How community colleges can win prospective student mindshare in the digital age

With limited recruitment funds, marketing must focus on ROI for both college and student

The rise of social and mobile media has fundamentally changed prospective college students’ behaviors at an unprecedented rate. Mobile traffic surpasses desktop while marketing struggles to remain relevant across channels. The increased availability of information in the digital age means colleges struggle to capture prospective students’ attention through historical marketing methods.

Digital ad spend grew 86.3% from 2011-2015, yet the percent of internet users who block ads nearly doubled from 2014 to 2017. At current course and speed, the cost of competing in the marketing arms race will rapidly become unsustainable for budget conscious colleges.

Limited funds call for strategic bets

Community colleges lag behind universities in recruitment investment for new students, spending less than a third of four-year publics, and one twentieth of four-year privates. A community college enrollment management dean recently described this difference: “My career spans 12 years—six years at four-year schools and six years at community colleges. Our recruitment strategies are worlds apart. It’s not even apples and oranges. It’s more like zebras and runway models.” With smaller marketing budgets, community colleges must direct their marketing funds to the highest-ROI activities to attract the attention of the constantly connected prospective student.

Using labor market data to paint a vision of career success

Ivy Tech

Traditional community college marketing prioritizes direct enrollment solicitations and describes available programs at a college, often with the emphasis on low tuition. The addition of relevant career information into this content, such as wage potential for graduates, can have a big impact on capturing prospective students' attention. Ivy Tech Community College realized the aspirational taglines from traditional college marketing campaigns would not serve their career outcome-minded students and parents.

As an alternative, they used career data in geotargeted ads to achieve personalized marketing at scale. What made this different is relevant labor market data infused print collateral, website, and program pages to create a fully integrated, multi-channel marketing campaign focused on career outcomes, not programs.

Learn how colleges are changing their recruitment strategies to increase enrollments

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