Winning with Print

If you work in admissions and enrollment, you’re moving quickly to connect with students wherever they are. Though a strong digital strategy is essential, print holds a critical place in reaching your audience. There’s certainly no substitute for a tangible take-away piece when meeting with students in person. And while email is the primary preferred means of initial communication for 49% of students, preference for direct mail is still strong, at over 37% (Ruffalo Noel Levitz).

No doubt, though, the Gen Z attention span for print is limited—so it’s more important than ever to make every page count

Remember Your Different Audiences

When designing a travel piece, your focus is on getting the attention of the students. And students today are all about authenticity. They’ll immediately recognize—and tune out—what’s insincere. Gen Z students will connect with a piece if it’s a genuine reflection of your brand, presented in a style that reflects the world they live in. 

For direct mail, it’s likely that mailbox contents will be filtered by parents. So it’s critical to keep these gatekeepers prominent in mind when designing direct mail. Be sure your content addresses the key essentials important to parents. 

What to avoid in all cases: thoughtless imitation of popular design. What to do instead: Keep up an awareness of current design trends through your daily digestion of media, giving you a context for what students are viewing. Then apply this general understanding to your own creative process as you communicate your school’s unique brand and values.  

Design for Today

In using print well, how can your piece best reflect current design trends? Here are some ideas to try—

Give them something unexpected. Implement a non-traditional fold, shape, or cut or use a unique approach to packaging. This is especially true of anything you send to your highest valued inquiries and applicants—your best bets. Any student on a campus visit should have a strong piece(s) in hand as they leave campus. Accepted students should feel celebrated and valued upon learning of their admittance to your school. For travel, a small die-cut piece of your mascot can help create awareness without high cost. Keep in mind high cost per-unit pieces may create buzz on the road, but weigh that against the reality of how likely they will be grabbed up by students who aren’t serious about your school.

These creative examples have inspired our thinking:

Acceptance Packet—Ringling College of Art and Design

Acceptance Packet—Ringling College of Art and Design


Acceptance Packet—Loyola University Maryland

Acceptance Packet—Loyola University Maryland


Die-cut Piece—NYU Stern Undergrad

Die-cut Piece—NYU Stern Undergrad

Use original photography rather than stock photos. You would think this goes without saying. More than just using your own students and physical environments, try to keep your campus photography from looking like stock photography. The classic “three under a tree” or magenta-cast chemistry lab shot need to stay out of your pieces. Gen Z students see these as authentic phonies. Put students in settings where they can be comfortable enough to be themselves—that’s where honesty will come out in your photos. Often, that means casting friend groups together. Create a well-planned shot list where you can cover the breadth of images needed, but embrace a flexible schedule to capture real campus life as it happens. There’s always a bit of magic in the unplanned and unscheduled!

Explore creative ways to make the piece interactive. Add instructions, for example, for posting related content on social media. Or include stickers students can use to create their own story. Make up an interesting checklist, or quiz, or give them something to draw, color, or fill out. Then tell them what you want them to do. Make it easy for them to post and share, and let them put themselves in your school’s story. 

Use Your Dollars Wisely

How often do you need printed pieces? This will vary, depending on your comprehensive communication flow. The average student receives 30–40 pieces of communication from a single school (including print and digital), so you need a strategy that takes into account how much is too much, and how to make sure they’re receiving and experiencing the most important information you’re sending. This means you’ll invest more in communicating the priority content. There’s not a silver bullet, and one size does not fit all, so you may need to experiment to find what works best in your context. 

How many printed pieces do you need? Again, this will vary, but five to ten print pieces should cover everything you need for students in your inquiry group. We recommend you focus on these priorities for print:

  • View book, Photo book or similar comprehensive, highly visual piece
  • Campus visit opportunities overview (seasonal with dates)
  • “Apply” push
  • Value/outcomes piece with financial aid info
  • Financial aid packet
  • Acceptance/Celebration packet  

Print marketing holds strategic value in your recruiting plans. Are you making the most of the potential?

This year, the work of 5° Branding and its clients has been recognized with a bronze award in CASE’s 2017 Circle of Excellence awards and the Grand Prize and eight other awards in the 53rd Annual Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition of the Baptist Communicators Association.

Our Top Five Web Design Trends for 2017

It’s no secret how important your website is. The 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that 71% of high school seniors rate college websites as the most important communication channel for learning about a college.

If you want Gen Z to take you seriously, your web design has to meet their heightened expectations, and your content has to be relevant and real. Let’s start with design. Are you up to speed on the latest trends? You’d better be, because they are—and prospective students equate the quality of your site to the quality of your institution. According to the 2015 Ruffalo Noel Levitz E-Expectations Report, "nearly eight out of 10 high school juniors and seniors said that a college website affects how they perceive an institution."

A recent Forbes article identified “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.” But slapping on glitzy new styles may not be so simple for higher ed websites, as you’re necessarily dealing with large amounts of content.

Since applying new trends in our context requires some unique skill and creativity, the Forbes article inspired us to come up with our own “5° Top Five” for higher ed websites.

  1. Responsive Design—This fundamental is now an expectation, and it’s been the norm for the past five years. A responsive website is designed to be viewed and experienced in a similar way regardless of what device you’re using. Some sites even take a “mobile first” approach in their initial conception. With over 70% of U.S. web traffic coming from mobile devices, a site that is not responsive is inadequate, and prospective students are taking note. Pull up SEBTS and the University of Nebraska on your phone to see examples of quality responsive design.
     
  2. GO BIG and go small—The first of the four C-R-A-P design principles is Contrast, and this principle is critical for higher ed website design. Fear of scrolling and an “above the fold” mentality have given way to larger, more immersive interfaces and content organization. Big is in, but so is small. Large, full-width images, full screen video, big buttons, and sweeping headlines can merge with areas of smaller content, patterns, and micro design to create engaging contrast and visual hierarchy. Bucknell and the University of Tennessee offer good examples of sites that have embraced this principle.
     
  3. A Robust Style Toolbox—Beyond the basic H-styles and div tags, .edu sites should take a page from Kenyon College and UNR to develop a toolbox of styles and design elements for use throughout the site. The goal is to balance uniformity with unique content needs in a way users feel at home as they view your site.
     
  4. Parallax Scrolling and Interactivity Paired with Micro-Interactions—The idea of layering content to move at different speeds as you scroll (parallax scrolling) has been around for several years. Rather than a fad that will come and go, we see it as an evolving tool to engage the user and aid in storytelling. The Forbes article describes micro-interactions as “user enabled interactions that provide control, guidance or rewards, or just impart fun to the experience for the user.” Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas capital campaign site show innovative use of this idea. 
     
  5. Beyond the Home Page—Because prospective students and other site users are entering your site through a variety of channels (Google search, SEM campaigns, cross-linking, etc.), your site can’t put all its eggs in the home page basket. Gateway, landing, and program pages are just as important as home page interface design and functionality. The University of Nebraska knows this well. See the value they’ve placed on a number of pages beyond the home page—Why UNL?, visitor, about, and cost & aid.


Your prospective students are increasingly engaging websites with today’s best design features.

Are you incorporating these “Top Five” trends in your web design?


Sources:

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2016). 2016 e-recruiting practices report for four-year and two-year institutions. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Retrieved from www.RuffaloNL.com/BenchmarkReports.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. 2015 e-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2015. Available at www.RuffaloNL.com.

Kloefkorn, Sheila. Forbes. Forbes Community Voice. Dec. 21,. “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.” www.forbes.com

 

What's Up with College Yield Rates?

Yield rates—the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll—are important indicators to college enrollment officers as they help schools predict new student enrollment each year. After a long and steady decline in yield rates, the average seems to be stabilizing. But let’s take a look inside the numbers—and what we can do about them.

Reports from the National Association for College Admission Counseling show a slight increase (.5%) in the average yield rates for Fall 2014, following a 12% decline since 2002. Those numbers are leveling out, thanks to new groups of students: transfers and internationals.

Here’s a summary of the yield rate numbers for Fall 2014:

  • First-Time Freshmen: 29%
  • Transfer Students: 55%
  • International Students: 52%

According to The Washington Post writer Jeffrey Selingo, the primary reason for the years-long decrease in yield rates is that students are applying to more colleges. The proportion of college freshmen who applied to seven or more colleges, he reports, reached 36 percent in 2015, up from 17 percent a decade ago, and from just 9 percent in 1990.

In this new landscape of greater choice, how can we increase those bottom-line numbers of accepted students who actually enroll?

Diversify your pool of applicants. We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: Increase your outreach to minority groups, international students, and transfer students.

Win them early. If students fall in love with your school before they have a chance to apply to three or four—or ten—other schools, you have a better chance of gaining their loyalty. 

Set yourself apart. The University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, has tripled enrollment in the last decade and is now the ninth-fastest-growing private college in the country. The secret, according to an interview in The Washington Post, is not simply to race to where there are large numbers of students. Scott Steinberg, the university’s dean of admissions, says, “Everyone follows that playbook, so we needed to be unique in other ways.”

What unique factors give your school an edge over others where your prospective students are applying? Interview groups of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Ask them about why they chose your school, and why they stayed. Look for common themes in their responses to understand the heart of your school’s distinctiveness. Then tell your story well.


Sources:

National Association for College Admission Counseling (2015). 2015 State of College Admission. www.nacacnet.org.

Selingo, Jeffrey. The Washington Post. “Small colleges fight to survive, amid warnings of shaky finances.” www.washingtonpost.com.

Selingo, Jeffrey. The Washington Post. “How much longer will students be willing to go away to college?” www.washingtonpost.com.

 

Soaring Financial Aid & Competition for Students Increasing Pressure in Higher Ed

As college recruiters scramble to keep up enrollment numbers, financial aid has become the chief competitive tool. In fact, an annual study last year by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found the average institutional discount rate for first-time, full-time freshmen in private schools reached 48.6 percent.

What factors have led to this trend? The Washington Post has recently highlighted changing demographics that are putting pressure on college recruiting. Higher education writer Jeffrey Selingo points to a “lack of a strategy to diversify the enrollment pipeline.” Since many colleges have not been prepared for the changes, the urgent reaction has been to offer substantial discounts.

In a subsequent article, Selingo identifies regions of the country—particularly the Northeast and the Midwest—where declining high school populations leave colleges at particular risk for enrollment wars. To attract students from farther away, increased financial aid becomes even more critical.

At the same time, cost is still a major barrier for students. According to a recent Inside Higher Ed article, “about 40 percent of students who decided not to go to their college or university of first choice cited reasons related to costs.”

How can recruiters take steps to compete in this high-pressure environment? We have a few suggestions to get you thinking . . .

First, build your pipeline to diverse audiences. Since 40% of today’s college population is made up of minority groups, this is a substantial factor in your enrollment plans. Financial aid is important, but there’s still much more. See insights here on Engaging Today’s Growing Minority Population. Further, there are now more than 1 million international students on U.S. campuses. See more here on Attracting International Students.

Next, when evaluating your financial aid system, look beyond the amounts and types of aid. Consider: how well are you delivering your service? Are you providing information and award packages quickly enough? Is your presentation clear enough that students understand any unique benefits you’re offering? Do your marketing materials showcase all that you have to offer prospective students?

We realize you’re thinking about how to communicate more effectively in the crazy complexities of today’s financial aid environment. We are, too. Let’s talk.


Sources:

Selingo, Jeffrey. The Washington Post. “Small colleges fight to survive, amid warnings of shaky finances.” February 9, 2017. www.washingtonpost.com.

Selingo, Jeffrey. The Washington Post. “How much longer will students be willing to go away to college?” March 25, 2017. www.washingtonpost.com.

Seltzer, Rick. Inside Higher Ed. “Turning Down Top Choices.” March 23, 2017. www.insidehighered.com.

National Association of College and University Business Officers. “Tuition Discounts at Private Colleges Continue to Climb.” March 16, 2016. www.nacubo.org.

Close to Home: How Much Does Location Matter in College Recruiting?

It’s a reality. Most college students aren’t venturing far from home.

Estimates vary about the precise measurements, but studies are consistent in the bottom-line application: location matters—a lot. Niche data shows that 58 percent of students go to a college within 100 miles of their hometown, and 72 percent of students stay in-state, while only 11 percent of students go more than 500 miles. An American Council on Education study found the radius to be particularly tight for public schools, quantifying that 57.4 percent of incoming freshmen attending public four-year colleges enroll within 50 miles from their permanent home. The numbers further revealed that the median distance from a student’s home to college is only 18 miles for public four-year institutions and 46 miles for private nonprofit four-year institutions.

The ACE study identified key reasons for students staying close to home: family responsibilities, cultural norms, or factors related to working while enrolled in school. Students who are more affluent are less affected by distance, while students from working-class families and Latino, African American, and Native American students are most affected by distance.  (See also help for increasing minority enrollment here.)

As Ruth Lopez-Turley, professor of sociology at Rice University (TX) is quoted in the ACE report, we “should stop treating the college-choice process as though it were independent of location and start situating this process within the geographic context in which it occurs.”

Maximize Your Home Base

If the majority of your prospects are within 50–100 miles, it makes sense to focus broad-sweeping efforts and budgets here. This doesn’t mean you only recruit close to home, but recruiting outside these bounds should be highly focused, and it may require personalized attention to help recruits overcome barriers of distance.

For those prospective students within the 100-mile radius, they have limited choices close to home, so you can narrow your competitive edge. What will make your school stand out from the others specifically within your geographic area?

Then Think Regionally

The University of New England in Maine—the ninth-fastest-growing private college in the country, succeeded by expanding recruiting outside the state, in the New England region. Thinking in terms of a 250-mile radius, they were able to stretch the “close-to-home” boundary (while still maintaining the principle). Private schools have an advantage in this regard, since students crossing state lines—and forfeiting in-state tuition rates—are more likely to attend a private school in a neighboring state.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, while 40 percent of private colleges have decreased the number of in-state freshmen in recent years, only 32 percent of public colleges have. Of the top 20 colleges with the biggest drops in the ratio of in-state to out-of-state students, 14 were private colleges.

What does “close to home” mean for your prospective students? Should that make a difference in your recruiting plans? Let's talk about your strategy for this recruiting season.


Is Your School Engaging Today’s Growing Minority Population?

For Gen Z students, ethic and cultural diversity is a natural part of everyday life. Minority student groups now make up more than 40% of the total college population in four-year schools. How diverse is your campus?

According to NCES reports, all categories of ethnic minorities are on the rise, while the percentage of white students is falling.

From fall 1976 to fall 2014, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 17 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 7 percent, the percentage of Black students rose from 10 percent to 14 percent, and the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students rose from 0.7 percent to 0.8 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 84 percent to 58 percent. Nonresident aliens, for whom race/ethnicity is not reported, made up 5 percent of college students in 2014.

For many schools, achieving diversity is a complex issue that will involve significant strategic planning and systemic changes, but we’ve identified a few points to get you thinking about the possibilities.

Recruiting

Some universities near large minority populations are reaching out to local high school students through special funding. The Johns Hopkins University, for example, recognizes high-achieving Baltimore City public school graduates (a school system with 92% minority students), with scholarship assistance up to 100% for eligible students. In the University of California system, the president herself, Janet Napolitano, recruits minority students in high schools. She breaks down misconceptions about affordability by highlighting the system’s generous system of financial aid.

Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, director of Edvance Foundation, adds further perspective: “In the end, the problem may be less about specialized recruitment counselors and money than about how to fix a broken pipeline and provide a better safety net.” He suggests that four-year institutions start by partnering with community colleges,  where enrollment rates are high for minority students—creating a pathway for student transition.  (See more here about recruiting community college students.)

Care and Retention

As minority students arrive on campus, without proactive outreach in place, they may feel isolated and experience culture shock. Minority students at Northeastern University in Boston rely on the African-American cultural center on campus as a safe space to discuss racial issues. Mitchell suggests mentoring programs for black students, as well as changing staff and faculty recruiting policies.

Marketing Approaches

When prospective minority students look at your school, can they picture themselves there? Here are some tips that just touch the surface, but they’re critical if you want students to take a look below the surface and discover your school’s true heart for diversity.

  • On your website and in your recruiting materials, be sure to include photos that naturally capture the student diversity of your campus.
  • Identify affinity groups for under-represented students, and highlight organizations that welcome and celebrate ethnic diversity.
  • Feature testimonials of a wide-range of students.
  • Be intentional to include outstanding students of different ethnic groups as leaders for student recruitment events.

Growing diversity on campus reflects the multicultural world students will be entering after graduation. We encourage you to ask minority students on your campus, “How are we doing?”
 


Sources:

National Center for Education Statistics. “Fast Facts.” https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98

The Johns Hopkins University. “The Baltimore Scholars Program.” https://baltimorescholars.jhu.edu/

Watanabe, Theresa. Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2016. “UC expands its recruiting efforts targeting black and Latino students.” http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-uc-diversity-20160205-story.html

Mitchell, Brian C. The Huffington Post, April 27, 2015, “College Minority Recruiting.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-brian-c-mitchell/college-minority-recruiti_b_7151494.html

National Center for Education Statistics. “Digest of Education Statistics.” Table 306.20. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_306.20.asp?current=yes

Krantz, Laura. Boston Globe. “Diverse campuses, but still few black students.” http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/04/24/boston-area-colleges-struggle-attract-african-americans-campus/ULApCGSF8aIn74RKnZGgUK/story.html

Re-Imagine Recruiting to Reach More Non-Traditional Students

Students age 25 and older now make up about 40% of the total college population. And their numbers are on the rise—at even faster rates than traditional students. Reaching this growing market means an intentional look at your message and your methods.

Your Marketing Message

Let them know you get it. Busy with full-time jobs, families, and other grown-up responsibilities, the biggest question for adult learners is how they can possibly take on the demands of college. Show them you understand and that you care. Share testimonials of other students like them who have navigated the program with success.

Show them you mean it. It’s no secret that non-traditional college programs have to be structured in out-of-the-box ways. And the list of requirements for this audience is not simple. In fact, a recent Ruffalo Noel Levitz survey of adult learners identified 15 factors that are rated at 70% or higher as important for enrollment in a four-year institution. Because their decision-making is a complex mix of factors, this means your marketing message can’t simply focus on the top two or three.

  • 93%        Availability of program I wanted
  • 92%        Convenient time and place for classes
  • 88%        Flexible pacing for completing a program
  • 88%        Time required to complete program
  • 86%        Availability of financial assistance
  • 85%        Ability to transfer credits
  • 85%        Requirement for current or future job
  • 84%        Cost
  • 83%        Reputation of institution
  • 80%        Availability of online courses
  • 79%        High rate of job placement
  • 78%        Program accreditation by professional organization or trade group
  • 76%        Credit for learning gained from life and work
  • 74%        Distance from campus
  • 72%        Tuition reimbursement from employer

Exceed expectations. The RNL survey also measured “performance gaps” in adult learner satisfaction. While these students are largely satisfied with their non-traditional programs, there are identified areas for improvement. Topping the lists were variables such as: the opportunity to self-pace coursework, availability of course offerings within a program, and timely feedback from instructors. Can your institution shine in communicating these factors?
 

Your Marketing Methods

Keep it personal. When institutions ranked top methods for generating inquiries, face-to-face information sessions were rated as the number one most effective method by far for private and public four-year institutions. While referral programs and website forms were next for private schools, public institutions indicated more success with open house events and off-campus group meetings. Phone calls and personalized email messages were the most effective follow-up practices.

Customize the technology. An article by Craig Maslowsky, CEO and Founder of New Ed, explains that marketing resources for adult students “must be optimized to enhance the student’s experience, and designed in a way that they felt understood.” This includes particular attention to website design and content, search engine optimization, and CRM.

Is it time to re-imagine your marketing message and methods for reaching this critical audience? Let's talk about how we might collaborate with you and make an immediate impact.

_________

Sources:

National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics: 2014. Table 303.40. www.nces.ed.gov.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2015). 2015 adult learner marketing and recruitment practices benchmark report. Coralville, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Retrieved from www.noellevitz.com/BenchmarkReports.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2016). 2015-16 adult learners report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. www.ruffalonl.com.

The Evolllution (2017). Top Five Ways to Market Higher Education to Adult Students. www.evolllution.com.

The (Big) Missing Piece in Your Recruiting Plans

If you work at a four-year institution, are you overlooking a tremendous under-tapped pool of enrollment prospects? If you’re not intentionally recruiting community college students, you may be missing out.

According to data from the American Association of Community Colleges, among all first-time freshmen, 41% are community college students. With the high costs of education and an increasing workforce need for skilled laborers, we expect the numbers to rise.

A recent Inside Higher Ed article responds to a 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center on this topic. Jason DeWitt, research manager with the center, concludes, “The idea that there’s only one path through college is antiquated.”

Community colleges play a vital role in expanding higher education opportunities across the country.  And it’s working. For underprepared students, community colleges provide the personal attention and extra resources needed to equip students for the rigors of higher education.

Reported by Inside Higher Ed: Sixty-two percent of students who transfer from two-year to four-year institutions go on to earn bachelor’s degrees within six years of transferring. The rate is even higher for students who complete a credential at the two-year college before transferring—at 72 percent.

Ready to start recruiting? Here are some thoughts to keep in mind . . .

For this purpose, there are two types of community college students: those who plan to transfer to a four-year institution, and those who still need to be convinced. Your message will need to address the interests of both groups.

  • For those not yet convinced, highlight increased job potential with a four-year degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics quantifies sharp decreases in unemployment with higher education, along with higher wages. There is a 42% increase in earnings with a bachelor’s degree, compared with only an associate’s degree.
  • Help students discover logical connections from their 2-year programs to 4-year programs. What, specifically, do you have to offer a student with an associate’s degree in communication, or mathematics, or business administration? How can you expand the education of those trained in drafting and design, or automation and control, or nursing? Study the programs at community colleges, and you’ll realize these lists could go on and on.
  • For those who intend to transfer and are comparing four-year colleges, show them that you offer the academic programs that will ensure a smooth transfer and completion of a four-year degree.
  • Finally, consider how you’ll welcome these non-traditional students to campus. Will they find a place to belong among a junior class that started bonding back at freshman orientation?

At 5°, we’ve worked extensively with community colleges and can help you tailor your plans to reach this growing population. Let’s talk about how you can get started!

Creating Memorable Campus Visits

How would prospective students rate a visit to your campus? —Apart from the attractive landscape and stately buildings, the impressive credentials and classroom content. Beyond the presentation of social activities and athletic events. How well are they welcomed?

We think we can learn some valuable lessons in hospitality from an unexpected source: the home of America’s favorite chicken sandwich.

In a recent national survey, Chick-fil-A’s service stands out among fast-food chains across the country. A subsequent Inc. article links the chain’s good manners and quality service to its popularity. This exceptional company, rated so highly for the dining experience, outperforms its closest competition by huge margins in average per-store revenue.

Chick-fil-A’s brand of service is at the core of how business is done. A statement on the company’s website explains:

For the past 70 years, we have built a foundational commitment to service . . . This begins in the restaurant – one customer at a time. We firmly believe in treating every person who comes through our doors with honor, dignity, and respect. We teach it to everyone who comes to work at Chick-fil-A, and it’s something that they take with them throughout their careers – whether they choose to stay with Chick-fil-A or go on to other promising careers.

This has our team at 5 Degrees thinking . . . thinking about how friendly, knowledgeable service might contribute to delivering an outstanding product in higher education. No doubt, customers love the Chick-fil-A product. But perhaps it’s the way that product is delivered that pushes the company so far beyond its competitors.

The American Freshman 2015 report measured various factors of the college experience. In evaluating the students’ reasons in deciding to go to a particular college, 42% of respondents rated “campus visit” as “Very Important.”  In fact, it was about as important as “financial assistance” and “social activities.” (Data Tables, p. 51).

As institutions of higher education, we have a premium product to offer. Would serving it up with a smile set your school apart from others?

As you’re training staff and student volunteers to host prospective students, you may consider taking a page from the Chick-fil-A approach. Notice their statement says, “. . . we teach it (service) to everyone who comes to work for Chick-fil-A.”

Does your campus visit training include teaching good service with:

-An emphasis on words, expressions, and responses that communicate welcome?

-Coaching for how to engage students and parents in conversation, to listen to and give value to their thoughts?

-Thorough preparation for answering questions well?

Stand-out recruiting materials and a stellar website may get students to your campus for a visit. But it’s the personal connection that will keep them there. And maybe serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches during campus visits—that couldn’t hurt, either. 

Higher Ed Marketing in the Gap Year

With enrollment in gap year programs up 23% since 2015, if your institution is overlooking this trend, then you may be missing a key contingent of prospective students. While the idea of a “year off” between high school and college is not new, what’s different is the breadth of students the idea is attracting. An investigative report with Katie Couric finds that the gap year is “not just for rich kids anymore.”

A USA Today article in 2008 foretold the growing acceptance—even embracing—of the gap year concept, as leaders identified the potential of the movement. David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at that time for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said admissions counselors were seeing that "if properly vetted, these opportunities could actually help students succeed in college." Around that time, Princeton University formalized a “bridge year” program. Harvard University has been encouraging the practice “for decades” according to The New York Times.

Abby Falik, founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year—and central to Katie Couric’s report—has made it her life’s mission not just to make gap years more common, but also to make them more accessible. With $10 million in fundraising, her organization can provide participant support, offering a “need-blind” admissions policy. Global Citizen Year is one of a plethora of organizations offering structured programs. A recent booklet from New Trier Township High School District identifies more than 75 organizations that offer formal programs emphasizing humanitarian service, adventure, and cross-cultural experience.

Students participating in gap year programs have described themselves—prior to the gap year—as “stuck,” or lacking purpose, or aimlessly running an “academic racetrack.”

Both gap year participants and leaders in higher education testify that students returning from a gap year are more mature in their preparation for college and have a greater sense of purpose about their education. This translates to higher graduation rates, too. According to Global Citizen Year, while one-third of college freshmen don’t come back for a second year, 94 percent of their alums are on track to graduate in four years or less.

An article in Liason, “Gap Year: Keep them engaged and committed” outlines some important marketing principles for reaching gap year students.

Here are some practical ideas for how you might put these principles into practice:

  • Don’t let students fall off your radar. Maintain data on high school students you know are taking a gap year (both in your database and counselor's notes). If you have a significant number of prospective students in a gap year, engage students through a targeted print and e-mail campaign. If it’s a smaller number of students, this allows for a personal touch—notes and phone calls—from counselors.
  • Be there when they’re looking for you. Since you likely won’t have a complete list of gap year students, your school's website becomes even more important. A microsite devoted to the gap year is a good idea. This would include campus visit opportunities, financial aid, and more—all geared toward a gap year student, rather than a high school junior or senior.
  • Make the most of it. Highlight current students who took a gap year. Give them opportunities to share via blog post or video about how they integrated into the campus after a year off, as well as what they gained from their time away from school. Listen—and let’s all learn from their experience. 

Words That Work: The Nitty-Gritty of Marketing Copywriting

In last week’s post, “Words Matter,” we considered how excellent writing gives your institution a competitive edge. This week, let’s dig in to some of the how-to’s of producing powerful marketing copy for your school.

How to get perspective

Step into your intended reader’s shoes. Think about what you already know about your targeted audience, and ask yourself: Why is this subject important? And what does the reader want to know about this? Try a little informal research—ask some students, or parents, or others in the market you’re trying to reach.

Next, remember that language and style matter. If you’re writing to high school students and you’re a few years (or more) out of school yourself, you may need to re-gear your vocabulary and the way you use words.  Spend some time reading what they’re reading to help frame your approach.

How to get (and keep) the reader’s attention.

Just think about your own daily barrage of email messages, web pages, and printed mail. How much of it do you quickly pass over?

To draw in your intended reader, you have work do to. In sync with your top-rate design and photography, it’s the words—simple and compelling—that will accomplish your purpose.

Throughout your copy, use imaginative language that keeps readers engaged. A conversational tone is especially effective in addressing younger audiences. Create visual images, and use relevant, concrete examples. Avoid long or complicated sentences or extended paragraphs.

Captivating subject lines and headlines are crucial, so this is something that’s well worth an investment of time and creativity. Specific feedback from your audience is especially helpful here. Take potential headlines and run them by a small test group. Or measure which subject lines generate the highest click-through rates in your electronic communications.

How to make your copy convincing and accurate.

Your copy only works if your readers are moved to take action, right? To persuade your readers, appeal to their emotions, interests, and goals. Use simple, pointed words to compel them to the next step.

Finally, grammatical errors—subtle, or not-so-subtle—create glaring red flags in your copy. An otherwise excellent article or promotional piece will quickly lose credibility with misspelled or misused words, misplaced modifiers, or run-on sentences. Be sure to carefully review your own work, but have someone else proofread it, too.

How a professional can help

Without experienced skill and intentional effort, your writing may be missing the mark—and missing your intended reader. Even a talented in-house writer, distracted by office meetings and the urgent matters of each day, may struggle sheerly for lack of time to focus.

At 5°, our professional copywriters are those rare individuals who actually love to write (and quietly critique other people’s writing!). Gleaning the best of your organization, we’ll deliver customized content. We’ll support outstanding design with copy that’s compelling. Relevant. Accurate. Persuasive. Words to set your brand apart.

Words Matter in Higher Ed Marketing

Presenting a polished, professional image is essential if you want your institution to stand out—or even stand up—in today’s crowded media. Most college marketing professionals, then, wouldn’t shortcut graphic design for a website or a printed promotional piece. But what about the substance under the visible brand? 

Sadly, many great-looking images fall flat without compelling words to hold them up. Images may attract prospective students and their families, but it’s the words that move them to action. If copywriting is an area where you’ve tried to cut corners, it may be time to reconsider. 

What makes good copy?
In short, good marketing copy gets a reader’s attention (and keeps it), communicates clearly, and prompts action. Excellent writing gives your school a competitive edge. Deborah Dumaine, founder of Better Communications and author of the bestselling book, Write to the Top, emphasizes this point, explaining, “. . . writing is a strategic advantage” that “can make or break your company’s brand.” 

Simple, right? Here are some basic steps to make your writing a more powerful tool.

Get perspective.
What is your intended reader interested in knowing? Even if you have something really important to say, your message is only going to be effective if the reader cares what you’re saying—and how you’re saying it. Consider the content from the reader’s perspective: What’s in it for me?

Make it compelling.
Effective writing will immediately get the intended reader’s attention. And once you’ve captured attention, good writing also keeps that attention. Your content must be relevant, engaging, and to the point. 

Be sure it’s accurate. 
Poor grammar, outdated information, or sloppy sentences will certainly make your writing stand out. But is this really how you want to stand out?

Convince your reader. 
Persuasive copy calls your reader to action. This may mean clicking on the next link, making a phone call to schedule a campus visit—or finally making the big “college decision,” in your favor. 

Finally, don’t miss this essential: How you choose your copywriter matters. Writing is a specialized skill, not a task to be left to just anyone. Stick with the excellent writers on your team, or hire a professional. Good copywriting requires talent, as well as an experienced understanding of the subject and the intended audience. And since your copywriter will also need time and attention to focus, you might consider adding a budget line for visits to Starbucks! 

Does Your Brand Need a 180?

Does your institution's brand need a 180° shift?

Probably not. When evaluating your marketing approach, it’s tempting to think about doing something entirely new. Different. Out-of-the box. Powerful. And yes, likely expensive.

But maybe you’re already closer than you think.

The truth is, when you “do a 180” with your school's brand and marketing components, you may be creating something entirely out of step with your institution. Or even out of step with the reality of the higher ed market.

As an educational institution, you’re competing against similar organizations. You’re not trying to sell an altogether different product, but simply the distinctive way that your school offers the educational experience. It’s a matter of identifying your defining qualities and communicating those well. 

The underlying question: How do you reflect the unique character of your school?

You know your school better than anyone else. The alumni, students, investors, faculty, staff, and administration collectively hold the wisdom about what makes your brand what it is. To unlock that wisdom, it helps to have some outside help—an experienced marketing team that will ask probing questions, discern key perspectives, and assimilate it all to effectively tell your story.

So then, how different will your brand be? The shift should likely be small, not a 180 departure—just a 5° difference. That doesn't mean there's no room for fresh thinking, big ideas, or a bolder visual manifestation of your brand. It simply means through consistent, incremental steps over time, that slight shift will allow you to carve out your own place in a crowded market. Your brand will reflect who you really are, so you’ll be creating something sustainable.

Are you ready for a 5° shift? It may make all the difference. It's why we exist. 

Will Your Admissions Materials Stand Out in a Crowded Mailbox/Inbox?

How could two universities—one in Buffalo, New York, and the other in Sydney, Australia—come up with marketing campaigns that look almost interchangeable? That’s the question presented in a recent article, “Your Future Starts Here. Or Here. Or Here” in Inside Higher Ed.

At 5°, we see it, too. You want your recruiting communication to project a modern, compelling brand, in sync with both current culture and your own unique mission and position . But you don’t want to just blend in, either. You want to capture the attention of a generation with a short attention span. So what can you do about it?

First, remember that what you’re offering is indeed similar to the competition. There are givens—non-negotiables—that are important to students and parents. The campus. The student-faculty interaction. The success of graduates. The cost. These are critical concepts, and you have to convince prospects of your credibility in these areas.

Let's say you’re choosing a Mexican restaurant. Either Qdoba or Chipotle may be a reasonable choice. Both are tasty. Both are affordable, casual, and fast. In a given situation, you wouldn’t settle for something else. But why choose one over the other? Maybe it’s location. Maybe it’s their approach to food sourcing. Maybe you just like the people who work there.

So, then, think about your STORY. How do you breathe life into the vague concepts?

To capture your story, ask lots of open-ended questions. Why did students come here? Why do professors care about the success of their students? Why do alumni still love their school? Why do donors give?

Then, you can take those non-negotiable elements of college recruiting and present them in context of your own situation. Take a look at the difference a story can make.

In another recent article in The Huffington Post, “What to Do When College Marketing Materials Look the Same,” writer W. Kent Barnds says that most colleges make the same claims. Let’s take his analysis and show how you can take generalities and present concrete distinctives:

  • Marketing Claim: We have a beautiful campus.
  • Try Something Specific Like: “Surrounded by (the Rocky Mountains, or the city skyline) …”
     
  • Marketing Claim: We care about students.
  • Try Something Specific Like: We offer personal attention. (Then back it up with an example of the faculty member who went the extra mile to help a student with a national research project competition.)
     
  • Marketing Claim: “More than 90% of our students receive financial aid.”
  • Try Something Specific Like: Testimonial of a student who was able to attend your school due to the financial aid offered.

You don’t need to be radically different to differentiate. Find your story and tell it well. A 5° shift practiced consistently will lead your institution into a place of authenticity and distinction.

Budget-Minded Basics for Your Next Admissions Campaign

In today’s competitive environment, it’s a given that your institution's recruiting materials have to look polished and your message must be compelling. But, with budget resources tighter than ever, how can you accomplish this without breaking the bank?

An effective marketing campaign does not have to be complicated. Here are some simple tips to keep you on track:

1. Focus on your best prospects. If you’re buying mass-mailing lists with thousands of names, most of these “prospects” are not likely prospects at all. Apart from some connection or familiarity with your school, your promotional pieces will be meaningless to the average student and will end up with a load of other brochures—in the recycling bin. Instead, focus your efforts on finding the students who are most likely to respond. It’s just simple, tried-and-true targeted marketing.

  • Find students who already have an affinity for your school—like legacies, or members of closely-connected organizations.
  • Zero-in on high schools or churches where you’ve had success in recruiting students in recent years.
  • Look at your student body profile and develop specific approaches to appeal to those type students.

2. Avoid personalized marketing gimmicks (variable data printing) that puts the student's name on the front of postcard, brochure, bumper sticker, etc. Gen Z sees right through insincere attempts at relationship. And besides, you’re likely to find that “Fred” hasn’t used his real first name since kindergarten.

3. Keep copy concise and scannable. You don’t need to invest time in telling your university’s lengthy story in every marketing piece. Some of your materials can be simplified, just used to get attention or present major points.

4. You likely don’t need a Madison Avenue agency or a transformation of your identity. Some marketing firms will try to sell you on the idea of extensive scientific research. But the reality is that you know your school better than anyone else.  For communications professionals who understand your market, a day or two on campus may be all it takes to get to the heart of what makes your school the unique place it is.   

Embarking on a new marketing campaign might seem overwhelming and cost-prohibitive, but it's possible to achieve your goals by considering these suggestions. The 5° team would love to talk with you about how to make the most of your marketing budget.

Attracting International Students Part Two: Communicating Your Message

Last week we shared what we’ve learned about welcoming international students. If you missed that post, check it out here

So you’re ready now to wave the welcome banner for prospective international students. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of communicating with American students, but international relations still seems like, well… another world. And indeed it is.

As you think about reaching international students with your university’s message, we’ve summed up some helpful tips with Two R’s: Resources and Relationships. 

Resources
Prospective international students and their families will have all kinds of questions about your university and life in your community. Make it easy for them to find answers—beyond the basics like student housing and academic programs. Dedicate space on your website as a Resource Guide for international students, including information like: 

  • Student organizations and other campus groups that intentionally welcome international students.
  • Where to get furniture (free or cheap).
  • Where to buy groceries (even the closest international markets and their addresses).
  • Public transportation and help with getting a driver’s license or buying a car.
  • Local restaurants, parks, and cultural points of interest.
  • Activities, schools, and resources for spouses and children (primarily for graduate students or post-doc researchers bringing families).

Relationships
Some large universities have had strong success by setting up recruiting offices in major cities like Beijing. You don’t have to go to those lengths, though, to develop productive international relationships.

Get to know educational leaders in other countries. Establishing trust is a two-way street. As you’re interacting with officials in other countries, listen to their concerns and respond accordingly. Keep communication open and be ready to continually learn. 

Remember that your current international students may be your best recruiting tool. Collect testimonials of international students—especially from those who experienced a warm welcome and new friendships—and feature these on your website. You may also take opportunities to connect these students with prospective students in their home countries via social media. 

Keep in mind, too, that international students usually remain strongly connected back home. If they have a good experience at your university, they’re more likely to encourage their own friends and family to come, too! 

Attracting International Students, Part One: Welcome—In Any Language

We all know that international students are coming to the U.S. in record numbers. But did you realize that number is now approaching one million? According to the 2015 report of the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE), the growth rate has been growing steadily, to last year’s increase of 10% over 2014.

Why International Students?

A majority of admissions directors said they plan to increase efforts to recruit international students in the next year, according to the 2015 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors. But what, exactly, is the benefit for U.S. colleges?

  • Diversity that enhances the educational experience for all students.
  • Acquiring new talent among gifted students worldwide.
  • Connections with educational institutions around the world, for potential partnerships and reciprocal learning experiences for American students.
  • Increasing admissions numbers, at out-of-state tuition rates, in the face of struggles to meet admissions goals.

How Can Your University Welcome International Students?

With the dramatic increase in international student recruiting, colleges are ramping up efforts to create positive experiences for these students. If your university isn’t a welcoming place for students from diverse backgrounds, you’ll likely lose them to more progressive educational institutions.

Beyond meeting basic needs for housing and transportation, what can you do to create a welcoming environment? At 5 Degrees, we’ve gotten input from a number of leaders and volunteers across the country who work among international students. Here are some take-away ideas we’ve discovered:

  1. Offer traditional hospitality. When international students arrive, everything is new and potentially overwhelming. They’ll need logistical help getting to campus from the airport and setting up their new residences. A warm, personal greeting will make a world of difference in their initial experience.

    Large universities may have the resources to send buses to the airport, open dorms early, and provide dedicated staff members for international programs. Want to create a truly personal touch, though? Partner with local churches, campus organizations, and community groups. You can also engage your American students in this effort. Local volunteers can pick up students at the airport, provide temporary housing, or take students shopping as they’re setting up their new residences.
     
  2. Offer friendship programs. International students are usually eager to make friends and experience American culture. Again, churches, campus organizations, and community groups are often glad to partner with local universities to match incoming international students with American families or American students to build cross-cultural friendships.
     
  3. Offer professional connections. This has been described as “the new hospitality.” International students are here to further their professional possibilities, but they often lack connections in the workplace. Use your school’s business and community connections to introduce students to local professionals and leaders.

Once you have all the pieces in place to create a welcoming environment, how do you communicate with prospective international students? We'll discuss this next week in part 2 of this series.

Conquering Debt-Fear among Your Prospective Students

With all the media buzz about college debt these days, it’s no surprise that many students back off college plans for fear of the cost, especially with private schools. According to the 2015 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, 76% report they are losing potential applicants because of their concerns about debt levels. And the worries aren’t just hype—among student borrowers, the average balance is nearing $30,000.

How can college recruiters help to assuage concerns and also guide students to make responsible choices?

Communicating the Value of Education

First, prospective students need to understand the long-term financial value of education. A college graduate, on average, earns 68% more than a high-school graduate. Over a working lifetime, that amounts to around $1 million—an impressive payoff for $30,000 of debt. And the unemployment rate for college graduates is about half that of high school graduates.

Further, college graduates benefit from a burgeoning need for highly skilled workers. A comprehensive study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projects a deficit of 3 million necessary new college degrees by 2018. This case of supply and demand will position college graduates for optimal opportunities in the job market.

Do your recruiting materials emphasize the financial benefits of a college degree? By creating awareness, colleges can help applicants, and their parents, to become more comfortable with a reasonable amount of debt.

Presenting Creative Alternatives

For many students, however, even a reasonable amount of debt won’t answer all their concerns about college funding.

College admissions professionals can help individual students to discover possibilities they may otherwise miss, like government or private grants. You can also help students explore out-of-the box possibilities, like taking a gap year or working full-time while engaging in a college program designed for schedule flexibility.

While many recruiters are glad to provide this kind of coaching, prospective students may not be aware of the depth of personal attention available to them.

Is your office presenting an open-door policy for students and parents?  By highlighting your approachability, you create opportunities to help students overcome barriers.

An effective communication plan can break through the debt-fear factor. 5 Degrees is here to help you assess your plan and take action.

Generation Z and You

Things move fast in our technology-driven world. For college recruiters, at least, the Millennial Generation has given way to Generation Z.

What’s the difference? Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994), while very attached to their mobile devices, at least remembers a time before smart phones. For Gen Z (born 1995 or later), touch screens have always been part of their world.

Gen Z grew up in an era of recession, terrorism, and uncertainty. As a result, they think about the world differently from Millennials. They’re a little more cautious with their money and more wary of the privacy tradeoffs involved in “traditional” social media like Facebook, preferring less trackable media, such as Snapchat and Yik Yak. They are used to self-educating with online videos, and they expect to create or co-create their own media and entertainment experiences.

Last year the marketing firm Sparks and Honey released an excellent report on Generation Z. It is well worth a read, including this “Checklist for Connecting with Gen Z”:

  • Depict them as diverse (ethnically, sexually, fashionably)
  • Talk in images: emojis, symbols, pictures, videos
  • Communicate more frequently in shorter bursts of “snackable content”
  • Don’t talk down…talk to them as adults, even about global topics
  • Assume they have opinions and are vocal, influencing family decisions
  • Make stuff—or help Gen Z make stuff (they’re industrious)
  • Tap into their entrepreneurial spirit
  • Be humble
  • Give them control and preference settings
  • Collaborate with them—and help them collaborate with others

5 Degrees is here to help you execute a strategy for speaking to Generation Z so that they can hear your institution’s unique message. Let's talk about your plans for recruiting your next class of Gen Z students.

The College Admissions Process as a Force for Good

Earlier this month, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published a report calling for a number of reforms in the college admissions program. Fifty deans and other college and university educators signed on to the report, which is titled “Turning the Tide.”

“Turning the Tide” suggests that the college admissions process can be a force for the common good. Just as college admissions pushes students toward personal success, the authors argue, the process could also push students toward concern for others and the common good.

The study’s recommendations come down to three main challenges:

1.     Motivating high school students “to contribute to others and their communities in more authentic and meaningful ways that promote in them genuine investment in the collective good and deeper understanding of and respect for others, especially those different from them in background and character.”

2.     Figuring out how to meaningfully assess students’ contributions to their communities.

3.     Redefining achievement in order to level the playing field for disadvantaged students and reduce the pressure to achieve for all students.

These goals seem noble enough. Still, they raise big questions. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that an admissions committee could in fact assess how meaningful a student’s community involvement was. Will that assessment not include some sort of checklist that students and their parents can still manipulate? “Turning the Tide” suggests that admissions officers pay more attention to community service activities to which students have demonstrated long-term commitment, valuing “quality” over “quantity.” Fair enough. But surely it won’t be long before this criterion for judging the “meaningfulness” of students’ experience becomes as meaningless as the current criteria.

Christian colleges have a long tradition of giving extra weight to questions of character and service. What have you learned about assessing the “meaningfulness” of your prospective students’ service activities?  How are you communicating the ways in which your institution enhances the student experience through community service?

To read “Turning the Tide” or the executive summary, click here.