Published on 2014/11/07
Lessons From a For-Profit: Marketing and Recruiting
For-profit institutions have been immensely successful at bringing in new students and solidifying their brand recognition; public institution leaders should take note.
In this series we’re exploring the lessons that successful for-profit institutions and traditional institutions can share with each other. Let’s start where we left off. In the last article, I referred to “markets,” a term that some believe has no place in higher ed.

But the truth is that every institution needs to be intimately acquainted with the unique market or student population that they serve. This is particularly true today when most institutions are experiencing significant market shifts. Knowing that you have the right programs and services will allow you, first, to better serve your students and second, to explore opportunities to serve new markets, which can bring new revenue at a time when it is greatly needed. Here are three key lessons from the for-profit sector that will be of interest to traditional institutions.

1. Use the Word “Markets”

The for-profit sector is not afraid to talk about markets. Indeed, for-profits don’t waste time with meaningless conversations about whether we should call students customers. They understand that student success, first in completing their studies and then in the workplace, is where they need to focus their energy.

2. Brand is Important

The for-profit sector understands that institutions need to spend money to build their brand. Unless you’re reading this in your office at Harvard or Yale (and I sincerely hope you are), your institution does need to pay attention to its brand. Sure, everyone within earshot knows who you are, but you’d be surprised how quickly your brand fades as you move out of your neighborhood, and you’d be even more surprised at the price tag associated with building a national brand. Just ask the folks at Southern New Hampshire University and Arizona State, two institutions who are making that investment as we speak.

How much does it cost? The numbers vary, but figure somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of your operating budget to market and recruit new students, more if you’re looking to go nationwide.

3. Bringing in New Students is Vital

For-profit schools understand that recruiting new students is their lifeblood, and they are organized, staffed and trained to do that very well. Most traditional schools, on the other hand, believe that there is an endless supply of new students, and they point to their acceptance rate as proof of their quality (among other things). But here is the deal: High school graduation rates are plateauing and even going down in some parts of the country, and unless Congress opens the immigration doors competition for new students is going to get tougher and tougher in the coming years. Professionalization of the recruiting corps is a good first step, but also consider increasing the investment in core academic services, like your online library, to better serve your students.

Now, let’s turn the tables, because here is an opportunity for for-profits to learn from traditional schools. Slick marketing campaigns are essential, but make sure they project your integrity and substance. A good match between an institution and the needs/desires of each student will greatly improve the chances of good outcomes. Most traditional schools, and some for-profits, know this very well and work hard to assure that the relationship will be mutually beneficial.

In the next installment in this series we’ll take a look at strategic planning—one of my favorites—so stay tuned.

Next installment coming soon Remind Me

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Readers Comments

Xavier Fleming 2014/11/07 at 9:19 am

“Slick marketing campaigns?” Gross. If you think marketing campaigns are more important than ensuring a good fit between your students and your institution, I’d say you have no business being responsible for anyone’s education. Attracting the students your school is best suited to serve is a much better idea for all parties than just trying to suck in as many students as possible, regardless of your ability to fulfill their needs.

    D. Terry Rawls 2014/11/11 at 10:10 am

    Thank you Xavier, that is exactly the point that I wanted to make in that paragraph. Thanks for your reply! TRawls

Rebecca Muir 2014/11/07 at 2:08 pm

While I agree that customer and market don’t need to be bad words, making snarky remarks about public institutions “wasting their time” and having “meaningless” conversations about wanting to ensure students’ know their success is their school’s top priority doesn’t help anyone.

Nancy Mabee 2014/11/10 at 9:08 am

I think anyone keeping up with Evolllution knows that being treated more like customers who are making a large investment is what many students, particularly non-traditional students, are looking for. Change is slow in higher education and sometimes a little tough love it’s what’s needed.

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