- A new study from InsideTrack reveals the outreach strategies several big online players in higher education use to recruit prospective students to their programs.
- Colleges reached out to prospective students an average of 16 times, according to an analysis of 20 institutions. Most sent emails and made phone calls, while only four schools sent text messages.
- Eleven schools touted the "flexibility of their online programs" during their first "meeting" with prospects, while eight spoke of their "high level of support" and seven of their accelerated schedule options.
The online education market has become crowded as more institutions expand their online offerings in the hopes of attracting new streams of students. And although for-profit colleges once dominated the sector, the playing field has changed.
"Private and public four-year institutions have caught up rapidly in terms of their sophistication around outreach," Dave Jarrat, senior vice president of strategic engagement and growth at InsideTrack, told Education Dive.
Indeed, colleges have increasingly turned to tools that allow them to automate some of their outreach and better target the students most likely to enroll. Some have even enlisted online program managers (OPMs) to provide recruiting services, though some say such deals can be problematic.
The report's authors recommend several strategies for colleges to stand apart from the competition. They include:
- Reviewing whether recruiting efforts were successful.
- Highlighting unique features of a program.
- Communicating to students over their preferred channels.
To do the latter, colleges need to send messages in a variety of formats, including emails, text messages and voicemails. Otherwise, a student could miss them entirely.
"A lot of folks don't listen to voicemails," Jarrat said. "If all you tried was one call and left a voicemail and that was it, that won't do it."
On the other hand, colleges also run the risk of sending students too many messages, especially if they aren't personal, the report notes. The researchers found one college dialed a prospective student 45 times, while another sent 25 emails.
That can be particularly problematic for colleges that have brands built on their selectivity, Jarrat added. "If they take a very aggressive, 'salesy' approach to their engagement of potential students in their online programs, that's going to detract from that brand," he said.
Nailing down a unique value proposition is also vital, Jarrat said. Some colleges may be able to take advantage of their local brand recognition to attract nearby students, while others can play up the services they offer, such as scholarships or free books.
"Convenience is incredibly important as a value proposition … but it's not very distinguishing," he said. "Every online program says that it's convenient, so what is it about your program that really differentiates it from others?"