Published on 2015/10/07
The EvoLLLution | Four Steps Every School Should Take to Optimize Outreach
Outreach is the first step to developing an engaged and passionate student body, but successfully getting your institution’s message in front of the right students is immensely challenging given the competitiveness of the marketplace.

The educational marketplace has become increasingly more competitive in recent years. Students have more options than ever when it comes to pursuing their education, and online resources make it easier for students to seek the school that would be the perfect fit. Luckily, there are some tried and true ways that an institution can uniquely position itself to better compete in today’s marketplace. Here are four key strategies that really help.

1. Research the Marketplace Before Launching New Programs

When your institution first decides to refocus your outreach efforts, it can be tempting jump in before fully evaluating your program offerings and conducting internal and external research. Start by focusing on the following questions:

  • Are your programs in high demand by prospective students?
  • How many other schools in your desired geographic region (either locally or nationally) offer similar programs?
  • How are your competitors structuring those similar programs? And, very importantly, if you grow do you have the capacity to handle that growth?

This type of research and analysis usually begins with a look at some easily accessible tools such as IPEDs, from the National Center of Education Statistics. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is also highly relevant, as employment trends will play a critical role in the demand for your programs. From here, if you have the budget and resources, conducting primary research provides tremendous insights and gets to nuances that secondary data cannot provide. Lastly, you will need to consider your own brand strengths, unique program differentiators and internal capacity. With each of these perspectives, the best programs for investment will become clear, providing a roadmap for growth.

2. Understand Your Target Students

Understanding the students your institution should proactively target will also optimize your marketing and outreach efforts. By gaining a strong understanding of your target audience profiles and knowing what they need, you can cater directly to them and boost student enrollment as a result. For example, you may learn that many of your target students are non-traditional learners, which would lead you to emphasize your institution’s adult education programs or commuter student support. Or, you may learn that a percentage of your target students are first-generation students, causing you to develop outreach efforts that focus on affordability, advising and achievement.

Through this process, you will be able to focus your marketing efforts on those most likely attracted to your degree programs with precise targeting and high confidence. You’ll be able to tailor unique messaging to each audience, making their experience with your institution highly personalized. The result will be reductions in cost per enrollment, as well as, increased enrollment performance and profitability.

3. Create a Customized Communication Strategy

How your institution communicates with your target students is a big part of how you define your school’s brand. Creating a customized communication strategy ensures that all of your messaging stays true to your mission and voice. With a customized communication strategy, all of the communication from your marketing and outreach programs will be united under a cohesive brand that allows target students to truly know your institution through your outreach efforts.

4. Nurture Applicants

Once students apply to your institution, they’ve indicated a level of interest that goes beyond simply requesting information. While they may not have picked your school as their top choice just yet, they’ve demonstrated that they’re open to the possibility of attending. That’s why it’s important that outreach doesn’t stop just because an application has been submitted. Instead, it’s the perfect time to nurture applicants toward selecting your institution as the place they want to further their education. Creating a well paced, well timed lead nurturing and communications plan is critical to achieving better application-to-enrollment and/or admission-to-enrollment performance. And, if you can create a plan by target audience type, that’s even better. The more proactive communication you can provide in all channels that students prefer, including email, text and outbound calling, the greater success you will achieve.

If your institution is serious about competing in today’s tough educational marketplace, these four steps can help you optimize your outreach, connect more effectively with prospective students and build your enrollment numbers. It’s just a matter of getting started.

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Readers Comments

Tim Delgado 2015/10/07 at 9:54 am

Messaging is key throughout all those steps. Students need to know that as a school, as a department and as a program we know who we are and what we offer, and we are confident we can meet their needs. We need to inspire that same confidence in the students.

Jodi Bowen 2015/10/07 at 11:14 am

Nurturing applicants is a great step. So often we look at the application as the last step in which we have a role to play as administrators, but that just isn’t true. We would all do well to remember that we may not be a student’s first (or even second!) choice, and we need to continue to show that we should be.

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