After years of enrollment decline coupled with dwindling state support, many community colleges have reached an “existential” moment. According to a study published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, community colleges lost 980,000 enrolled students from 2019 to 2022. These declines began prior to Covid, but dramatically intensified—doubling the number of cumulative declines within two years.

This has not been good for students or institutions. “Students who might ordinarily be furthering their education at two-year institutions are sitting on the sidelines, stuck in low-paying jobs or at loose ends,” said the Chronicle.

Clearly colleges and their marketing departments must adapt to the new challenges. The study suggests that schools must become “more proactive, flexible, and student-focused than ever—even as the types of student they focus on most may need to change.”

Marketers are being compelled to rethink their campaigns, fine-tune the demographics they are targeting, and upgrade their approach for these very changed times. To accomplish this, it is helpful to reconsider the thought-process of those who enroll.

How to rethink the "buyer's journey" for changing times.

Awareness: Traditional college marketing focuses on brand saturation—billboard advertisements, television commercials, or branded merchandise. Many people are, in this way, “aware” of their local community college. This low-level awareness, however, does not produce enrollment gains. To move prospective students to the next level, “considering” attendance, a content marketing approach is a proven strategy. This is because “active” awareness is generated by concrete information. Prospective students need to become aware of why they should investigate community college. This could be newly available careers and local opportunities or  information on higher wages for in-demand jobs—and the community college pathways which can make graduates job-ready.

Consideration: Once a future “buyer” becomes interested, they develop many questions. After all, community college students tend to view education as a means to an end rather than something to pursue for its own sake. Career-focused content is especially important in the “consideration” stage. It should include information on which skills are most in demand, how do workers qualify for positions, is further advancement or specialization is possible, what are the work hours/working conditions for these jobs, and more. The purpose of this content is to help prospective students concretely learn about options and determine whether community college will help them achieve their life goals.

Decision: Content in this phase is what we call “closing content.” Closing content speaks directly to the most pressing hesitations of prospective students: whether they can afford tuition fees, whether their schedule will be compatible with their day job, or whether they will have affordable childcare options while they attend classes. This is where content should emphasize newly-created scholarships and grants, the role of FAFSA, and the college’s financial aid services.

Satisfaction: These marketing materials should confirm for students who have enrolled that their decision was the right one. This might include information about campus life, student discounts, or work placement opportunities. Success stories depicting many different kinds of students—from a range of ages, backgrounds and experiences—achieving their goals go a long way in generating confidence.

At Aperture Content Marketing, we make the “buyer’s journey” easy. We will work with your marketing department to provide fully-customizable career-based content to address all of these stages and win new students. An “existential” moment requires a transformative one; let us work together to develop an up-to-date content marketing strategy for your college.

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