Strategies for Increasing College and University Enrollment – A Higher Education Marketing Agency Perspective

Strategies for Increasing College and University Enrollment: A Higher Education Marketing Agency

Elliance, a higher education enrollment marketing agency, has built a reputation by both increasing and growing enrollment for more than 100 colleges and universities. Founded on the principle of right-fit matchmaking, our recommended strategies revolve around six core beliefs. First, if they can’t find you, they can’t buy you. Second, if they do find you, you can’t bore them into buying from you. Third, back your claims with proofs. Fourth, ensure that students are able to see themselves at your institution. Fifth, pursue right-fit students at all cost. Sixth, you must be easy to do business with. All our recommended actions for increasing and growing college enrollment revolve around these core beliefs:

1. Activate a Winning Strategic Plan

Winning, not playing and optimizing, is what successful college presidents focus on. To create an inflection point, they sometimes deepen their competitive advantages and at other times disrupt and challenge the status quo.

College presidents lead strategic planning based on thorough, objective assessment of institutional strengths and weaknesses in the context of societal shifts. They involve board members, faculty, alumni and corporate partners in their strategic planning process. To enact change, presidents must be keen observers, strong persuaders and strategic communicators. Their challenge is to effectively use key framing questions to challenge old ways, butcher a few sacred cows and tell stories that infuse new worldviews.

To become a school of consequence, you must behave like one.

2. Define a distinctive hook

Consider declaring a unique hook, like offering a graduate-in-four-years guarantee (e.g. Randolph-Macon College), a job placement guarantee (e.g. Capitol Technology University) or a tuition lock (e.g. William Woods University grad and online programs). Parents and students are attracted to colleges willing to stand behind their commitment to graduate students on time and help them get a job.

3. Invest In A Brand. Speak with One Brand Voice.

In the sea of sameness, brands win. A brand is the sum of all experiences, be they virtual, experiential or architectural interactions. It is the DNA of an institution that affirms its purpose, defines its core values and highest ideals, creates distinction, and is the foundation of its reputation. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences, but strike different notes for each segment of students, alumni, donors, partners and influencers.

All great higher education marketers engage in branding to position their colleges and universities as institutions of consequence.

4. Grow Your Reputation

Great colleges curate, orchestrate and elevate their content strategy to deftly manage their institutional destiny with flagship publications, storytelling on websites and social media channels.

They maximize their content productivity and amplify their thought leadership with a Keyword Lexicon –  comprised of high-value words and phrases you can rightfully “own” in service of both attracting right-fit students and building an impeccable reputation. They insist that each and every piece of content a college produces is infused with keywords, so it can secure its rightful Google page 1 rankings.

They widen their content reach beyond alumni and friends to influence people who aren’t aware of their college brand. They measure and communicate the economic impact of their institutions.

Google page 1 rankings are destiny. When you secure them, traditional rankings will also follow suit.

5. Offer In-Demand Degrees

Offer an academic portfolio to prepare students for the near and far future. This can take various forms.

You could become a niche college. If you are a niche college, offer an inch-wide, mile-deep portfolio of programs. Palo Alto University offers psychology degrees only, Wheelock College offers child development programs only, Capitol Technology is Washington DC and Maryland’s STEM university, and Thunderbird School of Management specializes in International business only. Inch-wide, mile deep.

You can also become a professionally minded liberal arts college. For instance, Bryant University will not let a student graduate in business without a liberal arts minor and vice versa.

If you are a broad based educator, offer a largest variety of majors and minors. Catholic University of America, for instance, offers more than 400 degrees.

6. Make First Impressions Count

First impressions matter.

  • Create a transformative website. Create an impeccable website. Make it beautiful. Invest in high-fidelity academic program pages. Make it alumni success centered. Make it outcomes centric. Make it conversion friendly. Make it search engine friendly. Make it responsive. Make it accessible. Feature institutional reputation points. Showcase groups of students in social settings. Celebrate campus life. Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
  • Make your social media about your students, alumni, faculty and experiences.
  • Claim your Google page 1 rankings – ensuring the information that appears on search engine results is persuasive and inviting.
  • Create high-impact open houses, information sessions, and campus tours.
  • Make your classrooms, admissions décor, facilities and grounds beautiful because beauty engenders confidence.

Remember you become the story you choose to tell.

7. Create a Culture of Service

Of course you ought to create an adaptive, dynamic and participative campus culture that’s inclusive, diverse and respects differences. Of course your students, faculty, and staff must reflect the emerging realities of our pluralistic culture, society and world. But what people crave most is a psychologically safe environment, a culture of reciprocity, and an ethos of giving to students, others and society.

It’s not the strongest, nor the fittest, but the most caring that flourish.

8. Build relationships with corporation and community

Higher education institutions live in an ecosystem of mutually beneficial relationships with corporations and community organizations as natural allies. Creating porous walls between the institution and these natural allies is an integral part of the job of everyone at the college. The external partner relationships are valuable in three ways:

  • Parents and community members exert considerable influence on future students’ enrollment decisions when they are choosing a college.
  • External partners offer students internships, co-ops and jobs.
  • As government research funding has dried up, corporations, civic organizations and alumni-led entrepreneurial companies have stepped in to form a new source of college revenue.

These allies can create opportunities for forming new institutional trajectories.

9. Build your athletics

Nothing builds school spirit better than athletics and intramural sports. That’s true whether a college is a Division 1, 2 or 3 sports school. Support athletics. Contrary to common belief, the athletes’ habit of achievement transcends sports into their personal, academic and professional lives. Nurture them.

10. Serve diverse audiences and support them

Explore and harvest new student streams such as adult students, online learners, distance learners, graduate students, international students, and professional development communities.

Recruit, enroll and support students, faculty and staff from diverse faiths, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds. Allocate budgets to fund talented teams, effective management practices and smart technologies so the college is prepared to serve and support the various student segments.

In a college, the needs of your students must come first. Care of the students will create a reservoir of life-long memories and goodwill you’ll need to create lifelong relationships. A diversified culture and revenue stream will also future-proof you.

11. Deploy enrollment practices for growth

Since the vast majority of colleges are tuition dependent, your enrollment team must achieve predictable and reliable enrollment revenue for your college by attracting increasingly robust, motivated and diverse students.

  • Embrace machine learning, algorithmic and big data driven enrollment marketing strategies.
  • Invest in CRM and Marketing Automation software.
  • Fish where the fish are (hint: digital media).
  • Attract and enroll only right-fit students.
  • Activate an effective marketing air game. Understand target audiences. Create psychographic and demographic personas. Fortify academic program pages. Deploy smart paid and SEO strategies. Conduct email marketing. Activate traditional media and PR. Deploy both traditional admissions funnel and inverted admissions funnel strategies.
  • Communicate with influencers. Because students are heavily influenced by their peers, parents, teachers, college counselors in high schools, and principals. Ensure you proactively communicate with influencers. 
  • Mobilize a strong boots-on-the-ground game plan. Foster relationships with high schools. Encourage campus visits. Provide virtual tours. Attend industry conferences and events where prospects might be competing in competitions.
  • Create feeders. Offer summer camps and pre-college programs.  Cultivate relationships with attendees and their families.
  • Follow-up on a timely basis. Activate a personalized contact strategy system by a partially automated comm-plan.

You are recruiting students who’ll be your brand ambassadors and life-long donors. It pays to invest in attracting, converting and retaining the right-fit students.

12. Build an endowment war-chest to improve student experience and rankings

Recall that 60% of the US News ranking is based on selectivity (25%) and placement success (35%). With a solid endowment war-chest, you’ll be able to:

  • Modernize your facilities
  • Contain the class sizes
  • Attract the best-fit students
  • Manage the placement of your graduates
  • Keep the student/faculty ratio as small as possible

13. Respond to trends

Adapt and refine your strategies based on the evolving landscape of education and the preferences of your target audience.

If you are seeking an enrollment marketing agency to grow enrollment for your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.