The state of higher education is in crisis due to COVID-19. The American College of Education predicts that enrollment will drop approximately 15% next year, and international student populations will drop even more. Many students and parents are questioning the tuition costs, especially with COVID financially impacting more than 50% of incoming freshmen and current students. Gap year searches on Google have skyrocketed, and 5% of students are opting out of four-year institutions in favor of community colleges.
With the competition for students at an all-time high, colleges and universities are clamoring over prospects, freezing or dropping tuition, and relaxing admissions standards. At this time, it is critical to have a strategic and comprehensive marketing strategy to ensure relevancy to prospective students and influencers in a time of flux.
The current state of higher education presents an opportunity to critically look at your institutions strengths and differentiators, and evaluate whether these are still relevant in the new environment. If your university is known for a tight-knit student body, how are you planning to facilitate a sense of community in the next year with a hybrid education? If your school is known for exceptional job placement, are you preparing for virtual internships and remote career-coaching?
Now is also the time to assess whether your prospect targeting needs to shift. Students are looking to stay closer to home, attend schools with a built-in social network and are looking for more affordable options. If you pull a significant number of students from out-of-state, perhaps it warrants more emphasis on the local region. If you have changed admissions criteria or transfer policies, your institution may become more attainable for students who may have previously shied away.
With pivoting to virtual learning in the spring, you may also be discovering new opportunities for marketing your university. While 63% of students felt that their education degraded during COVID, perhaps your student body felt positively about it, which you can now leverage to your advantage. Student success stories present an opportunity for prospects to see concrete outcomes, which is even more important in a time of uncertainty.
Despite the shifting landscape, this summer presents an ideal time to make short-term strategic shifts and establish long-term plans. It comes down to Marketing 101 – assess the landscape, identify strengths and opportunities, and engage the most opportunistic audiences.