Access new audiences of working professional students—without spending more on digital ads

When most marketers think about growing program enrollments, they turn to a recognizable playbook of advertising channels and digital strategies to generate interest. But when prospective students are adult learners and working professionals, they can’t easily be identified or reached. In such cases, communities of interest and affinity groups can provide a ready-made leads list for new and proposed degree programs. Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) unit applies this approach to the popular digital platform Meetup.com to attract working professionals to new or proposed programs.

Form a win-win partnership with an existing Meetup group

Meetup.com is a global platform that enables users to create communities around shared personal and professional interests. SMU’s CAPE team develops partnerships with existing Meetup groups and creates new ones where a group doesn’t already exist for a given professional interest.

Where a group exists, a specialist from the SMU CAPE team will attend Meetup events and connect with the organizer to formalize a partnership for SMU to cosponsor events and provide meeting space. In exchange, SMU receives access to the group’s members and gets feedback on course and certificate design from the group. With dozens of potential Meetup groups to work with in a given field, SMU CAPE prioritizes those with programs over 1,000 group members and that meet at least once per month.

CAPE’s program specialist approached a large and successful user experience Meetup group, organized by the leading UX professional in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area. After formalizing CAPE’s partnership with the group and recruiting the organizer to develop and teach in a UX certificate program, the Meetup group has become the primary recruitment vehicle for the program. CAPE’s program specialist is able to notify Meetup group members of program start dates and offers discounted rates for attendees to encourage enrollment.

How to create a new Meetup group from scratch

When a Meetup group doesn’t already exist, a program specialist from SMU CAPE will search for a relevant industry professional with a large following, using blogs and social media to identify and contact a potential co-organizer for a new Meetup group.

SMU CAPE’s program specialist hoped to develop a data visualization certificate, but no local data visualization Meetup group or professional organization existed. Instead, she identified a popular local data visualization professional with a large blog and social media following. She approached him to not only lead a Meetup group, but also to help design and teach in a new data visualization program.

Beyond enrolling Meetup group attendees directly into programs, SMU’s CAPE team have used partnerships with Meetup groups to inform their program development strategy. SMU CAPE assesses Meetup group attendance and participation to gauge interest in a proposed program and size the potential market in advance of program launch. Group events, in addition to convening large groups of prospective students, also serve as a venue for auditioning potential instructors from the local professional community.

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