Learn to Earn: Communicating the ROI of Continuing EducationJohn DeLalla | Director of Continuing Education, University of Arizona South
You’ve heard the cliché statement many times. Roughly, “the more you learn the more you’ll earn.” Yet how do we as continuing education leaders quantify return on investment to students in our program marketing?
It’s becoming increasingly important that we do. The population of employers who see continuing education as critical to employee success is growing. In fact, 70 percent of employers say today’s employees need continuous education and training just to keep up with their jobs. More and more working adults are pursuing continuing education opportunities to stay relevant and grow in their careers.
Of course, I’m not the only one who’s noticed this trend. The continuing and professional education marketplace is exploding; colleges, universities and non-accredited providers are all fiercely competing for enrollments, and why not? The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce recently sized the employer-funded formal workforce training marketplace at $177 billion.
Differentiation, then, is the name of the game of universities. So how do we stand out in this marketplace? More importantly, how do we show value to our students? Here are three ideas:
Three Ways to Show Value to Students Through Marketing
1. Highlight Stories
Use a student story to illustrate the point. About eight years ago I got to know a student fairly well that took a one-week computer networking class. At the completion of his class he passed the industry standard Cisco CCNA exam. His certification put him into a higher labor category with his federal government contractor position, earning him a $5,000 annual salary increase. The story of a one-week class with related preparation for a $5,000 pay raise is a quick, easy example to share with prospective students that gets to the bottom line.
2. Make Salary Information Clear
Use government and industry reports and statistics to show salary information. Most project managers earn more than $110,000/year. A six-figure salary attracts attention (see the original TheLadders.com mission as an example) that can be used in your general marketing. Showing prospective CE students they can earn a high salary as a result of your program offerings spells out the financial return on investment for a student.
3. Draw Eyes to Your Collateral
Use strong visuals in your marketing of smiling, contributing, productive students. The modified quote from Benjamin Franklin of “happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise” ties to most general intrinsic goals of us. Show this in your marketing in a subtle way to reinforce what your educational offerings can do in the lives of your prospective students.
The Intrinsic Value of the CE Unit
The ROI from continuing education can also be considered part of the value of CE. This isn’t always something we quantify in our marketing pieces, but rather something we show through daily program operations.
The value of a CE experience compared to a typical university degree is the shorter duration of classes with comparatively less cost than a full degree, the industry-specific content, and the flexible content delivery options. This value translates to a faster time-to-market for the student at a lower cost and with a more convenient service.
Most CE programs provide an enhanced customer service experience with streamlined enrollment (no transcripts, proof of residency or immunization records required) in modern-looking and technology-rich classrooms. Providing the job-ready skills with a good educational experience is a value of CE, and having the students return for future CE class is a sign of a valuable programmatic offering by the host university.
Conclusion: Value At Every Turn
Differentiation is key to success in the modern higher education environment, but it’s especially critical in the continuing and professional development marketplace. There are so many providers that if you don’t stand apart, you get lost in the mix.
Standing apart starts with marketing. If you don’t provide a clear value proposition for prospective students to latch onto, they will move on. Beyond that, though, differentiating yourself through your products and processes will get a student from interested to enrolled to graduated to re-enrolled.
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 “The Voice of the Employer on the Effects and Opportunities of Professional Development,” Destiny Solutions, May 2014. Accessed at http://www.destinysolutions.com/industry-insight/corporate-training/voice-employer-effects-opportunities/
 Anthony Carnevale, Jeff Strohl and Artem Gulish, “College Is Just the Beginning,” Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, February 2015. Accessed at https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Trillion-Dollar-Training-System-.pdf.
Author Perspective: Administrator