2018 Higher Ed Trends Roundup

Revenue is top of mind for many higher ed leaders as we enter 2018. Inside Higher Ed reported that only 34 percent of colleges met enrollment targets by May 1, 2017. But are colleges overspending on enrollment marketing tools that are no longer effective? Many colleges still depend on inefficient operational tools that could capture money-saving data if optimized. Other colleges have been slow to adapt to cost-saving digital marketing techniques that could be more effective and help stretch enrollment marketing budgets. Tuition discounting is widespread, yet leaves colleges wanting as net-revenue dives.

Our internal experts on digital analytics, branding, programming and more share their insights into trends we’ll see in 2018, as well as how to harness opportunity.


Beth Allen

Senior Director of Brand Activation

There are three main areas on my radar: video, data-driven creative and the convergence of brand and program marketing.


Video as marketing content continues to rise in viewership and relevance for institutions. With nearly two-thirds of potential students on YouTube every month, the media that engages us in sight, sound and motion needs to be a priority in 2018. Look holistically at your marketing strategies and consider short clips, student testimonials, or brief “tips on navigating the admissions process” pieces that could take the place of print or other traditional strategies.

Data-Driven Creative 

Analytics tools now allow marketers to get a closer look at what students are responding to, and engaging with. Through comparison testing of either similar or radically different messages, marketers may now drill down to understand what is most effective in reaching their audience. Often, it can be surprising. Either way, it helps us learn how to be more effective.  

Perhaps the greatest benefit of being able to blend digital analytics with creative brand messaging is that it allows you to test assumptions. That, in turn, allows you to identify exactly where you’ll get the most for your marketing dollars. It’s also useful in getting stakeholders aligned.

The Convergence of Brand and Program Marketing

We continue to see increases in searches by program rather than by school name. While students will gravitate toward colleges they’ve heard of, their first point of entry into considering a college may begin with an academic program search that leads them to your website. 

In addition, colleges should leverage job placement rates among graduates, or relationships with local employers, in order to connect with prospects who seek career security and opportunity.

Digital Analytics

Andrew Danielson

Director of Marketing Analytics

We’re seeing an increase in the pursuit of quality over quantity on marketing-inquiry generation efforts. College marketing teams are also rethinking how to measure results. Whereas cost-per-inquiry has traditionally been a standard measure of return-on-investment, many colleges are now more concerned with cost-per-start (CPS) and lifetime value.

“Know Your Audience” Takes on New Meaning

The rise of more targeted advertising platforms such as Facebook requires a deeper knowledge of your college’s right-fit student. This includes demographic, psychographic and behavioral profiles of successful existing students. The more you know, the easier it will be to connect with similar prospective students during the next enrollment cycle.

Shifting Away From List Search

We’ll see a continued shift away from direct-mail-list search as colleges and universities realize that their message is being lost in a sea of sameness among competitors. With the help of test vs. control methodology, colleges are beginning to see that email and direct mail messaging from list buys often have only a minimal impact on a student’s likelihood to enroll. In place of list buying, colleges will find more success through digital-advertising platforms that enable more direct response and higher message differentiation.

Online Education

David Lungren

Vice President of Digital Content Solutions

On top of foundational skills, employers have a great need for employees with advanced knowledge of software programs or industry specialties. In order to make it easier for employers to identify qualified job candidates, we will see an increase in the adoption of skills-certification badges.

Likewise, students are already finding that a portfolio of digital badges earned across an academic program can be useful as they present their skillsets to potential employers — which can be easily displayed in platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook.

Program Design

Greg Hafemann

General Manager, Collegis Content Solutions

On top of foundational skills, colleges that offer training in soft skills, customer service and digital literacy will be more aligned with workforce needs — an important feature to students in the college selection process.

Colleges should look for data to affirm assumptions about workforce needs and student mission. A mix of data from government sites, employment listings (and locations) and what people are searching for online will be critical to pinpointing what programs are most likely to succeed.

Growth Segments
We are also seeing a rising interest in closing the analytics skills gap. New programs such as a Master’s in Data Science are proving valuable to both employers and job seekers. Online education continues to be popular, especially for degree-completers and those seeking graduate degrees.

Program Development

Terri Nierengarten

Sr. Director of Product and Strategic Partnerships

The need for cross-disciplinary degrees is growing. Today’s jobs call for skills that cut across industries and functions in ways that we didn’t see ten years ago. With this emergence, it requires that colleges adopt increasingly cross-disciplinary curricular approaches. Skills that were once isolated within specific occupations have become vital for workplace success. For example:

  • Customer Support -- once isolated to sales functions, this skill set is vital to be a competitive candidate for many roles in finance, healthcare, and even IT jobs.
  • IT and Digital Skills – once exclusive to tech departments, virtually every functional area now finds basic digital literacy mandatory with roles in finance, sales, operations and more, requiring sophisticated tech know-how.

Colleges that effectively balance the needed degree competencies with cross-disciplinary perspectives will find their graduates are prepared to shine in the workplace.  


Todd Pombert

Vice President of Infrastructure and Operations

We see an ever-increasing dependence on information-technology support throughout all aspects of campus life. Students will continue to expect reliable Wi-Fi with unlimited bandwidth to meet not only their academic needs but their personal lifestyle.

Additionally, students will expect academic technology, such as learning management systems (LMS) and collaboration and operational tools to work across any of their personal devices, including mobile devices. This means mobile-friendly registration tools, the ability to make online payments, digital transcript services and more.

Business hours do not apply to students who work and study around the clock. They will expect 24/7 access to their academic technology along with 24/7 tech support that will immediately solve their problems rather than table the issue until the next business day.

Growth in online education will increase pressure on higher ed tech support departments. Incoming students are increasingly adept at using technology in their consumer lives and therefore also demand more from university technology systems.  Colleges that include planning for tech support in the early stages of their online and campus-based education plans will be better equipped to handle enrollment-based surges in requests for tech support and maintenance that tie in with growth in online enrollment. 

Digital Life for Staff

Data-driven decision-making is critical to navigating in today’s complex higher ed environment. More colleges will seek to make better use of their in-house data by connecting the tools they use most in order to create a full picture of the student life-cycle. By integrating admissions data with learning management systems and alumni information, colleges and students will benefit from having a better understanding of what students want and need from inquiry-to-graduation and beyond.

Data Security

Protecting student data will continue to be a top-three concern for university IT departments and their CIOs.

  • Email phishing will continue to be a trend, as malicious hackers continue seeing this as an easy point of entry to gaining access to personal data. It will be critical to train staff and students on the skills of maintaining data security. More information on this is located here.
  • More network traffic will be encrypted using secure sockets layer (SSL) technology, rendering most previous-generation security technology ineffective.

Value of Higher Ed

Drew Melendres

Vice President of Strategic Partnerships

Higher ed has been scrutinized this past year as students and families consider affordability. More and more families that have the ability to pay, are less willing. Additionally, they are questioning whether their graduates will be qualified for the jobs they hope to pursue upon completion of a degree.

As a result, more colleges are rethinking how they may serve students. Some will provide more bridge opportunities to help students catch up on remedial skills. Others will add “skills booster” courses or certifications to foundational programming in order to better align with workforce needs. Finally, many colleges are looking at their lifelong learning offerings in order to meet the interests and needs of alumni as they continue to grow in their careers.

About the Author

Collegis Education staff

Collegis is passionate about education and driven by the technology that keeps institutions moving forward.

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