College Admissions Officers Face New Challenges to Elevate Student Recruitment Programs

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College recruiting and standardized admissions tests aren’t going away, but there has been a sea change in the process and the behavior of potential enrollees since 2020. More than 1,300 4-year colleges and universities have already announced that they won’t require fall 2022 applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. At the same time, a shift has occurred with customers of the higher education industry. Trends suggest that many prospective students may be looking for a different experience than what many colleges have traditionally offered.

 The decline in College Board and ACT data usage is forcing admissions offices to rethink their recruitment process, but for some schools, this also means adapting to new business models.

 Next Year’s Class May Not Look Anything Like Classes From the Past

Due to the pandemic of 2020, many campuses were closed to on-campus activities. For high school students going on to college, the “college experience” was delayed or permanently changed, often in favor of either more convenient local options or more practical choices.

 The conversation for graduating Seniors (and their parents) became about evaluating the cost-benefits. The fact that the newly accepted were forced into remote courses made students and parents focus on whether the benefits of face-to-face learning were actually worth the price tag. If students can’t benefit from the in-person experience, should they be paying private-school rates when the local state school offers the same classes?

 Graduate Students and those looking at continuing education also pivoted in 2020 to more convenient options. Working from home continued into classes from home. In some cases, the homebound sought retraining. Others simply put educational plans on hold while many sought certification programs in their field or nanodegrees – programs geared toward adult learners seeking specific skills. Some students jumped into Executive Programs for advancement and personal interest. 

 The societal impact of COVID on people in terms of their decisions of convenience may never be fully understood, but as COVID collided with life-changing events like graduation – a good deal of self-reflection followed. Students are now looking at a broader portfolio of options and recruiters may need to consider a different toolset when it comes to identifying prospects and how to reach them.

 Location is Destination

Recruiters have often used college exam scores and “feeder schools” as tools for identifying future prospects. College marketers identify the schools and geofence with mobile location data, which plays a big role in lead-gen and creating school awareness. In the new post-COVID reality, this same tactic can be used against businesses that drive graduate enrollment. For example, a hospital has working nurses and medical assistants who may be prime targets for a graduate medical degree. Being able to identify prospects at the local hospitals, provider offices and nursing homes, by their current title and certification using mobile geofencing is a great way to seed interest in your commutable college.

 Taken to a larger scale, national degree programs that are looking to reach back-to-school candidates for online degrees can easily hone in on the profiles of the current class and then replicate their outreach based on this profile. This can be done online, which magnifies the scale of the opportunity for online degree programs. Whether certificate programs for a German Auto Mechanics or a graduate degree in language arts, the matriculating students will self-define the recruiter’s targets. Linking the current profiles to a robust national file with employees and titles refines targeting for many of these opportunities.

 If one of the drivers of the recruiter model is identifying households where their best prospects likely live, and where they can conveniently access the services of the school, the enrollment process looks more like targeting business decision-makers and retail marketing. Mobile geofence campaigns only work on devices where the user opts-in, and they target at the household level, which is a valuable way of driving awareness among the people most likely to influence a student’s decision.

 Leveraging Third-Party Data

When the recruitment model is driven by cost-benefit and convenience, third-party data can also benefit location-based recruitment campaigns. Census data and myriad consumer data like store visitors and credit card transaction data can help identify households with college-aged students and discretionary income. When correlated to adult households with college degrees, consumer data can be used to further refine prospect lists because there’s a strong correlation between the education of parent and child. Likewise, other forms of third-party data can yield demographic insights that refine location-based targeting to the proper coverage.

 Multi-Channel is a Good Option

In the current digital marketplace, the competition for online students for certificate programs degrees is only going to accelerate. The cost benefits of these programs are attractive.  However, today’s media is increasingly driven by Comcast, Hulu, Roku and other CTV vendors.  Whatever you can do with targeting in social media, or in programmatic display, is likely to be available to you as audience targeting on streaming. Your audience is spending a lot of time at home, online and on streaming services. As a recruiter, it is a great opportunity to use data and focus your audience on your message.

About The Author

Mike Skladony | GM, Consumer Services - Education