Is Your Student Recruitment Strategy Analog in a Digital World?

Colleges and universities across the country are struggling to maintain optimal enrollment — but too many of them are marketing themselves all wrong.

Once upon a time, college and university admissions professionals could rely on a handful of tried-and-true marketing methods: the cold calls, the booth at the college fair spread with glossy brochures and viewbooks, the campus visits. The goal of these marketers was simple and straightforward: push the word about our institution out there to anyone and everyone, and hope the message sticks.

And it worked. Think about it: decades ago, we read newspapers and magazines — on actual paper. We went to the library and pulled drawers out of card catalogues to do research. Getting our hands on information pretty much required us to get out of our chair, crack open a book, make some phone calls, or take a trip. When admissions officers talked to us, we listened. When they handed us materials, we read them, held on to them, filed them for future reference.

These days, even those of us who remember carefully collecting and saving brochures and pamphlets (and, let’s be honest, who may even still have some filed away!) rely far more on information that we get via the web. Card catalogues from libraries are nothing more than hipster curio cabinets, informational posters and advertisements from half a century ago are popular as decorative items, and even paper books sometimes have a nostalgic, ‘throwback’ feel. Even if we spin records on a turntable while having dinner with friends, for getting our hands on solid information, our fingers do the walking — not through our file cabinets but on our computers, and, increasingly, on our mobile devices.

If those of us who actually remember when rotary phones and glossy viewbooks and card catalogs were not objects signifying vintage cool are dependent on our devices for research and information, it’s safe to say that today’s high school students — the college and university students of tomorrow — are even more so.

‘Digital natives’ (to use a term coined over fifteen years ago by educational scholar Mark Prensky) have never known a world in which what they wanted and needed to know wasn’t available at the touch of a button, a swipe of the finger. These young people are skeptical of advertising — that is, if they even notice it! They’re much less likely to doubt the pitch your admissions counselors make and much more likely to mine the wisdom of the Internet ‘crowds.’

Which is to say: today’s students are much less interested in what the marketing professionals have to say about your institution, and much more interested in — and likely to trust — what actual students, alum, and others are already saying about you.

With all this in mind, it’s understandable that college marketers and admissions professionals have found themselves fighting a seemingly losing battle for students. Particularly following the economic crisis of the past decade, many college and universities have struggled to maintain optimal levels of enrollment — and beefing up marketing budgets hasn’t always helped.

That’s because the college decision-making process has changed for prospective students and their parents, while many higher education marketing strategies have remained just as they were in the days of snail mail and un-ironic vinyl records.

Your college or university can’t afford not to go inbound. Check out our helpful infographic.


Originally published at blog.cgrantandcompany.com.

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