The University of Phoenix’s parent company expects adult enrollments to drop as much as 40% this year, Bloomberg Businessweek reported this week in ”Apollo, Educations Shares Slide on Bleak Enrollment Outlook.” This expected drop, due to proposed new government regulations tying federal financial aid dollars to outcomes, will present new opportunities and dangers to private and public colleges alike.
While the marketing communication strategies of many for-profits are no doubt above-board, the predatory practices of other institutions are now under the watchful eye of Congress and the national media. For instance, earlier this year a Time Magazine article asked, “For-Profit Colleges – Educators or Predators?” Adverse publicity may cause prospective students to look more closely at nonprofit public and private institutions. This could increase enrollments in both graduate and continuing education programs.
Dangers to Nonprofits
Nonprofit colleges and universities cannot afford to sit back and wait for an influx of students into their institutions. It may not happen. As unemployment continues to hover around 10%, students realize that even with their chosen degree there’s no guarantee they’ll get the job they seek. As a result, a number of institutions no longer have the number of inquiries and applications they saw just a year or two ago.
Facing declining revenues, many nonprofits will likely work harder to enroll the students who are still out there. Their marketing communication strategies will be better focused and their campaigns more appealing. Even in a traditional education center like New England, marketing expenditures by aggressive for-profits will undoubtedly increase. How can traditional private and public institutions effectively compete for a shrinking pool of prospective students?
Competing for a Shrinking Pool of Students
One way nonprofits can compete successfully is to carefully target their marketing communications to the factors that motivate their students. After all, every student who returns to college does so for one main reason – his or her own reason. Of course, no college or marketing communications company can understand an individual student’s motivation ahead of time. But clearly there are a few common themes, including:
· Career Advancement
· Career Change
· Job Security
Research by social psychologists has found that a key to capturing an audience’s attention is personal relevance. In one study, adults were much more likely to pay careful attention to a message only if it personally affected them. An interesting message without personal relevance got little response. But coming to know what is personally relevant to individual prospects isn’t easy.
Direct Marketing to the Rescue
Personal direct marketing campaigns, if conceived and designed well, can help you learn who is interested in furthering their education and what will motivate them. This medium allows for the kind of segmentation that’s impossible with mass media. College marketing officers can use a one to one communication approach, tailoring the message each demographic group will receive to appeal to the probable needs of that group. They can send a series of tailored communications to each group, each appealing to a different motivation. If they drive prospects to a response website with personalized URL (pURL) technology, they will know which message generated their response. And even if this campaign doesn’t produce an application they will know each prospect's motivation, information they need for further, even more effective communications.
A Strategy with Increased Effectiveness
Research and some twenty years of experience shows that there is one additional strategy that can significantly increase response rates with prospective students. What is it? Stay tuned.