Research, Transfers, and Politics | Predicting Higher Education in 2019

Research, Transfers, and Politics | Predicting Higher Education in 2019

I’m a sucker for anything involving countdowns, “best-of” lists, or forecasted trends during the months of December and January.

Countdown of the top 50 songs of 2018? I’m listening.

Best beers of 2018? I want to try them.

Projected “tech trends” of 2019? I now want an 8K resolution television.

I consumed as much countdown/forecasting content as I could during the holiday break. While watching some of the most popular YouTube videos of 2018, I began putting together “Top of 2019” lists related to what I see in higher education marketing each day.

We all live and breathe higher education communication trends, changing enrollment strategies, and technology updates. Every campus (and related communicator/marketer) has its own priorities when it comes to making a splash in 2019, but here are three areas that I see gaining significant momentum in the coming year.

1. Data-Driven Academic Program Decisions

The need to offer right-fit academic programs (or right-fit modalities) has never been higher. Institutional funding and marketing budgets are under constant scrutiny and ensuring those dollars are used appropriately is extremely important.

Every institution knows which one of its programs has the easiest path to meeting enrollment goals. Open the doors, send out some materials, and you will get the necessary students to fill your nursing or MBA program. When you are tasked with growing your enrollment (potentially without adding new programs) and your “star” programs are at capacity, where can you look for growth?

Growth projections used to come from internal feedback (“Professor Smith thinks this topic should be getting more attention”) or institutional priorities (“the president would like to see more students in this program”). In today’s market, the amount of data readily available to paint a picture of academic demand at your institution is actually staggering. By combining institutional historical data from your CRM, local/regional/national/competitor degree conferment trends from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and labor market demand data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or a proprietary system like EMSI, campus decision makers can use customized data to unearth program demand within current campus offerings.

Capturing the correct data and analyzing it correctly allows an institution to create a sound strategy for admissions marketing. This exercise allows marketers to see what programs are underperforming and what competitors are doing to own that piece of the market. It also paints a clear picture of what programs should be a marketing priority from a growth perspective, which means allocating more dollars towards marketing those programs.

Gone are the days of making a program a priority because someone on campus “thinks” it would be a good idea. Data can make these decisions for you while creating a strategic plan for academic program marketing.

2. Transfer Student Marketing

Today’s student is looking for the best educational fit, no matter how many attempts it takes to find the right option. Educational and personal priorities are constantly shifting for your target audiences, which means students try to find an institution that provides the expertise or flexibility they desire.

In 2015, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 37.2 percent of college students changed schools at least once within six years, while 45 percent of those students changed more than once. Think about that statistic for a second. Over one-third of college students transfer at least once!

Targeting transfer students should be a part of your recruitment strategy and that audience fits nicely into a digital marketing campaign. One quick look at your historical data can unveil what institutions students typically transfer in from, which can then be used to inform a geofencing or retargeting campaign. You can also see what academic programs typically enroll the most transfers and make a concentrated effort to tailor your marketing language for those programs to transfers.

3. Tuition and Politics

The topic of “free college” gained significant momentum during the 2016 election, continued during the 2018 midterms, and is a part of numerous candidates’ platforms that have already announced campaigns for the 2020 cycle. “Free college” has numerous definitions, from debt-free promises with a community college degree to free tuition at four-year public institutions. The overarching topic remains the same and that’s expanded educational opportunities with the promise of less financial investment.

While politicians, institutional leadership groups, and other organizations argue over the validity of “free college,” the theme of affordability in higher education is being discussed now more than ever. Your prospective students are inundated with content surrounding the massive expense of higher education on a daily basis, which means your messages surrounding ROI and outcomes need to be genuine and precise.

Obviously, there are about 1,000 other trends peaking around the corner in our amazing world of higher education. The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, voice search, and the importance of lifelong learning, among others, will be discussed at our Converge 2019 Conference in Atlanta. Come join us to see what is New and Next in higher education!

Aaron Blau
Aaron Blau
January 24, 2019