In the past few months, higher education marketers have faced a whirlwind of changes that affect how their institutions attract, enroll, and retain students. Yet, colleges and universities remain bullish on their marketing spending for the coming year, with a majority (55 percent) planning to increase their budgets, according to research from LeadsCouncil and CUnet.
The anticipated increased spending follows tighter government controls that seek to regulate recruitment processes among for-profit colleges and universities, and will have an impact on how these schools market themselves, the programs they offer, and the students they can accept. Those regulations were finalized by the U.S. Department of Education in October and will take effect on July 1.
One part of the rules prohibits schools from paying admissions staffers incentives based on the number of students they enroll. Another cuts off federal funds to programs whose borrowers have high debt-to-income ratios and low loan-repayment rates. A third part of the regulations limits the revenue schools can receive from student financial aid programs. That rule is expected to hit schools hard, because many serve nontraditional students—including working adults, single parents, returning veterans, low-income students, and minorities—who all rely more heavily on financial aid programs.
“From eliminating programs to retraining staff and increasing academic standards, the survey showed that for-profit schools have significant plans for change in response to the regulations over the coming months,” LeadsCouncil’s cofounder Dave Wengel wrote in an email.
“It’s clear that schools are looking for ways to take more control over their marketing and increase transparency, both in their dealings with third-party affiliates and by generating their own inquiries,” Jamie McDonald, managing director of customer solutions at CUnet, said in a statement.
According to the survey, the 2011 Benchmarking Survey for Higher Education Marketers, 65 percent of for-profit school marketers identified the regulations as a significant or major concern. In response, nearly all schools reported plans for change, including demanding transparency from third-party affiliates (92 percent), retraining admissions staff (79 percent), and increasing academic standards (64 percent).
Other highlights of the survey included the following:
• Social media marketing appears to be hitting its stride, with 63 percent of schools planning to increase their spending, and 28 percent maintaining their spending in this space.
• In terms of practical changes, expect more activity in search advertising (66 percent reported a higher budget), targeted display advertising (38 percent reported an increase), and mobile advertising (35 percent reported an increase).
• Marketers employed at for-profit higher education institutions report success with certain phone inquiry solutions; among those for-profit schools that are using hot-transfer phone call solutions, 87 percent are planning to increase (56 percent) or maintain (31 percent) their spending, with just 12 percent reporting a decrease.
• Sixty-four percent of schools are increasing academic standards.
• Sixty-six percent of inquiries are generated by third-party vendors, with the rest coming from self-generated sources. With more than two-thirds of respondents (69 percent) reporting that they plan to increase their investment in self-generated inquiries during the next year, this ratio likely will change in 2011.
Retention is certainly a growing focus for these schools as well. The survey showed that 33 percent of for-profit schools plan to increase their spending on student retention solutions, and 42 percent plan to maintain their spending in this area. Just 4 percent are decreasing their spending on retention, with 21 percent reporting no specific budget allocated to this area. Many of the marketing channels noted above, such as social media and mobile marketing, can be used to help keep students engaged and, therefore, improve retention.
Look for additional money to be allocated for improving compliance through technology investments, according to the survey, which found compliance monitoring solutions to be a priority for 64 percent of respondents.
The survey, which was conducted between February 7 and February 25, involved 293 marketing professionals on U.S. college and university campuses.
News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at email@example.com.