Today’s higher ed marketing and admissions leaders face one of the most difficult recruitment environments in decades. While many enrollment challenges have been driven by external factors — declining high school graduates, price sensitivity, and new forms of competition — institutions can still rely on enrollment strategies that are closer-to-home to help achieve their growth objectives.
The recently published “2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors” highlighted the depth of these challenges and how institutions are evolving. The survey polled 339 admissions leaders across all sectors of higher education, including public, private, community college and for-profit institutions.
According to the survey results, admissions leaders are focusing more on new student segments to achieve growth. A striking example of this is that 67 percent of private non-profit institutions indicated they are targeting out-of-state recruitment and 55 percent are trying to reach international students.
Early Indicators: Enrollments Still Falling Short
Early indicators show that many institutions failed to meet enrollment objectives for Fall 2016. In fact, only 37 percent of institutions in the Inside Higher Ed survey indicated they had met their Fall enrollment goals by May 1 (down from 42 percent in the 2015 survey).
In short, institutions are focusing marketing and recruitment efforts farther and farther away from their campus, yet the results have not followed. Granted, some institutions are located in non-populous areas and have little choice but to focus on a broader geographic territory. But for most, the most significant opportunity to increase enrollment is right in your backyard.
Solution: Apply a Local Focus to Your Enrollment Strategy
- Your brand is strongest in your home market.
Most likely, students who live within 25 to 50 miles of your campus are familiar with your institution. In fact, you may already be part of their list of schools under consideration. Think about it this way: If you are a small liberal arts college in Nebraska, the odds are that a high school student in California is not aware of your institution. Unless the student is interested in a niche program you offer or has a personal connection to your school, you are facing long odds to successfully recruit this prospect. Because …
- The majority of students stay close to home.
A 2014 study by Niche showed that 58 percent of students go to a college within 100 miles of their hometown and 72 percent of students stay in-state. In fact, only 11 percent of students venture more than 500 miles, and when they do go far from home, it is often to attend an academically elite institution (e.g., Ivy League, Seven Sisters or a service academy.) Unless your school falls into a similar category, your best option is to focus your efforts on local students who are inherently more likely to enroll.
- National marketing and recruitment is expensive.
In the past decade, only a few institutions have successfully developed a national recruitment footprint. Such schools are typically enormous for-profit institutions with massive marketing budgets, extensive recruitment operations and extremely compelling value propositions. In our experience, the farther away from your campus a student lives, the more expensive and inefficient it is to successfully recruit and enroll them.
Where You Market Is as Important as How
In a challenging recruitment market, it’s easy to conclude that your traditional recruitment footprint will no longer suffice. But before doing so, first consider whether it’s an issue of where you are marketing and recruiting or how you are marketing and recruiting. A digital-centric, local-focused strategy may be the answer to meet your 2017 enrollment objectives.