In Fall 2016, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1.4 percent from the previous fall, according to the National Student Clearing House Research Center.
But why are many institutions seeing their undergraduate enrollment rates climbing during this period of overall declines? In fact, the top 10 universities with the most undergraduate students account for more than 436,000 enrollments, collectively.
What are these institutions doing differently and what changes can your institution make to compete?
Thankfully, many of the changes necessary for enrolling more undergraduate students at your institution require no additional investment of capital; just an understanding of the preferences of your prospective undergraduate student, and a bit of effort. Let’s take a look at four ways you can increase your undergraduate enrollments taken directly from our new eBook: The Definitive Guide to Undergraduate Recruiting
1. Optimize your web presence
Forty-one percent of online students use a school’s website as their primary source of detailed information about a certain program (according to data found in the 2016 Online College Students Report).
In today’s digital world, your institution’s website is the most front-facing extension of your brand and is often a prospective student’s first impression of your institution and programs. Your online presence is incredibly important. In a recent study on higher education recruiting by Hanover Research, the most successful undergraduate recruiting institutions focus their websites on being engaging, responsive, and accessible on multiple platforms – including mobile.
In fact, mobile search surpassed desktop search in 2015, yet many undergraduate institutions have developed their websites for mobile as a mere afterthought. Considering millennials are almost entirely mobile, you must cater to the way they interact with your brand.
But what’s a great website if no one can find it? While digital marketing is incredibly important for your brand, it only captures a portion of all web traffic. Did you know that the first page of Google receives over 70 percent of search traffic clicks? A well executed search engine optimization strategy could be the difference between reaching your undergraduate enrollment goals or not.
Finally, the only way to know for certain that you’re reaching your target audience is to use a web analytics platforms such as Google Analytics. Doing so will allow you to fine tune your tactics, test various campaigns, and optimize your marketing strategy.
2. Be smarter with your social strategy
People spend on average 50 minutes of their day on Facebook, which is more than they spend reading, exercising, and attending live events – combined.
In fact, among the 1,500 prospective students surveyed for the 2016 Online College Students Report by Aslanian Market Research and The Learning House, Facebook was the most popular social media platform for doing their school research. You want to ensure you put your best foot forward. Social media allows institutions to reach their optimal demographic and personalize messaging to them without the waste of traditional broad-based media buys.
The first step in mastering social media is to determine the persona you will be targeting, which must always be backed by professional higher education market research. Once you’ve determined the right persona for your institution, building an audience within your social media account is easy. However, what’s often more difficult is consistent messaging and branding that not only speaks to your audience but also your brand identity. Try to find a tone that strikes a balance between informative, friendly, relatable, and professional.
It’s important to remember your social media strategy should have calls-to-action (CTAs) urging prospective students to take the next desired step. Now, that doesn’t mean asking for the student to enroll right away, as this may be off-putting. Instead, focus on building rapport and adding value first with non-committal CTAs, such as “Learn More” or “See What’s Next.” The landing page that follows can then ask the prospective student for an email address or to schedule a follow-up call with an admissions advisor.
3. Leverage your university network
Determine the key influencers in your network (faculty, admissions officers, current students, and alumni) and use them to act as ambassadors for your school—both online and 0ff.
When a prospective undergraduate student is considering whether an institution or program would be a good fit for them, having the story of another student or former alumni with similar circumstances may help them make the right decision. In addition, 42 percent of students claimed a university’s network was the most important factor in where they applied, according to a study by World Education News & Review.
Your university network should include everyone from faculty members, current students, and admissions officers, all the way to alumni. Perhaps your next brand ambassador is a professor working on groundbreaking research; or maybe a graduate who started their own successful business; or even a current student blogging about their experiences at your institution.
Blogging by current students has become a popular tactic for some of the biggest and most successful undergraduate recruiting institutions. But if you don’t have the bandwidth or resources for blogging, try producing short videos highlighting current students or alumni success stories. Don’t worry if they are low production quality, as it will only add to their authenticity; focus instead on delivering a message that offers value and speaks to your prospects.
You could even host live online recruitment events with alumni who are willing to answer questions from prospective students. They are effective and eliminate the cost of traveling and the logistics of having an in-person event.
4. Talk careers, speed-to-completion, and financial aid
The most important factors for prospective undergraduate students when deciding whether to pursue an education are jobs, speed, and money.
A study by UCLA claimed that 87.9 percent of freshmen said the primary reason they went to college was to get a job upon graduation. Marketing collateral that demonstrates how a degree can help prospective students achieve their goals can be a extremely persuasive. Sometimes it’s as simple as mentioning the employment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree is 89 percent vs. only 79 percent for those with some college but no degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. You can also include career-specific salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so students can develop an idea of cost of earning a degree vs. real-world salary.
Prospective students no longer want to spend four years of their life getting a degree. A delayed graduation can result in tens of thousands of dollars in additional loans for a prospective student. Not only does this create stress for your students but high loans can also impact their ability to be financially successful later in life, which will ultimately tarnish your institution’s reputation.
While some factors related to delayed graduation are outside of your control (including the inability to register for required courses, credits lost in transfer and remediation sequences), others are easily avoidable. Consider reviewing your registration process or your credit transfer requirements. These are small changes that can have an immense impact on your institution’s reputation, and long-term undergraduate recruitment success.
Finally, don’t forget that financial aid is still incredibly important to prospective undergraduate students.
Consider this: in 2014, 85 percent of undergraduate students seeking a degree or certificate at a 4-year institution received some form of financial aid, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Make sure to place the necessary information and resources for those seeking financial aid front and center on your website. Also, think about creative ways to share financial aid information with your prospective students, such as blog articles, videos, brochures, and infographics. With the vast majority of your prospective undergraduate students requiring some financial assistance, placing the information in plain view is an easy way to alleviate their concerns.
While these four tips should help you form the basis of a sound undergraduate recruitment strategy, they’re only the start. To learn all the tips for recruiting undergraduate students, download our free eBook: The Definitive Guide to Undergraduate Recruiting.