Students need to plan early, which means community colleges must plan even earlier.
The enrollment period is a critical time for community colleges, particularly those which have grown increasingly dependent on tuition given the lack of government funding. Accordingly, community college marketers see this period as a critical time of year, where their marketing campaigns are most likely to have a direct effect on the financial stability of the institution.
The timing of these campaigns is paramount, yet it is also hard to judge. For students who are already enrolled, the emphasis is on continued engagement. They need counseling and support to see them through to the end of their degree.
On the other hand, new students face different enrollment deadlines. If they receive information about upcoming courses at the same time as the currently enrolled students, it may not leave them enough time to decide about their education options. By the time they turn in their application and sort out government funding, the classes they planned to take may already be full.
Given the various ways in which deadlines affect different students, community college marketers have a lot to gain from examining their college’s schedule and planning their campaigns well in advance. Here’s a few things to consider.
When does class registration begin?
The registration period is the most important period to build enrollment, for new and returning students alike. Of course, it’s easier to communicate with students who are already in class, as will be more likely to know pertinent information about their course of studies. For these students, the main goal of marketing is to make sure information is readily available to them so that they don’t drop out of the course.
However, new students are another matter entirely. Convincing students that enrollment in community college classes is their best move forward requires time and a lot of information. If community colleges want to reach these students with enough time for them to research their options, they need to start sending course information a couple months before registration begins.
Because this is such a high-stakes decision, many students can spend weeks working through the logistics, trying to come to a decision. With enough advance information, students can make any appropriate work arrangements, learn about their employment prospects, and arrange their schedule so that attending class becomes a possibility. Even once students have reached a decision, they still need time to enroll before they can register for courses.
How long does it take a new student to enroll?
New students have more paperwork and other meetings to go through before they can register, and this affects the time line of communications for them. A few of these steps include:
Filling out the community college application form.
These forms typically aren’t very lengthy, but the can slow a student down, particularly if that student has to gather transcripts or other paperwork from outside institutions.
Applying for financial aid.
For community college students who need to apply for financial aid, especially if they’re receiving part of it from a parental student loan, completing these forms can add to the enrollment process.
Taking a placement test.
Community college students come from all different educational backgrounds. Some have completed high school, while others may have dropped out. Some were home schooled, while others are dual-enrolled. Because of these diverse backgrounds and academic preparation, community colleges use a combination of SAT and ACT test scores, as well as internal placement tests, to determine what classes a new student is ready to attend.
Meeting with a student counselor.
New students also typically meet with a course counselor to discuss their test results, placement, and intended degree program. Student counselors can help new students determine what courses they need to complete their degree, and provide guidance as to what a reasonable course load looks like.
Registering for classes.
Most students these days register online, with courses often filling quickly. Because early prerequisite courses are in high demand, some time slots can fill quickly, leaving students with fewer options. Helping new students get through the enrollment process faster can leave them in a better position to sign up for their courses.
What about late enrollment?
Of course, there will always be students who want to enroll late. They might have taken longer to make up their minds, or perhaps didn’t receive information early enough. No matter the cause, they see the benefits of enrollment, and are eager to join.
For marketers, this presents an under-utilized opportunity to grow enrollment, even if at the last minute. While print campaigns usually go out early, a digital campaign can draw in students right until the final enrollment cut-off date. These can be particularly effective in reminding students who had formed an intention to enroll, but put off doing so till the last minute.
For students, planning isn’t just about this semester.
The bottom line when it comes to enrollment is that marketing can never start too early. While your strongest push should begin in the month or two preceding registration, enrollment marketing can continue past this point, even to the last possible day.
For colleges using CareerFocus as their initial marketing push, we recommend getting issues out in May or June. Colleges can then follow up with a digital marketing campaign that lasts the summer.
Finally, it’s important to remember that, for students, the information they need goes beyond this semester. They’re trying to plan many aspects of their lives, including current employment, family situations, and even children, against their desire for further education. And this plan has to last them for several years until they can finish their program.
Information is the key to helping them make the right decision. Provide as much of it as you can—as early as you can—and you’ll help your students and raise enrollment while you’re at it.