Over the past four years, my personal life as a parent of two college-bound children and my professional life where I spend time in the higher education space have been on one long, yet fascinating, head-on collision. It’s been an eye-opening look at enrollment marketing from two divergent vantage points.
In the battle for the affections of my offspring and my all-too-meager tuition savings (if you don’t mind, we can explore that confession another day), colleges have wasted a lot of resources on my kids.
It’s not that the colorful, photography rich brochures, invitations, emails and phone calls (kudos to those friendly, yet determined recruiters) weren’t appreciated. I analyzed them like an archaeologist on a dig. It’s simply that they missed their mark.
Look, I think Thing One and Thing Two are great catches, too, but the simple truth is that these colleges weren’t “right fit” opportunities for them at the right time. And some never will be.
Midway through his senior year, the eldest decided to go to community college to save money before transferring to a well-known state university, fulfilling the plan that he had in place while barely out of his blue-and-gold diapers. No other college was on the radar. Not ever.
The youngest is a hockey player who hopes to play in college while pursuing a degree in engineering technology or a related field. With a year or two of junior hockey in front of him, he won’t be enrolling anytime soon. The colleges that were reaching out to him during his senior year may indeed be good fits for him in the future, but not then and not now. As the saying goes, timing is everything.
I realize that not every college that contacted my kids considered them to be top prospects, but the ones that did were not privy to the nuances of their unique circumstances. Therein lies the challenge.
In the face of shrinking pools of prospects, rising costs, fierce competition and smaller marketing budgets, colleges need to operate with precision now more than ever. It’s time to shift the paradigm from searching for the right students to attracting them. Hunt less. Be found more.
Magic can happen when a college is armed with a clear understanding of their institutional brand and the prospects who best fit on their campus and they can convey these—in content, images, actions and voice—across all marketing and outreach channels in a strategic, systematic manner. Less push. More pull. That’s the beauty of inbound marketing.
In the meantime colleges, keep me in mind next year if you have an engineering technology program and a hockey team. I have someone you may want to meet.