The fourth Survey of Community College presidents, conducted by Gallup and sponsored by Inside Higher Ed, was released in late spring. Based on the responses of 177 two-year college leaders, the report gives voice to critical issues for both presidents and marketing departments in 2018.
The unique annual survey reflects many contemporary concerns including: public skepticism about higher education, the prospects of expanding free community college programs, state and federal funding, student retention (and the methods college take to increase attainment) and the need for clear pathways to a bachelor’s degree. Presidents are also concerned about leadership, the recruitment and development of future community colleges leaders and the need for greater diversity.
But their central concern directly impacts the work of marketing departments—that is, the changing landscape of public funding and the need to grow the student body.
|How big of a challenge is each of the following for community college presidents?|
|A big challenge||A moderate challenge||Not much of a challenge|
|Politics and public policy||47%||48%||5%|
|Personnel management and staffing||36%||58%||6%|
|Competition from other institutions||34%||53%||14%|
As the chart shows, the top two concerns of presidents are financing (71%) and enrollment management (68%). This indicates that pressures over funding continue to bear down at every institution. For six straight years, we have witnessed significant declines in the number of students attending college. Adult student enrollments in particular have declined by 1.5 million since 2010, hitting community colleges hardest.
Last year, the rate of decline improved somewhat, with a loss of 97,000 students, 1.7%, nationally. Nevertheless, the Inside Higher Ed survey pointed out, 57% of community college presidents say enrollment is down at their institution over the past three years.
So what’s a president to do?
And how can marketing departments support their college best? The survey pointed to three major strategic directions in the works at community colleges nationally.
|Which, if any, of the following steps are you taking to recruit more students? Please check all that apply.|
|Total||Enrollment Is Down||Enrollment is Stable or Higher|
|Adding new programs on campus||81%||77%||86%|
|Adding options to make it easier for students to transfer to four-year institutions||75%||75%||73%|
|Adding online programs||71%||68%||73%|
|Increasing spending on marketing||58%||67%||44%|
|Keeping tuition the same or cutting tuition||27%||32%||19%|
The creation of new programs is an exciting opportunity. It demonstrates the ability of community colleges to meet current workforce development needs—and it gives prospective students a real leg-up in the job market. Similarly, with adding new online programs, which 68%-73% of schools are doing. Here marketing departments can really be decisive in getting the word out. The overall increase in marketing funds (58%) can enable schools to use best practices and win a base of brand-new students.
What is the most effective way to match students with programs?
By educating and inspiring your prospective students! By informing them about their concrete opportunities and showing clear pathways to a good career! Everyone talks about being “student-centric” these days, but to actually engage and win prospective students, you need to provide facts, figures and successful role models with whom they can relate.
How can marketing departments, on a tight budget with limited time, provide all this information in a well-researched and attractive way? Syndicated content in the form of career-focused articles and infographics can integrate the most recent employment numbers and wages into a narrative that speaks directly to your potential students.
For example, perhaps your new Cybersecurity Program has a “twin” out there, a similar program tailored by another community college for the same type of business and government opportunities. Using such shared content is a best practice to effectively streamline your work. This collaborative approach also helps insure that the quality of your content marketing is up to date and at the highest level.
What do presidents believe are the most significant barriers to having more community college students go on to earn bachelor’s degrees?
- The absence of clear transfer pathways (90%)
- Lack of interest in a bachelor’s degree (50%)
Community college presidents are tasked with improving the nation’s ratio of 4-year degree holders and 75% are adding new options for students to get there. For community college marketing departments, this means both sparking interest in the transfer route and the future opportunities that can open, with the added need to explain those transfer pathways clearly. Many high school students, especially those who are the first generation to plan for college, are unaware of the great articulation programs to help them along the way. This is why marketing content must not just inform, but really educate.
Frankly, studies show that young people, including high school students, are doing more online research and have considered multiple avenues for their education. With student loan debt on everyone’s minds, students are increasingly savvy buyers. But to do so intelligently, they need solid information, not a sales pitch.
Sophisticated content marketing can help your school demonstrate, with the numbers, the financial advantage of community college—while showing the high-quality education they will receive. Compelling success stories from community college graduates can spark the imagination and provide that extra incentive.
The content marketing resources provided by Academic Marketing Services provide a more affordable—and effective—means of reaching a broad audience. By combining resources, community colleges can work together to raise awareness of the positive impact they have on their communities, build enrollment, and demonstrate their value to legislators.