How to Boost Student Enrollment in Your Online Degree Programs
Competition for student enrollment in online degree programs is more fierce than ever. According to a recent report, online-only enrollment surged 38 percent from 2012 to 2017, and will continue to increase. In fact, another survey found the majority of online education administrators believe the online education market has become “much more competitive” over the past five years.
As the online education market becomes saturated with programs, universities need to work especially hard to continue attracting students. They must differentiate themselves and their degrees to not only maintain, but gain market share by attracting the right students to the right programs. But how can institutions capture the attention of prospective students when competition is so intense? Here are four key points universities should consider to successfully build and market online degree programs.
Develop a Student Persona
Understanding your prospective students is key. In every marketing effort, the first step should be creating a robust, thoughtful and data-backed profile of the type of student you are seeking to attract. Not only do personas help universities keep track of the ever-changing demands and objectives of their ideal students, but they also allow them to tailor communications that connect with them in meaningful ways. At minimum, a student persona should include:
- Demographic information, including age and geographic location
- Sources where they get their information, such as social media
- Their goals and values, as well as their education-related preferences and objectives
- Relevant quotes from interviews with students who are already enrolled in the program or who have graduated from the institution
- When building a student persona, it is important to look to the mission of your institution for guidance. For example, if your school is faith based, what are its values, and how can those resonate in your marketing campaigns? Discover who your target students are and determine what messages will appeal to them.
Although online degree programs give schools the ability to attract students around the world, institutions still need to take geography into account. Most students seeking online degree programs aren’t likely to consider a college 300 miles away that they have never heard of if there is a similar university in their hometown. This is why it is essential for institutions to consider which degree programs are most needed in the communities where they are located. For example, if there is a growing demand for computer science professionals in the area, it’s smart to develop a relevant online program that is more likely to help students get jobs upon graduation. This also reinforces the importance of offering unique programs other institutions don’t have. A niche degree program is more likely to stand out in a crowded marketplace as opposed to a more commonplace degree like the standard MBA.
Optimize Programs for Online Learning
Taking a program offered in-person and simply putting the lectures, readings and assessments online isn’t an ideal strategy for developing high-quality, sustainable online degree programs. I’ve found that thoughtful instructional design leads to academic programs optimized for online learning. Just like in-person programs, online courses must take into account different student learning styles and incorporate key touchpoints, including student to student, student to instructor, and student to content interactions. Intentional instructional design also allows institutions to better understand student personas, accreditation implications and the employability of the students who complete their programs. Additionally, many universities look from the inside out when considering which online programs to develop. They consider the faculty they already have, their internal resources and current capabilities. Instead, focus should be external. Consider specific industry demands in and around your community that drive the need for different academic programs. Think, “What problem am I helping to solve with this program?”
Regularly Assess Marketing Efforts
Make sure to consistently evaluate the performance of your marketing campaigns. Gather alumni feedback, administer surveys to current students and review key metrics such as website traffic trends and email open rates. Institutions can harness this data to continuously update student personas, target advertisements and refine search engine optimization efforts. Students today are more inquisitive, perceptive and tech-savvy than ever before, and competition for their attention and consideration will only intensify. By developing a unique value proposition, building relevant and high-quality online degree programs, and directing your marketing efforts to the right students, your institution can keep ahead of the competition.
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