What Works Now – Aligning Your Marketing for Today’s Enrollment Marketing Landscape

Posted: November 9, 2022

Joy George Proofreader

On November 3, Dana Cruikshank, VisionPoint’s Vice President of Market Strategy, along with Casey Nelson and Victoria Navarro, both Senior Digital Marketing Specialists for VisionPoint, hosted a webinar focused on what is working now to reach prospective students and how to use that information to keep the applicant pool full in the midst of shifting demographics, changing perspectives around higher education, and the need to find new groups of students to nurture.

Current State Overview

The current state of the higher education industry might seem like it’s on life support. Opinions of the importance of education are shifting. Years ago, almost everyone understood the value proposition of higher education. A degree got a person a chance at a better life with a higher-paying job. However, that narrative is starting to fall apart. Demographics are shifting, and so are the perceptions around the quality and value of higher education.

“Many people are shifting their priorities towards earning over learning,” Dan Rosenweig, CEO of Chegg said in May 2022. And he’s right. Many current job announcements show that the pay for some starting jobs right out of high school rival that of salaries for jobs requiring degrees.

A look at current job announcements for candidates right out of high school.

The proposition that you could provide for your family if you had a degree is starting to change. But that’s not the only thing changing in higher ed. The students are changing, too. Higher ed institutions are reporting students who are less prepared academically, less interested than ever, and struggling to pay bills. The opportunity cost of higher education is at an all-time high. With people being strapped for money, strapped for time, and constantly distracted by the digital age and the myriad number of things vying for our attention, the draw to higher education is waning.

Now for the Data

Nationally, the number of high school students is expected to peak at 4 million in 2025, and then decline every year until 2037. What does that mean for higher education institutions and companies like VisionPoint that work on enrollment marketing?

It means we can no longer count on the traditional high school graduation prospective students to fill applicant pools. We’re going to have to be creative and selectively target our ads for students. Add to the demographic cliff the information about the pandemic, such as enrollment falling drastically during the Covid-19 pandemic causing 1.4 million students less to enroll in higher education than before the pandemic.

The maps of graduation trends across the country give us even more information:

Image courtesy of Interstate Passport.

The Midwest and Northeast are seeing declines in high school graduates due to their population, and they’re less diverse in general. While they’ll see an uptick in graduates of diverse backgrounds, those numbers aren’t going to be enough to offset the decline in white high school graduates. The South is a growing region along with the West – which contributes 24% of the nation’s high school graduates – but those numbers vary by state and even within each state.

So what does this mean for college enrollment? Admissions and marketing departments, along with the partners they work with, are going to need to rethink where the traditional high school graduates will be available. Consideration will need to be given to populations that have not necessarily been served through advertising campaigns before. And, after higher ed institutions get them on campus, they’re going to need to think about how to serve them.

This is why VisionPoint is excited by the prospect of niche audiences. According to recent National Student Clearinghouse data, first-year degree-seeking students have between a 67 and 84% credit completion rate (CCR). Nonresident, Asian, and white students comprise the highest CCR while Black, American Indian, and Hispanic students comprise the lowest CCRs. Interestingly though, transfer-in students have higher CCRs on average than first-time-in-college peers of the same race and ethnic group. And at four-year institutions, the highest CCR is among first-year education and social science majors. With all this data at our fingertips, we can target the right-fit students for each client partner’s institutional needs.

Core Audiences and Digital Platforms

It’s important to have a plan in place to reach different segments of your audience in different places – not all social media platforms work for all audiences after all. The core audiences of any advertising campaign are going to stay the same, regardless of any niches that you bring into play.

Community Colleges4-Year Institutions
Dual EnrollmentDual Enrollment
Traditional UndergraduateTraditional Undergraduate
Adult LearnersAdult Learners
Current StudentsCurrent Students
Transfer Students
A look at core audiences across community colleges and 4-year institutions.

The needs of these core audiences haven’t changed. Dual enrollment students need to be nurtured while they’re taking classes since many of them go on to higher education at the same institution where they started. Traditional undergraduate students need to be reminded of their deadlines. Adult learners need to see clearly how classes will help further their career. It’s always important to keep parents and other influencers top of mind when creating digital media campaigns. And, once you’ve got them, you can’t forget about them.  Continuing to reach out to current students is important to retention.

The trick to juggling all of this information is remembering how to get in touch with each different audience. You’ve got to have a plan. At VisionPoint, we focus on the following social media platforms for each different audience.

Core audiences and their top digital platforms.

Google Display, Search, Facebook, and Instagram allow us to use specific demographic, geographic, and interest-targeting to narrow down into the audiences. While some recent changes have made this harder to do on Facebook and Instagram, it’s still a viable option. It just means we need to be mindful of this and target those audiences in other places as well.

Tapping into TikTok and Snapchat, we can target those audiences again with the goal being to nurture these prospective students until they become enrolled students. We tend to find most of our adult learners on Facebook and Instagram, however many of these adult learners grew up with Snapchat and we still find them on that platform as well.

Twitter is also a good place to reach adult learners because advertising on that platform complements the organic information on the platform. It also allows us to target by keyword, just like Google Search ads, which allows more defined targeting, which definitely helps as we begin working with niche audiences.

Niche Audiences

Niche audiences are specialized segments that allow us to focus on specific groups we want to target, changing language and images or video to really connect with that specific audience.

The Latine audience is the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States, totaling more than 62 million people. During the pandemic, higher ed institutions saw strong enrollment declines for these students, especially at the community college level. Marketing efforts must engage and use strategies specifically to engage this audience on digital platforms because they are shown to use social media such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Google, and Snapchat more than the general audience.

But what do we need to do to reach the Latine audience? We’ve found that a lot of it lies in the presentation. Ads must feature images of Latine students showing that they belong in the higher education space. We have to make sure it feels possible for them to learn and feel connected to the school. It also helps to either use Spanish or, as our client partner College of DuPage did, create Spanglish ads and landing pages for the traditional undergrad prospective students they were trying to nurture. These ads led to a Spanglish landing page.

Our Spanglish landing page for College of DuPage.

Another niche audience is the African American audience. These students, like Latine students, are faced with similar barriers to entry into education and benefit from similar marketing strategies. The social media platforms of choice for this niche seem to be Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram. They identify strongly with their ethnicity and respond more positively to marketing where their ethnicity is highlighted and where it’s an integral part of the marketing effort. It’s also crucial when advertising to this niche that institutions tap into traditional media that represent the community they’re trying to reach.

First gen students will be another niche important to focus on in the coming enrollment cycles. For this niche, advertising will need to go to both the student and the parents, who want to be supportive but may not know how to do that. Google Display, Programmatic Display, Facebook, Instagram, and traditional media will all be important to reach both parts of this niche. It’s also important that advertising for them be accessible on mobile devices. Some first-generation students and parents may not be able to access the internet or may rely on their smartphones to search the web. Landing pages will also be important for this niche because they have different messaging needs.

And while understanding niches and how to target them is the first step, it’s certainly not the last. It’s important to think past the click. Where is your audience going to go once they click is critically important for campaign success?

We worked with one of our clients to create a landing page funnel. Once an ad was clicked on, they were taken to one of three landing pages specifically for who they were – traditional undergrad prospective students, parents, or transfers. Each page had different information specific to that audience.

Each landing page page contained different information specific to that audience.

These landing pages provide a frictionless path to a conversion goal, and it puts the RFI form front and center. Once there, if a visitor doesn’t convert, our ad campaign will retarget them and drive them back to the original landing page. If they submitted but didn’t apply, they get retargeted and sent to a different landing page. The last landing page was for students who had begun the application process but never finished. That landing page encouraged them to click apply and finish their application.

As we said before, landing pages can make or break a campaign, so they can’t be an afterthought. They need to be talked about as digital marketing campaigns are built so that they can offer a solid place for your prospective students to land and take the next step.

So Now What?

We didn’t present a webinar to preach doom and gloom and fear. We at VisionPoint are looking forward with promise and excitement. While higher ed is facing some headwinds, many institutions are thriving anyway. We study what’s working now for our client partners and adjust those tactics accordingly as we work to optimize their digital marketing campaigns.

There are classic channels that are still working – Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook – but there is a shift that needs to happen and niche markets need to be researched, studied, and understood as we look to them to grow applicant pools moving forward.

And it’s not just the ads and the click that are going to be important moving forward. To overcome the obstacles in front of us, campaigns must incorporate what happens after the click. Landing pages must be optimized as well, adaptable to each niche audience, and nurturing those relationships is going to be crucial.

Work with Us

For 21 years, VisionPoint has worked to understand and gain expertise in higher ed enrollment marketing. We have gathered experts to our team who are certified in Google Ads and work with our client partners to optimize their digital marketing campaigns to get the best results. Want to see what we can do for your enrollment needs? We’d love to work with you. Contact our Vice President Dana Cruikshank for a free consultation call, or fill out the form below.

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