I recently read a Washington Post article citing a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It found that 52 percent of private colleges and 44 percent of public colleges didn’t meet their enrollment goals this past fall (2017). This figure is not surprising, given how ultra-competitive higher education has become and the number of colleges incoming candidates can choose from. Gone are the days for well-established colleges and universities to easily fill their seats. Meeting enrollment objectives is one of the biggest challenges faced by colleges today.
What is being done to improve the ability to access, engage, nurture and enroll quality candidates? As the enrollment numbers show, many colleges and universities seem to be struggling to find a successful solution.
If You’re Still Using Snail Mail, Think Again
Colleges continue to rely heavily on traditional “student search” to access, recruit and convert students throughout the admissions cycle. Traditionally, colleges purchase contact lists of hundreds of thousands of high school juniors and seniors including names, email addresses and home addresses from lead sources such as College Board, ACT, NRCCUA, and others. Then the student search begins.
A typical search campaign might consist of a series of emails sent to these students. At this stage of the recruitment process, these students have not demonstrated any interest in the institutions sending them recruitment materials. Some schools may mail a form letter, consisting of several paragraphs, in a plain No. 10 envelope. Some will mail postcards about their open house or other admissions events. While others may even enlist the help of a call center manned by current students.
The cost for this entire process is significant. According to a 2018 report by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, the average per-student recruiting expenditure in 2017 for a four-year college or university was slightly under $2400, making the cost to recruit just 1,000 students each year at close to $2.4 million. The number for public universities is lower, but still significant at an average cost of $536 per student. Meaning a large state university can spend on average $1.35 million to recruit 2500 students.
Gen Z’s Mobile First Mindset
This process is clearly not working, so why are colleges still attempting to communicate with students using these outdated channels? Traditional marketing tactics such as phone and direct mail as are not effective with this demographic. A recent survey showed only 13% of Gen Z want brands to communicate with them by mail. Why? Today’s digital age students digest content in a much different ways than generations before them. Gen Z teens are our first “neo-digital natives”; connected to technology 24/7. On average today’s students get their first smartphone at the age of 12. They communicate and consume bite sized chunks of information every day in one place – on mobile apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, WeChat and others. Just how much mobile communication is going on? Studies show that 52% of teens are using messaging apps 3+ hours per day, with up to 150 interactions per day. And they prefer their content served up digitally via social media (34%), email (33%) and digital ads (28%).
The traditional recruitment approach has created a huge disconnect. Colleges don’t know anything about these students other than test scores, geographic location, ethnicity, and other non-relevant pieces of data. They purchase names of students whom they think are a good fit based on this data and spew out emails, snail mail, and even digital banner ads. There is nothing personalized about the experience. Students don’t tune in, and if anything, immediately tune out to this outdated method of marketing.
Another challenge of this approach is that colleges must wait until student test lists (SAT, ACT, etc.) are available, usually late in the junior year of high school. High school counselors, parents, and students begin to think about and discuss careers and study paths long before junior year.
It begs the question, why haven’t colleges and universities embraced mobile apps to more effectively communicate with this next generation of students who live and breathe on their phones? And wouldn’t it be helpful to start student outreach sooner in their search process?
Solving the Enrollment and Communications Gap
What if there were a mobile-based college search and recruitment platform that enables colleges to better attract, access, and engage with qualified candidates? The good news is it already exists. College Interactive (Ci) has developed a platform for student recruitment that meets students where they are – on their mobile devices.
CiEngage provides colleges and universities with unprecedented access to communicate with their target audiences via a mobile app – early in the search process and often. It provides a platform to attract and engage students with mobile search and intent based marketing. Rather than marking to uninterested candidates you can develop qualified leads from students who actually interact with your college profile and gain additional insight through personal communications and important information delivered through the app to assure that your message is connecting with the students you are looking to apply and enroll.
Learn more about CiEngage and how it’s changing the enrollment game with the next generation of college search and student recruitment tools.