate in sustainability, but if we went nationwide we could get it. So, it’s very important to know the topic and where you rest, whether it should be, but please feel free to call me and we’ll give you our advice.

Scott Jeffe: You know, another piece on that, and I’m just thinking of something a colleague of ours said at one of these showcases that we do, your choice in that regard also has a lot to do with how much money from marketing you have to do, and what that—I’m just passing along information from a colleague—but here’s the thing. The marketing for an online MBA is going to cost you a lot more than the marketing for maybe a master’s in religious studies because the words that you have to buy on Google and all the things, they’re kind of auction-based. And so, if you’re in a market-leading program, the keywords and things that are such a key element of a digital marketing campaign cost a lot more. So, you just have to keep that in mind that the big name brand programs are going to make more, but they’re going to cost more to do too. And that’s one of Carol’s key things. We are living in an era of give-to-get.

Carol Aslanian: Right, good point.

Scott Jeffe: Carol, do you have anything to say on that? Because it’s such an important point today about you just cannot—

Carol Aslanian: Okay, I would like to say that most of you are really underpricing your marketing budget. What I see everywhere. Scott and I always said, “Figure out your revenue. You need a business plan. Let’s take a year’s business plan.” You should always have at the end of your business plan, how many students you’re objecting to bring in, what are you going to do to bring them in, and what’s the budgets? We would highly recommend budgets from 6 to 8 percent of revenue generated, so if you say, “I want 10 master students in area X, and each master student will bring in 15 thousand dollars a year, that’s 150,000 dollars, and they will stay on average 2 years, that’s 300,000 dollars, how much am I going to spend to bring in those 10 students?” Five percent of 300,000 dollars is about 15,000 dollars. Who wouldn’t spend 15,000 dollars for revenue of 300,000 dollars? That’s how you think about it, but most of your hands are tied because the dael hasn’t been struck. You’ve got to say to your administrators, “This is the plan, we’ll bring in this if you give us these resources. And these are the actions we’re going to take.” But you’ve got to stipulate the end goal, the procedures, and the revenue generated is only X percent… The money for marketing is only X percent of the return on this investment. That’s how you have to speak to get a budget to compete in this very, very competitive online domain.

 

Click Here to Watch the 2016 Online College Students Webinar

 

Scott Jeffe: Folks, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. There were a couple of great questions that didn’t get answered. One thing that I’m being told by questions is that there were no whitepapers where I said there were whitepapers. I’m so sorry to say that the website has been redesigned very recently. We are going to put a link to the download of the whitepaper—

Carol Aslanian: Scott, they’ve got to look at eBooks.

Scott Jeffe: Oh, I’m sorry. You can look under eBooks, but we will also put a—

Carol Aslanian: Underneath where it says eBooks.

Scott Jeffe: Resources and then eBooks on the Education Dynamics site.

Carol Aslanian: Right.

Scott Jeffe: So sorry, but we will put a link in one of the emails that comes to you soon about downloading the report. As a thank you for your participation in this webinar today, we would like to offer each participant a one-on-one 60-minute enrollment and marketing consultation that will focus on how you can apply these and other data to advance enrollments and operations at your institution. Your participation in that can be indicated on one of the emails that is going to come to you shortly after we finish the webinar today. Thank you very much for your interest. Thank you, Carol, for presenting, and we hope to see you all at a subsequent event, at CALEM or at an electronic event like the one we’ve just had. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

Carol Aslanian: Thank you.

 

Click Here to Watch the 2016 Online College Students Webinar

Anthony Levato
AUTHOR

Anthony Levato

I'm the Director of Marketing at EducationDynamics. I enjoy taking classes online, reading and writing about marketing, and riding my bicycle in New York City. You may contact me directly at alevato@educationdynamics.com

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