Stemming Tuition Sticker Shock

Regardless of the size, rank or location of a college or university, sticker shock is a very palpable and common concern for prospective students and their families. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.

Affordability is among “the most influential factors when students develop their college consideration lists.”

Stamats 2016 TeensTALK study, confirms affordability is among “the most influential factors when students develop their college consideration lists.”

So what are enrollment marketers to do when undiscounted tuition and fees are published out of context and outside competition is at an all-time high? Don’t hide the ball. Run with it.

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Address finances early and often in recruitment campaigns. Direct students to easily digestible information about awards, work study and federal loans in an easy to find section on your website. Invite questions. Communicate directly with parents. Consider communications specifically about completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—a top enrollment predictor that takes approximately 20 minutes to complete—during recruitment and even throughout yield.

In 2016, Nerdwallet.com reported high school graduates missed out on as much as $2.7 billion in free federal grant money, mainly because of incomplete or unfiled FAFSAs. Confusion about the process or perception about not being eligible for federal aid are cited factors that led to the lack of applications.

Don’t hesitate to make use of a number of free resources made available in the DOE online Financial Aid Toolkit, including handouts, videos and infographics. There’s even more educational content available across DOE Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts that’s designed for social sharing.

Refer students and parents to your cost of attendance calculator so they gain a better understanding of their estimated net price—the important number. The reported "cost of attendance" is rarely what students actually pay.

Let them know—more than once—because confusion about costs shouldn’t stand in the way of recruiting the best class possible.

How To Do Higher Ed Diversity Marketing The Right Way

Recruiting a more diverse student body is one of the more common priorities popping up on universities' strategic plans today. In the latest in a series of published reports, this month an article in The Atlantic shined a light on how high school graduate demographics are shifting from being around 70% Caucasian today to closer to 50% by 2030.

Huffington Post, Inside Higher Ed and numerous others also confirm that, while demographics are changing, universities should be very thoughtful about how they adapt to enroll a more diverse student population that reflects of our broader society.

Luckily, modern enrollment marketing is as nuanced as it is complicated. Big data allows for very creative segmentation, while the expansion of digital media enables colleges to target prospective students that were difficult to reach before.

Universities should be very thoughtful about how they adapt to enroll a more diverse student population that reflects of our broader society.

But if you want to recruit a student body that’s more inclusive than the one you have today, think about how you want to address diversity—ethnic, racial, economic, geographic, etc.—in your messaging and on your campus.

How have you positioned diversity on your website? Are your faculty and staff diverse? What services do you have specific to those students who are the first in their families to attend college? Will minority students actually feel at home on your campus? The answers to these questions and more can shape a very powerful narrative and, more importantly, one with greater potential for success. 

The goal of a more diverse and culturally rich academic environment is a noble one. Just be thoughtful and authentic when you have great stories to tell.

Furman Roth Wins Big in National Higher Education Ad Award Competitions

Furman Roth has won several advertising awards from two renowned national educational marketing competitions, including two 1st place Gold wins from the Higher Education Advertising Awards and 2nd place Silver awards from both The Higher Education Advertising awards and from The Collegiate Advertising Awards, in categories including print, out-of-home, social media campaigns (including Facebook and Instagram), student viewbooks and collateral. These 1st and 2nd place awards were won from a pool of over 2,250 entries from hundreds of agencies throughout the country.

“These wins are a reflection of the great work our creative department is doing,” said Ernie Roth, President of Furman Roth.  “Our broad experience in higher education has really helped us take our work to a new level.”

“Working with so many prestigious colleges and universities has really helped us become immersed in the category and the higher ed marketing environment, and has ultimately helped us do better work for our clients,” added Creative Director Jake Rabinowitz. “It takes breakthrough thinking to stand out amongst these major schools and universities in today’s marketing environment, which has become extraordinarily competitive.”

ABOUT THE AWARDS
The Educational Advertising Awards, of which this was their 32nd annual competition, honors exceptional and innovative creativity in education advertising and communications. The finalists and winners are determined by industry peers and the editors of The Higher Education Marketing Report.

The Collegiate Advertising Awards, that accepted more than 900 entries from schools across the United States, “honors excellence in marketing and advertising specific to the field of Higher Education.”

University Apps: a Campus in Your Pocket

Time magazine recently proclaimed smartphones "the new backpacks.”  Indeed, with note-taking apps, recording apps, and research apps, today’s college student likely feels as naked as a campus streaker without his or her smartphone.  Nearly gone are the days of massive physical textbooks and backpacks bulging with papers.  

While some voices of academia continue to bemoan the ever-presence of technology in the classroom, universities have begun to embrace the medium of smartphone apps.  They can range from simple homework and grading platforms (think “Blackboard” to go), to university-wide social media sites.  In some cases, the social media apps are too popular among co-eds: Florida A&M’s app “Yeti – Campus Stories,” has recently come under fire for a lack of regulation of explicit sexual content, including an assault.  

Of course, plenty of campus apps find a balance between the cachet of a social component and the functionality of a class component. Many universities have successfully cultivated a smartphone presence, offering the benefits of a campus community with pocket-size portability. Here are a few worth noting: 

University of Virginia: UVA’s “The Good Old App” employs “augmented reality technologies,” in order to create a comprehensive experience for users.  Users on campus can tap into restaurant listings, directions, and even security escorts back to the dorm.  Arguably the coolest feature is that you can snap a photo of a building or landmark on campus and receive information about it.   
 Ohio State University: The Buckeyes were early on the trend, and their mobile app has, for years, offered all sporting event information, course communication, campus announcements, and a photo sharing feature that has become popular for alumni across the globe. 

MIT: As you might imagine, for a school that offers courses in app creation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an expansive app that provides the usual services (courses, restaurants, announcements), but also offers a self-guided campus tour, top news, and access to campus librarians and maintenance help.  

Harvard University: Harvard actually has a slew of mobile apps, from the standard campus app, to Harvard Virtual Tour, to the Arboretum Explorer (featuring plant identification tools), to Shoestring Strategies, a budgeting app created by Harvard undergraduates.  Ever the overachievers!  

…And there are many more.  It’s worth a quick search to find if your current academic home or alma mater offers an app of its own. 



4 Ways to Reach Prospective Grad Students

A smiling, polite High School scholar brandishing a diploma and flanked by Mom and Dad may be the ideal target audience for undergrad admissions marketing, but creating a clear picture of the prospective grad student is more challenging.  While plenty of graduate applicants are still fresh-faced twenty-somethings, many are seeking a second career, juggling children at home, or pursuing a passion that they’d previously shelved.  Here are key points universities would be wise to consider when creating marketing content to attract the amorphous grad student audience: 

 1)    Know thyself:

 

With an understanding of a university’s strengths and weaknesses, you can better allocate money in the budget to bolster certain programs.  A Harvard MBA sells itself, but often schools continue to mail out literature about their most famous programs at the neglect of their unsung academic heroes. 

Cross-promoting less illustrious programs at the same university could attract a greater number of applicants.  For example, if the Iowa MFA webpage provided links to information about the school’s PhD in English Lit, applicants would be enticed to apply to both. 

 2)    Clearly shape the conversation about finances:

Prospective grad students have been consumers longer than undergrads, and further, they are much more likely to be spending their own money rather than their parents’. 

 Give premier real estate in web content and advertising to the most promising scholarships and fellowships the program has to offer.  Offer to assign prospective students individual financial counselors for further questions.  If the program in question isn’t well-funded, have confident answers at the ready and the data to back them up. “Yes, while the program costs $30,000 a year, the average graduate of our program lands a job making $60,000 their first year out, so any loans could reasonably be paid off in a couple of years.”  Avoiding financial conversations makes savvy consumers wary.  

3)    Consider target audiences:

 

Whether it’s a specific field that is particularly prone to having turnover—like publishing, for example—or a specific demographic ripe for considering higher ed—like recent veterans—do your homework on not just who may be a good fit for your programs, but how they might finance it.  While the new GI Bill is often used for undergraduate education, it is also applicable to grad school doing the research for specific prospective student groups makes them all the more likely to apply.

4)    Promote your University’s lifestyle:

Certainly, adding flavor and color to the landscape of the university does great work to woo undergrads and grad students alike.  For example, some undergrads are drawn to Tulane University for their emphasis on New Orleans itself: the restaurants, the music scene, the surrounding regional charm. 

Grad students are more likely to ask questions like: Is the university in an area with good public schools for children?  Is grad student housing available for couples and families?  Is this a program that can largely be completed at night, or remotely?  Could I feasibly finish the coursework while working full time? 

Consider the myriad lifestyle concerns that will impact the choice of prospective students when drafting marketing content.  The program may be ranked impressively by the Princeton Review or have a celebrity visiting professor, but certain applicants will be better swayed by the campus fitness facility and the flexible hours. 

4 Tips for Higher Ed Content Marketing to Millennials

The problem of marketing to a younger generation isn’t a new one.  While millennials only make up about 10% of general consumers, they (and their parents) are the primary market for Higher Ed marketing.  So, how and where do we reach them?

 1)    Strategy across social media platforms:

While everyone is familiar with Facebook, millennials actually have been leaving it for other, newer, mediums: Instagram and Snapchat, among others.  Facebook can still be useful marketing tool, but a stagnant university “fan” page and typical ad content isn’t going to do the same work as a more personal approach.  (Native content is a buzzworthy phrase for a reason.)

 Also consider how product placement can benefit your brand, whether in traditional outlets like television, or in the form of viral videos or web shows.  Studies show that millennials are especially susceptible to product placement, because they are so used to its ubiquity.  So, while there’s a 98% chance somebody paid a celebrity to wear that Yale hoodie in their music video, millennials are likely to simply take in the image, rather than question its authenticity.  

 2)    Don’t try too hard:

 Learn from missteps made by others: young people have a curated concept of “cool” and will call out brands that are phony.  When McDonald’s tried to coax an indie band to play free under their banner at SXSW, they were blasted on social media and lost a lot of millennial customers. The same holds for schools: if partying is your “thing” (I’m looking at you, LSU), then by all means, make that clear to your prospective students.  But if your institution is better known for excellence in the arts, don’t try to sell millennials on its “coolness”: you’d fare better being straightforward and true to your culture.

3)    Money talks:  

Millennials, and of course, their parents, are more aware of the danger of the student loan crisis than any previous generations.  Devote valuable content space to explaining scholarships and fellowships available, built-in benefits, and plans for students to finance their degree.  (Initiate and control the conversation about finances so that prospective students and their parents realize their options when they look up your university’s tuition.)

4)    Diversify your strategy:

Focus on reaching millennials where they live: on the internet.  Social media, TV, and non-traditional media outlets are all necessary to reach prospective undergrads.  But if their parents are footing the bill, it may make sense to additionally mail traditional promos to homes, knowing it is more likely to reach the parents than the students.  The same remains true for outlets like NPR and newspapers.  If the message of your university is carefully planted in the minds of students and parents alike, your university won’t only have an enthusiastic upcoming freshman, but a mom and dad who are happy to foot the bill.     

The College Research Game

When the school year ends and the weather heats up, students across the country look forward to backyard barbecues, family vacations and sleeping way past noon during their summer break. For many, summer is all about fun in the sun and spending time with family and friends. But for today’s high school students and their parents, the summer before senior year becomes all about the college application process.

Ample free time in the three months off from school allows rising seniors to put more time and energy into gathering information about their prospective higher education goals, and now, more than ever, much of the college research process occurs via digital media.

According to a Pew Research study, 95% of teens (between the ages of 13 and 18 years old) are digital media users, many of which are on Facebook and Twitter. New data on the digital media habits of students from Genius Recruiter suggests that 72% of students followed or liked a prospective university’s Twitter feed or Facebook page and 97% visited the university’s website. The five most viewed features on a school’s website or digital media platform: majors and minors, photos of the campus, curriculum details, residence life and class information. The study also showed that YouTube is one of the top three digital media channels used in the college research process.

Now, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (among others) offer native advertisements in the form of promoted posts, tweets, trends and video clips to advertise to what they call “tailored audiences.” These posts are targeted to users based on their interests and activities, and using data acquired from their conversations, profiles and behavior.  The digital media users are the ones being sold, without even knowing it – reminding us of the old adage that nothing in life is really free. Digital media companies sell advertisers demographic information and browser data to show users ads that directly relate to the sites they've recently visited – in this case, universities.

Two-thirds of students say digital media engagement influences their college decisions.  So, in order for universities to compete for prospective students’ attention, they have to play the marketing game the modern way. It is almost a prerequisite for higher ed. institutions to have a digital media presence and for their information to be a “like” or re-tweet (RT) away.

[For more information on higher education and its advertising possibilities, contact Jacki Friedman here at Furman Roth Advertising.]