Understanding what makes students and parents tick is one of the major requirements for an effective recruitment strategy. Even a “perfect” communications plan will yield minimal results if it lacks research about which items and issues influence your market. Such knowledge can guide how your campus should communicate with families and dictate a messaging strategy that helps to enforce your institution’s perceived value and worth.
For instance, colleges and universities have long pushed institutional fit as much as academic quality and outcomes, but this higher education market—along with all the other challenges it presents us—is not like those of the past. Today the market is far more consumer-minded. Although fit is still an important factor, it comes into play only after an institution is able to prove its ability to provide a strong return on investment. Even having struggled through the most recent recession, the market—based on the following National Student Clearinghouse research—did not waiver as experts had anticipated in the years immediately after the downturn.
The trends have continued in recent years, too. The latest data from the National Clearinghouse show that, between 2011-13, enrollments have increased slightly at four-year private colleges and universities, remained relatively flat at four-year public campuses, and declined at two-year public institutions.
The pundits had predicted that students/families would turn away from the more expensive option of private education for public post-secondary institutions, and for some students to enroll at two-year institutions at a higher rate. Interestingly, no real shift occurred, as the above graphs indicate. What does this begin to tell us? For one, families are willing to sacrifice for their child’s college education, even if it means choosing private over public, or public four-year over two-year. In no way is this meant to state that one institution type is better than another, but it does show that the impact of perceived value that families place on postsecondary institutions stays true even through a period of extreme economic distress.