Rising student loan debt has increased public scrutiny on the value of higher education and led to a rising trend of students—particularly those interested in continuing, professional, and adult education options—to cautiously consider the career benefit and ROI. But while many adult learners may have specific programs in mind as they begin a formal search for educational options, many others instead seek to understand the career opportunities available to them and only later consider further education as a way to achieve an identified professional goal.
This propensity to search for educational options based on quantifiable outcomes is most noticeable among a largely untapped audience of prospective COE students: early- to mid-career professionals who are dissatisfied in their current role and seeking to make a change either in their position or career. These individuals represent the next growth opportunity for COE marketers and program developers.
The job site Indeed.com finds that the vast majority of job seekers conduct at least one search for positions outside of their own occupation category, and many do not search within their own occupation category at all. A recent study of career changer behavior conducted by Nielsen highlights these primary factors that dissatisfied professionals cite as barriers to making the change—
- 43% cited lack of financial security
- 39% cited uncertainty over what career to choose
- 36% cited lack of adequate education or experience
To capture the attention of this growing professional student market, COE marketers must craft messages that alleviate this population’s specific anxieties and articulate a clear path towards career satisfaction and success.
Triggering interest from career starters
COE units serve a diverse audience of nontraditional students, most of whom seek applied educational offerings directly related to available employment opportunities. These prospective adult and professional students increasingly require marketers and program directors to demonstrate what value they can expect from enrolling in a given program.
However, many institutions still lack the information or the messaging to answer those types of questions. To mitigate declining enrollments and address the career concerns of increasingly skeptical prospective students, Ivy Tech Community College’s director of marketing developed an integrated marketing campaign that highlights local and regional hiring trends, and how students can take advantage of those trends, rather than emphasizing specific programs.
The first layer of the campaign relied on promoted posts on social media platforms such as Facebook, personalized to the career goals and motivations of Indiana’s working and middle classes. The advertisements used labor market data to highlight local career opportunities, focusing on a single occupation’s average earnings, projected job growth, or open positions.
While social media advertisements represent a particularly effective aspect of the campaign, Ivy Tech’s website, print collateral, and other outreach strategies all contain similar labor market value propositions. For example, a prospective student who clicks a labor market advertisement will arrive at a webpage that organizes available program options around that advertised occupational opportunity. Further, Ivy Tech’s director of marketing personalized advertisements to reflect local employment opportunities, support state and local workforce development priorities, and highlight programs and training options unique to a given campus or satellite facility.
Multi-channel campaign boosts growth and savings
The integrated career-focused marketing campaign at Ivy Tech resulted in demonstrable cost savings and enrollment gains, benefitted the marketing team, and supported prospective students and the local professional community by helping to match potential employees to open positions and educational options aligned to those positions. Further, because Ivy Tech charges no application fee, prospective student interest in labor market opportunities highlighted in digital advertisements easily converts into applications and, ultimately, enrollments. Ivy Tech experienced a 15% savings on their target cost-per-application as well as 4% overall enrollment growth despite double-digit industry-wide enrollment declines.
Focusing advertisements around occupational or labor market categories, rather than single programs, allowed the marketing team to effectively boost interest in all programs related to a given occupation. That efficiency, combined with the targeting capabilities that social media platforms provide, allowed the marketing team to reach a greater share of its target student population for a lower total cost. Prospective students received genuinely valuable informational content related to local employment opportunities, regardless of their decision to ultimately apply for and enroll in a given program.
Entering an era of hyper-targeting
Not only does online advertising align with the communication preferences of today’s consumers, but it allows organizations to better target their marketing investments. Many online advertising platforms allow organizations to deliver ads to specific audiences defined by their demographics, location, or behavior.
- Demographics: Adjust target audience based on age, gender, education, income, or other criteria
- Location: Place ads in designated regions, neighborhoods, or individual buildings
- Behavior: Present ads to particular groups of individuals based on past browsing activity
These increasingly sophisticated targeting capabilities allow COE units to focus their limited advertising budgets on high-yield audiences. For example, on many popular advertising platforms, units can deliver marketing messages to audiences within the same age, occupational category, or geographic range as current students. Moreover, on platforms such as Facebook, ads may even target audiences with demonstrated interest in a specific field based on the pages they “like” and “follow.”
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Marketing Across the Program Lifecycle