Those of us who came to Higher Ed after a stint in B2B or B2C marketing may have been surprised to learn the rather complicated financial structure of university life. We may have been used to simplistic formulas for evaluating online campaign success – merely weighing the profit return against the cost of the campaign itself. So, on our first day, we sit down – ready to take on the world – and confidently ask for the following numbers:

  1. The average profit brought in per student type per year
  2. The % of online applicants that become enrolled students for each student type (if we can track online application conversions on our site)
  3. And how long each student type (on average) attends our university

But we get stopped in our tracks at question #1. Why? Because in order to valuate the avg. profit brought in per student type per year, the formula looks something like this. (Avg. Tuition – Avg. Discount Rate – Avg. Cost of Student). And for many not-for-profits, this undergraduate “profit” number is a negative one.Even with the most perfectly designed and hyper-targeted online advertising campaign, there is no real net gain you can achieve.

So, for an institution that partially relies on donations, how can you justify the ROI of undergraduate prospect advertising? Well, at the very least, you can start comparing your online campaigns against each other – weighing each campaign’s individual success and re-prioritizing ad spend on the most effective… net losers.

Eric Olsen is the Web Content Manger for Lewis University, a mid-sized Catholic and Lasallian
University near Chicago, IL.

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