- Colleges have long used data about prospects for recruitment, but the efforts are getting increasingly sophisticated much like those of retailers who market to potential customers with targeted approaches, such as reminding them of their interest in a product they had examined but not purchased.
- The Wall Street Journal reports that colleges are increasingly hiring firms that can help them collect and use data to reach specific students in new ways as the number of high school graduates ebbs and competition for them online and with other educational options increases.
- Houston Baptist University, for instance, hired the firm EAB to create a profile of students with demographic and psychographic data. The firm recommended ads directed to particular groups, with a special target of older students, that resulted in 100 inquiries and enrollment of about 15 students.
Houston Baptist aimed the efforts at older prospects specifically to fill a growing gap in high school graduates and because adults who might want to get a graduate degree or complete their undergraduate work are harder to reach with traditional marketing efforts. The Wall Street Journal notes that undergraduate and graduate enrollment by students over age 24 fell 6.8% nationwide between fall 2015 and fall 2017.
The article reports that EAB uses a database of 200 million adults with 115 data points.
In one case, Houston Baptist found that a slice of prospects liked outdoor recreation so an ad showed a more mature student fishing. At Lesley University in Massachusetts, data showed existing students tended to be altruistic so the college developed a marketing message to appeal to students with those traits by suggesting its graduates could “change the world.”
Another consulting firm, Capture Higher Ed, has developed systems for colleges that include targeted online advertising, YouTube videos and website design with the aim of collecting data about specific information that a visitor might have looked at previously and then send personalized notes to encourage interest. Notes might invite prospects to a dance recital when they had investigated a college dance program, for instance. The system creates a profile of a prospect that “enables one-on-one automated marketing communication with users based on their demonstrated behavioral patterns,” the firm reports.
Other institutions are attempting to reach potential students in new ways or traditional ways with a twist, including calling prospects, improved summer programs and orientation sessions and using more students in recruiting programs. Dartmouth highlights that it seeks “nice” students to enroll in an MBA program, and St. John's College in Annapolis and Santa Fe promotes its traditional and formal courses and college life, even noting that dances are held with waltzing and croquet is the most popular sport. The University of Michigan promotes a subscription fee for online courses that attempts to attract “students for life.”
In a series of articles, The Atlantic last year described changes in college recruitment, noting that institutions are moving away from traditional forms and sources of demographic data and relying more on prospect attitudes and interests.