Student Recruitment Continues to Be Challenging

August 22, 2023

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For many colleges and universities, school is about to resume, and campuses will once again be filled with bright-eyed freshmen moving more stuff into their 20x10’ dorm room than can fit. And university admissions and marketing teams will have already started working on recruiting for the next school year, conducting as many tours as possible while the weather is warm before the leaves drop off the trees.

As the grade school population (kids under 12 years of age) continues to shrink according to the U.S. Census Bureau, maintaining your school’s share of graduating high school students is becoming increasingly difficult. With fewer students attending a traditional four-year college, the competition is heating up to convince potential students to apply to or visit your school.

Based on our experience in marketing higher education and alternative two-year technical schools, we believe it is important for colleges to balance their digital marketing plans with long-term brand awareness. While digital ads and pay-per-click search ads are a critical part of the lower marketing funnel, brand building is key to making sure your school is in the consideration set. Often, we find that parents, grandparents, coaches and counselors are also influencing the consideration set of schools for students as well. So, brand building must reach a broader audience beyond high school juniors or seniors.

Personal experience with my two kids revealed that high school counselors were advocating sophomores and juniors start with a list of up to 20 schools with a mix of private and public institutions, large and small, near and far, and narrow that list to under 10 by the start of senior year.

The good news for student recruiters is that digital marketing continues to get more sophisticated, such as serving ads to students who have been at particular high school campuses that your students have attended, so you can target those devices based on past geolocations. Marketers can also target households that have discussed applying for college while being plugged in to Google platforms that are always listening. And more traditional channels such as television have come a long way so that college marketers can focus their ads on addressable households that have a high school student at home rather than hitting entire DMAs. This allows college marketing teams to be very targeted with their investments but still cast a wider net.

Our experience tells us that more traditional channels are better at building your brand than some digital channels, so it is important to have a broad media mix when trying to recruit and influence students. CVR has conducted admissions marketing for a variety of schools, including Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Ivy Tech, the University of Indianapolis and LIFT Academy flight school. If your higher ed institution wants a free evaluation of your current marketing performance, feel free to connect with us.