The Rising Cost of Student Recruitment: It Doesn’t Have to Be this Way
By: Laura Sheehan
When I first read “The Spending War on Student Recruitment” (by John Katzman), I thought, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” That’s ironic coming from me, but this is absurd! Just when we all should be focused on reducing costs, Katzman writes, marketing has become “the most expensive component of a higher education.”
Katzman attributes out-of-control costs to current recruitment tactics, specifically the increased amount spent on enrollment marketing. Predicting that recruitment budgets will grow tenfold, he calls for a “statutory or regulatory” solution. After all, Katzman argues, none of this serves institutions or students effectively: swelling enrollment leads to expansion which leads to a push for more capital.
And he’s right. It really doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a much more expedient, affordable, and effective way to recruit students these days — one that eases admissions counselors’ work load, keeping them focused on cultivating relationships and guiding prospects through the funnel.
Work Smarter Not Harder
To maximize efficiency and reach, start incorporating inbound, digital strategies — tactics that cultivate targeted, high-yield leads. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, “inbound” is a form of marketing that uses content to attract like-minded prospects. In essence, they find you — based on mutual interests — and enter your admissions funnel on their own.)
This is done best through your institutional website and/or via digital student search campaigns.
Websites as Recruiters
All research on how students search for college cites the institutional website as the “make it or break it” point early in the search. Consider this: 80% of college bound high school seniors say they judge an institution on its website. Furthermore, 60% equate the quality of a website to the quality of education provided by the institution.
Students expect websites to be fast & flawless; they expect to find the information they’re seeking in 8 seconds or less. Beyond delivering to students’ expectation, websites can actively recruit on their own. With the right strategy, navigation, content and design, websites can bring in a significant percentage of your class, leaving your counselors free to cultivate relationships.
Our first enrollment-driven website attracted 37% of the institution’s class via engagement forms — and experienced a 54% yield. (For more, see “Enrollment-driven Higher Ed Websites: A Recruitment Solution”)
Seeking Right-fit Students Online
Digital search campaigns reach students where they are: online. In addition to Google AdWords, these campaigns reach prospects on various social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.).
- Targeted: ads appear in the news feeds of those whose interests, goals, and demographic traits connect to the particular institution
- Affordable: you set the budget and pay only when a user clicks on an ad (thereby getting the secondary benefit of brand awareness)
- Effective, when done right: ads should lead users to a specifically crafted landing page for conversion
Katzman is right once again when he takes marketing vendors to task, noting that “colleges hire shady companies to generate clicks and inquiries.” In fact, my own venture into digital marketing came when, as an associate vice president for marketing, I hired a firm that did not deliver on its promises. However, it’s not hard to decipher the good from the bad once you know what works. For guidance, read “6 Tips to Guide your Decision when Hiring a Digital Marketing Firm.”
How to Start
I firmly believe that the best recruiting comes from blending the “best of the old” with the “best of the new” — and that particular blend is different for every institution. Start by analyzing your current tactics to determine what’s working and what’s not. I worked for one university that did this and was surprised to find that their biggest expense (travel) yielded very little (2.6%), especially compared to the 18% yield generated by their enrollment-driven website.
Reallocate funding and start incorporating digital strategies. Take a good look at your website, especially in comparison to how students access it in the decision-making process. Streamline their experience and then create content that reaches (and converts) right-fit students.
And don’t be shy: contact me if you have questions or want to brainstorm. Things have to change. In his article, Katzman refers to recruitment spending as the “real arms race in higher education.” If things continue as they are now, recruiting could become the biggest expense in higher education — and one that will no doubt be passed on to students.