How to Create a Strategic Marketing Plan for Community Colleges

What does a good strategic marketing plan look like?

People often confusing marketing a community college with simple advertising, like putting up billboards and plastering signs on buses. But marketing at its best is about communication. It provides information that facilitates an exchange which benefits both parties, who are in pursuit of a symbiotic set of goods. Excellent marketing conveys that some purchase will deliver a tangible or intangible good that is of true value to particular customers.

Institutions of higher education don’t always think of potential students as customers. Yet, this is exactly the kind of attitude community colleges must adopt if they want to stay open. In the exchange between the college and the student, the student benefits from the attention of dedicated educators, a credential which substantially increases their earning potential, and hopefully an enriching campus experience. The college in turn receives tuition, a positive reputation, and, in the case of sustained alumni giving, a lifetime customer.

As colleges increasingly turn to marketers to address falling enrollment, it’s important to for administrators to understand what a good marketing plan looks like. In this two-part blog series, we will examine the fundamentals of a strategic marketing plan. In this first part we will talk about creating a basic marketing strategy for your community college. In the second, we will talk about college recruitment strategies and what it takes to turn an interested person into an enrolled student.

Know your customer

As we just said, marketing is about honest communication. It’s hard to communicate with someone you don’t know. Who is in the market for a community college education? Each college must answer that question individually, as the students served by community colleges are unique as the schools themselves. For instance, students in rural areas might require a different marketing pitch than those in urban communities. Once you know who prospective students are, you’ll be better able to communicate in a meaningful way.

Don’t miss the forest for the trees

Although it’s important to focus on what makes your prospective students unique, community college students across the country do share some common qualities. For instance, we’ve discovered that non-traditional students between 25-35 respond best to information about how to advance their career. A marketing expert understands these kinds of major trends and data points, but still creates a tailored plan for a specific school.

Conduct some market research

It’s not hard to convince an academic of the value of excellent, peer-reviewed research. Marketers agree. Research is the foundation of informed analysis, strategic planning, and enrollment planning. It’s impossible to really know your customer without it. Funding market research is expensive but yields dividends in vital data. And, a successful enrollment strategy will rely on information about potential consumers, not assumptions.

Does your market match your institutional goals?

Market research will also give you a yardstick by which to measure your institutions long-term goals. Is the market you’ve identified able to provide what you need to grow, or even just remain solvent? Will the number of prospective students in your area grow or shrink over the next ten years? Are prospective students able to handle incremental tuition increases? Are there potential market segments you haven’t tapped? Once you know the answers to questions like these your institution can take steps to address issues and deficits.

Do community colleges need a marketing plan tied to the academic calendar?

Non-traditional college students aren’t on the same kind of college admissions timeline as seventeen-year-olds. High school students apply for school at predictable times of the year, usually with the support of teachers and school counselors. In contrast, a non-traditional student may return to school at any point. She might lose her job, have a child start school, or generally feel frustrated with her career. Any of these could send her back to college for a fresh start.

However, just because community colleges can expect applications year-round doesn’t mean that the school shouldn’t have a fairly clear idea of the size of your incoming class each term. That means reaching students before enrollment deadlines. Plan your largest marketing campaigns accordingly to have maximum impact.

Choosing a marketing method: Print marketing

Print marketing is more expensive, but it’s ideal for reaching many of the students that community colleges want to attract. We’ve talked before about the advantages of print marketing when targeting potential community college students and think it’s important to emphasize what good results a traditional marketing campaign can have. If your budget is tight, you may gravitate towards primarily digital marketing. However, print marketing should remain a key piece of any strategic marketing campaign.

Choosing a marketing method: Digital marketing

Digital marketing has some distinct advantages over print marketing. You can reach your target consumer without ever paying the cost of postage. You also have more data about how potential customers are responding to your marketing. You can track clicks, page-views, web traffic and collect email addresses and consumer information. All of this makes it easier to measure the success of your marketing going forward. However, digital marketing can’t reach many digitally disadvantaged students, something community colleges should keep in mind.

Moving forward with a marketing plan

Higher education is an intangible good. If after experiencing the service provided a student feels they haven’t made a fair exchange, then the best marketing campaign won’t convince them to stay enrolled. The quickest way to have an unsatisfied customer is by failing to understand what the customer wants, or, after learning what they want, failing to deliver it. The more dissatisfied students leave the school, the worse the school’s reputation and the bleaker it’s financial outlook.

However, the majority of community colleges are good schools full of passionate educators. They simply need help communicating what a great product they are offering. A marketing plan based on sound market research, targeted to the right consumers, and which relies on effective methods, is the only way to do this. That’s where Aperture Content Marketing comes in. We can quickly assemble high-quality customizable content marketing campaigns to promote your institutions. Contact us today to learn what we can do for you.

Why Print Magazines Deliver Results for Community Colleges

The data that shows community colleges should invest in print marketing

In a world gone digital, it’s easy to wonder why your community college should invest in print marketing. The printed word in general has suffered in competition with digital media, and it can be easy to feel the pressure to spend more money on your web content than on the traditional print marketing. However, at Aperture Content Marketing, we’ve looked at the data and concluded that investing in print is a key part of a successful marketing strategy for community colleges.

Who are community colleges trying to reach?

Community colleges serve a large proportion of minority, first-generation, and low-income adult students. Information from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study showed that 31% of dependent students in public two-year institutions were from the lowest family-income quartile. This is 10% more of the lowest-income students than in public four-year institutions. In the for-profit sector, 46% of dependent students came from the lowest income quartile. (Ma and Baum, 8)

Community college students are also generally older than undergraduates overall, with data revealing 35% of students in the public two-year sector and 58% in the for-profit sector were over 25. In fact, 22% of public two-year students began their postsecondary studies between the ages of 20-24 and another 20% began after they turned 25. In contrast, about 80% of public four-year students began their postsecondary education when they were less than twenty. (Ma and Baum, 8)

Lower-Income households lag behind in digital access

A third of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year do not own a smartphone, and nearly half don’t have home broadband or a computer. For those low-income adults who do own a home computer (which is usually older, shared, and less reliable) getting broadband internet poses a particular problem. An unpaid bill can lead to a shut off, rendering the computer nearly useless. One in five people in low-income households reported having their internet service shut off on account of an unpaid bill (Jacobson, 29).

In addition to all of this, minority households are the most impacted by the digital divide, with households headed by Hispanic immigrants the least likely to have online access (Jacobson, 29). The upshot is that for many people in lower-income and minority households, mobile-only access to the internet is common. This means their web-browsing activity will be impacted by data rates and restrictions. However, when they do go online they are most likely to do so from a smartphone.

What data from public access computers can tell us

Although this data is significant, it does not mean adults without a home computer or high-speed internet at home are completely unable to access online content. A little more than 65% of people who report frequently using computers in the library, logging on at least once a week and sometimes daily, do not have computers at home. These users are also more likely to access computers frequently through school, work, or a community center (Manjarrez and Schoembs, 4).

It’s also instructive to look at information about library computer usage. Unsurprisingly, people of all ages used library computers most frequently to check social media. Still, aside from this, people between 14-24 report most often using public computers for educational purposes, either to do homework, take classes, or learn about college degree or certificate programs (Manjarrez and Schoembs , 6-7). People between 25-54 identified employment as their top substantive use category. They spent much of their time online either searching for employment opportunities, working on a resume, or doing work-related research (Manjarrez and Schoembs, 8).

How this data should impact your marketing strategy

Looking at the data, it’s clear that the demographic of people disadvantaged by digital inequality is the same group that makes up a large share of community college students. Low-income individuals and minorities are less likely to have consistent access to internet and online resources. However, they spend a substantial percentage of their time on public computers looking for information about career or educational opportunities. This is critical information for community colleges hoping to effectively market their program to a key pool of applicants.

Because these potential students want information about education but are unlikely to have consistent internet access, print resources are still a critical part of a successful marketing strategy for community colleges. A print magazine is the ideal format. It is substantial enough to deliver detailed information about classes, faculty, degrees and certificates, along with real life success stories from other students. It’s also easy to distribute at libraries and community centers. People at these places searching for career or education opportunities online can bring an issue of the magazine home for reference.

In addition, mailing the magazine to current or former students is a seamless way to deliver information about upcoming deadlines for registration and new course offerings. It is an efficient and reliable method of contacting minority, first-generation and low-income students who may have less chances to browse course offerings online. Receiving a physical copy of the magazine provides an invaluable reference point and, if the content is done well, creates a sense of community pride and connection.

Does this mean community colleges don’t need a digital presence?

The fact that many potential community college students are digitally disadvantaged does not mean that you should neglect your online presence. However, it does suggest some ways to intelligently design your digital content. First of all, it is critical that you have a mobile-friendly website, so that browsing from smartphones is easy. Although it may not be possible to do everything from a phone – submitting an application may require a computer – the mobile site should be top-notch.

Secondly, your social media presence is an important part of your digital accessibility for low-income students. It’s a great way to connect with people who aren’t browsing from a computer but are still accessing social media apps regularly from their phones. You can offer routine updates on school events and deadlines, share articles and information, and interact with followers.

Creating a print magazine is the smart marketing move

People are looking for reliable information about career and educational opportunities. Community colleges are trusted sources for this kind of information and should be in the business of providing the kind of informative and engaging content that will draw in potential students. Given the digital divide, print magazines are still the best way to provide this kind of content to the widest possible group of people.

It’s also important to coordinate your print marketing with digital content that is most likely to reach people in digitally disadvantaged households. This means regularly sharing content through your mobile site and social media feeds. Don’t have a combined print and digital marketing strategy? Not equipped to begin printing your own magazine? Aperture Content Marketing is here to help. Find out about everything we have to offer today.

 

Baum, Sandy, and Jennifer Ma. “Trends in Community Colleges: Enrollment, Prices, Student Debt, and Completion.” College Board. April 2016, pp 1-23

Jacobson, Linda. “Low-Income Families ‘Under-Connected’: Two-Fifths Have Mobile-Only Internet Access.” Library Journal, no. 1, 2016, p. 29

Manjarrez, Carlos A, and Kyle Schoembs. Who’s In the Queue?: a Demographic Analysis of Public Access Computer Users and Uses In U.s. Public Libraries. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2011.

The Importance of Faculty Recognition For Community Colleges

Why community colleges should care about increasing faculty recognition

It’s well-known in higher education that retaining quality faculty improves learning outcomes. However, as in any workforce, it can be challenging for community colleges to retain professors long-term. Workplace dissatisfaction is certainly part of the problem. A recent study showed that faculty in a limited sample of post-secondary institutions often felt underappreciated and unrecognized, which may have a detrimental effect on their work (Sahl, 2017).

Worse, this sense of disaffection was statistically higher among racial and gender minorities (Sahl, 2017). Minority faculty serve as important role models and mentors for minority students by simply doing their jobs (Turner and Myers, 2000). Yet, full-time faculty in higher education are still 79% white (NCES 2013). Many schools have begun to focus on recruiting a more diverse faculty for this reason. These initiatives are especially important at community colleges, which serve a high percentage of first-generation and minority students

Therefore, it is troubling that women, Asian and black faculty members are less likely to feel socially accepted in the academic workplace, and also perceived less appreciation and recognition for their work (Sahl, 2017). Although no recent systematic study has been done, based on all the existing data a lack of perceive appreciation appears to have a negative impact on retention rates and productivity.

What can community colleges do about the perceived lack of appreciation?

Based on the date above, it’s clear that increasing faculty’s sense of recognition will have cascading benefits for the school overall. It can enhance learning outcomes, foster diversity, and create a stronger academic community. This in turn can lead to increased enrollment and better completion and student retention rates. Yet, given the complicated systemic issues of racial and gender inequality, it may seem impossible to take concrete steps.

Despite the scope of the problem, we believe that community colleges can make a difference in this area by combining a commitment to educational excellence with sound marketing principles. Fundamentally, faculty will not feel recognized for their efforts unless colleges show a real commitment to faculty satisfaction and effective pedagogy. However, done with integrity effective content marketing can change people’s perception of the academic climate.

Teaching awards: Are you fostering every kind of excellence?

When we talk about faculty recognition, most people immediately think of teaching awards. Many schools offer some form of teaching award annually, which encourages pedagogical excellence. These awards are a clear way to publicly honor the efforts of deserving faculty. However, ensuring that everyone is appropriately recognized for their contribution requires a positive effort on the part of the school.

If the nominations come from department heads, deans, or award committees then the nominating parties should guard against the toxic effects of implicit bias. It is well documented that implicit bias negatively impacts women’s pay, advancement, and recognition within academia. This creates the “leaky-pipeline” – women leaving academia in far greater numbers than their male peers. Implicit bias impacts other minority groups as well. Department heads should be proactive in countering bias and alert to potential discrimination.

In addition, the college determines what kind of teaching it chooses to reward. This in turn sends a clear message to faculty and administration about who the school values. Community colleges should of course function as a meritocracy. This means rewarding professors who do ground-breaking, original research. Still, granting awards for teaching innovation, or collaborative practice, or inclusive excellence, demonstrates that the school values many sorts of faculty contributions and is committed to a diverse academic community.

How to increase faculty recognition through strong marketing

Even done well, teaching awards come only once per annum and by design single out only a few members of your faculty. Meanwhile, community colleges should be fostering an academic community that attracts a diverse group of potential students. One of the best ways to do this is to invest in your faculty, especially in recruiting and retaining excellent teachers who will be models and mentors for undergraduates.

Consistently recognizing people’s efforts and achievements is a great way to make your campus appealing to prospective faculty and to increase job satisfaction among existing faculty.  An intelligent marketing strategy offers many opportunities to do just this, like social media spotlight features, articles in your print publications or digital newsletter, or featured faculty profiles on your website.

This kind of content will also make your school more attractive to prospective students. It shows that you have an academic roster that can compete with big public schools, but that you can still offer smaller class sizes and competitive tuition rates. By focusing on faculty achievement, you combat the enduring false stereotypes about community colleges being academically lightweight.

Content marketing is an important piece of faculty recognition

In conclusion, teaching awards are a good way to recognize faculty achievements, but community colleges need to do more to make faculty feel appreciated. The best way to consistently recognize and appreciate faculty contributions is to highlight their achievements through content marketing. Using your digital and print outlets to do this effectively is an important part of a successful marketing strategy for any community college.

 

NCES. 2013. “Characteristics of Postsecondary Faculty” U.S. Department of Education. The Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.

Turner, Caroline S.V. and Samuel L. Myers, Jr. 2000. Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Sahl, Allison. “The Importance of Faculty Appreciation and Recognition: A Case Study of One Institution.” Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 2017, p. 246

Who Benefits Most from a Community College Education?

Who should go to community college?

Community colleges draw a heterogenous mix of students. In these halls you can find traditional college students, returning students, international students, curious community members taking up new hobbies and mastering new technologies, and many others. Still, we know that some people in particular benefit from attending community colleges in measurable ways. Because of this, clear and consistent messaging about the benefits of community college, particularly as a path to economic stability, should be a marketing cornerstone for community colleges.

What the economic recovery means for community colleges

Inside Higher Ed reports that for every one percent change in the unemployment rate, up or down, community colleges can expect a corresponding rise or fall in enrollment. This isn’t surprising since poor job markets often send adults back to school to retrain for more lucrative positions. Unemployment rates will have a direct impact on this student demographic.  In addition, as the economy improves, students who already have part-time jobs are likely to be offered more hours, derailing their educational efforts.

The unemployment numbers don’t show the whole picture

However, even as the economy booms, people interested in increasing enrollment at community colleges should take a critical look at the numbers. The country is reaching record lows for unemployment, but there are some other more worrying statistics. For instance, millennials are still in a worse financial position than the boomer generation was at the same age. They earn less, are less likely to own a home, and more likely to carry large amounts of student debt. All this suggests that community colleges could market their institutions to working adults in search of more secure employment, especially those without college degrees.

What are the economic benefits of attending community college?

In a 2011 article Clive R. Belfield and Thomas Bailey review the existing literature on the economic and other benefits of attending community college. They conclude there is strong evidence that having an associate’s degree increases average earnings compared to having only a high school level education. The percentage difference in annual earnings across education categories is 13% for males and 22% for females, a significant gain. For students who have no intention of pursuing a four-year degree, community college offers a reliable avenue for career advancement.

What about students who don’t finish their degree?

Belfield and Bailey also report that taking credits or spending years studying at community college, even without completing any degree, corresponds with increased earnings. The average earnings gain is 9% for males and 10% for females, and one study even showed earnings gains after a single semester’s worth of credits. This suggests that there is generally some economic benefit to attending community college in general, although completing a credential will have a more dramatic impact on earnings.

The earnings impact of vocational certificates

A favorite theme of politicians in both parties lately, including Presidents Obama and Trump, has been the importance of vocational training programs. It’s indisputable that the quality of the program the students attend matters. However, the limited evidence available from two studies showed significant earnings gains for graduates with vocational certificates, between 7% and 24% (Grubb; Marcotte et al.). This is certainly an encouraging result. Again, community college offer the best path for obtaining such a certificate.

Which group has the best financial outcome?

The data in the more than twenty studies that Belfield and Bailey reviewed show that younger women benefited the most economically from a community college education. The average income of a community college attendee was substantially higher than other women with only a high school education. Women under 35 saw more of an earnings bump than older women. Young women improved their earnings by a percentage of 11% to 18%, compared to the 6% to 15% gain women over 35 enjoyed.

The invisible advantages to attending a community college

Although there is not yet data on this, it is possible that as they move into higher paying jobs community college graduates also enjoy access to other job benefits, like health insurance, paid vacation, and retirement options. There are also less tangible benefits attendant on more secure employment, like general well-being and quality of life. And a more economically secure home is likely to have a generational impact, improving the educational outcomes for children of parents who have moved beyond a high school education.

What about traditional college students starting at community college?

Community colleges also appeal to students who intend to go on to four-year universities after obtaining some credits at a community college. There are not many studies of how this impacts overall educational outcomes or earning potential, although there is some debate about whether this has positive or negative effects on students diverted from 4-year intuitions.

It is possible that some students may be better off attending a 4-year college initially. However, for many students there are manifold advantages to beginning at a community college. Community colleges often have smaller class sizes and more manageable tuition rates than even state universities. They offer a chance for students to test their college aptitude and clarify their educational decisions. All of this makes starting at a community college a smart option for thousands of students.

Who benefits from community college?

The data available certainly suggests that in particular young women who do not intend to enroll in a 4-year university benefit substantially by attending community college and completing a degree. In addition to this, completing any amount of community college has a positive effect on aggregate earnings across the board, with both men and women earning more than those with only a high school education. There are also some possible benefits to students unready for 4-year colleges who choose to begin their higher education at community colleges, although these have not yet been statistically evaluated. Emphasizing these very real benefits will give community colleges a competitive edge in marketing their institutions, even as the economy improves.

 

Belfield, C., & Bailey, T. (2011) The Benefits of Attending Community College: A Review of the Evidence. Community College Review, (1). 46-68

Grubb, W. N. (1997). The returns to education in the sub-baccalaureate labor market, 1984-1990. Economics of Education Review, 16, 231-245

Marcotte, D. E., Bailey, T., Borkoski, C., & Kienzl, G. S. (2005). The returns of a community college education: Evidence from the National Education Longitudinal Survey. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 27, 157-175.

 

 

Is Your Enrollment Strategy Based on Tools or Goals?

How useful are enrollment marketing apps for community colleges?

As community colleges across the country make difficult budgeting decisions, marketing departments have turned to cost saving measures to reach prospective students. While some of the new enrollment apps make marketing more high-tech than ever, there are distinct advantages to a holistic approach. Meeting long-term enrollment and retention goals often requires a multifaceted marketing strategy designed to reach a diverse consumer group.

New options for the new millennium

Millennials are increasingly relying on their smartphones and marketing tools are keeping pace with the consumers. If you haven’t yet explored some of the cutting-edge admissions and enrollment apps available, it’s a great time to start. According to Guidebook, a premier mobile app creator for colleges and universities, students check their smartphones on average 157 times a day. Guidebook helps admissions departments capitalize on new technology by creating interactive mobile guides for student orientations and college campus tours.

Modo, another mobile solution company for universities and colleges, reports that by 2014, eight-five percent of millennials owned a smartphone and the great majority of those said they preferred apps over the mobile web. The student orientation app Modo offers can provide quick access to information about event schedules, pre-arrival checklists, photos and videos, resources from student organizations and more. They can also give alerts about important deadlines and imminent events, so new students stay on top of things.

What is a goals-based approach to enrollment?

Despite the exciting options for connecting with potential students with new enrollment apps, most community colleges benefit from a different kind of approach. Community college students come from many different stages of life – marketing that succeeds in attracting millennials may not draw a 40-year-old man looking to advance his career. He will be more interested in clear information about professional advancement than student life organizations.

And, despite the increasing prevalence of home computers and smart phones, many people in low-income homes still have limited access to these things. Lower income Americans still lag behind in technology adoption. A third of adults who live in households with incomes below $30,000 a year still don’t have smartphone, and nearly half don’t have computers. In part because of this divide, lower income Americans are twice as likely as those in other income groups to be classified as digitally unprepared.

Because of this community colleges need what we call a “goals-based” approach to enrollment. What kind of students are you trying to reach? Once you have a specific goal in mind, like drawing in older workers looking to learn new job skills, think about specific marketing techniques. If you have a tight budget and you are trying to reach older or lower-income students, enrollment apps are unlikely to be a good investment.

Think about your students’ goals as well as your own

Although a community college marketing department should have clearly articulated goals for enrollment and retention, these aren’t the only goals that matter. Analyzing student goals is an excellent way to inform a marketing strategy. Why are they choosing community college and what is most likely to attract them? Understanding what motivates a prospective student means they are more likely to get from a campus tour into a classroom.

Community colleges have the unique opportunity to market themselves to two kinds of students at once. It’s important to reach returning students, and students who were never considering the college track, but also reach students who are choosing between your college and other four-year institutions. Appealing to both students at once, usually on a budget, can be challenging. Still, it is the marketing strategy that community colleges like Ivy Tech have used so successfully to grow enrollment.

Take for example a lower-income adult considering a return to school. She is looking for information about classes that can be flexibly scheduled around her existing job and will help her advance in her career. She may need to be educated about the value of a degree or credential and convinced that community college is the right choice. If she doesn’t have a home computer or smartphone, she’s more likely to respond to a well-designed mailing than an app or a social media presence.

A younger and higher-income student choosing between community college and a variety of four-year institutions, however, is very likely to look online for information. They will probably use google to find information and spend some time on different websites comparing options. They are likely to use their smartphone to carry out this search and keep track of important information. To appeal to this kind of prospective student community colleges need an online presence and quality digital marketing.

Why community colleges need a complete marketing strategy

Academic Marketing Services understand the kinds of goals our clients have and the challenges they face in reaching different types of prospective students. We are equipped to help you turn this challenge into opportunities. Experienced in traditional and cutting-edge marketing techniques, we are able to reach as many prospective students as possible, and in a cost-effective way.

Perhaps you aren’t sure what your college’s goals should be. In that case, we can also help you refine or create a marketing strategy for your school. Then we deliver everything you need to execute it, including website design, branding services, mobile solutions, and print services. No marketing campaign is complete without a complete content strategy, and so you will also have access to our deep content library.

So, before you purchase trendy new apps to improve enrollment, have a plan. Do you know what your goals are? Do you know what kind of student you are hoping to reach? Do you have a clear marketing strategy? Academic Marketing Services is here to help you answer those questions and get your enrollment figures where they should be.

 

How to Get Better Marketing Results on a Limited Budget

For small community colleges with limited resources, making the most of your marketing budget is key to building enrollment.

The economy is up, which means many community colleges are feeling the pinch as potential students join the workforce instead of going back to school for additional training. With lower enrollment numbers, many community colleges are trimming their marketing budgets to get by. While it’s never good to be in a position where you have to achieve more with less, there are steps community college marketers can take to try to get more out of their limited budgets. Here’s where to start.

1. Be clear about your objectives for success.

Many marketers at small community colleges inherit a list of tasks from their predecessor with minimal guidance as to what these initiatives are for, or whether they even work. It’s often the safest path for many of them, particularly if they’re new to the position, to follow what was done before rather than attempt something new.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a number of fractured strategies, none of which are driving a specific result. The marketing may achieve something in the way of brand recognition or boosted morale, but it won’t grow enrollment or raise revenue.

Instead, when working with a small budget, it’s important for marketers to regularly re-asses their initiatives to determine why they are running them and what they are achieving. If they identify a program that isn’t achieving the results they need, they can cut it and use the funds elsewhere.

2. Define your audience.

It may seem that community colleges have pretty clear audiences already, but the people who attend community college are actually highly diverse, and marketers can achieve more by speaking to these sub groups directly.

For instance, some students take a break from education after high school, and then return to community college to attend a vocational program. Others dual enroll as high school students, then later transfer to a four-year university. Finally, many students join after having spent a decade or more in the work force, either to receive training in a new career, or because they have a special interest they wish to pursue.

Generic branding that speaks too broadly can leave many students feeling as though community college isn’t really for them. But by directing marketing campaigns toward specific groups, you may strike a chord with your audience by delivering a message that resonates with their life experience.

3. Focus on marketing initiatives you can measure.

There’s an old adage in marketing, attributed to John Wannamaker, a turn-of-the-century businessman, who said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

While there’s certainly a case to be made for marketing initiatives with soft metrics (i.e., ones that are hard to measure), schools with limited budgets can’t afford the luxury of investing in campaigns that don’t show demonstrable results. This is part of what makes content marketing so effective: students not only pay attention to stories that match their needs and interests, they’re also more likely to interact with that content online in ways that can be tracked.

That’s not to say you can’t measure the success of offline initiatives. If you do use these programs, have your online enrollment form ask a few questions about where the student first heard about your program and what caused them to enroll, or ask your student counselors to check in with students during orientation. If something is working, you don’t want to cancel it simply because you didn’t have the digital tools to trace its path.

4. Track the return on investment for your marketing initiatives.

Determining how successful your marketing campaign was means looking at the numbers. At this stage, it’s important to know several variables: 1) How much did you spend on each initiative? 2) What did each initiative achieve? 3) What is that achievement worth in a dollar amount?

For instance, if you spent 20K on a marketing initiative which resulted in 100 new students enrolling in your program, and each student paying a tuition of 3K for the semester, then your 20K investment brought in 300K additional resources.

That may sound like a great number, but it’s important to remember that those resources have to cover a lot of costs, from wages to maintenance. If, according to the above numbers, it costs $200 to attract one new student, then the resources that student brings to the school need to more than cover that investment, even after the other costs of enrollment are accounted for.

5. Save some of your increased revenue for future marketing campaigns.

Finally, the goal of a successful marketing program is to increase overall revenue, not merely cover expenses. When revenues go up, many colleges are eager to take all those additional profits and invest them in various projects. At the end of the year, the marketing department is likely to find itself with the same budget as the year before, but with the expectation that they’ll outperform themselves.

This isn’t just a tough order, it’s also a missed opportunity. If a marketing program can increase revenues on a small budget, how much more can they achieve on a larger one? It’s therefore important for colleges to reward successful initiatives by returning some portion of their income back to the marketing budget.

Marketing success on a limited budget means a tight focus on what works and what doesn’t.

When you’re struggling to make ends meet, you can’t afford slack in your system. By zeroing in on projects that are the most effective, marketers can do more with their budgets and help schools make it through their lean times.

At Aperture Content Marketing, we’re here to help you reach your audience and see a greater return on your marketing investment through high-quality articles, specifically designed to speak to the needs and interests of community colleges students. If you would like to learn more about what our program can do for your college, contact us today.

What Community College Presidents Really Want in 2018

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 challengeA moderate challengeNot much of a challenge
Financial matters71%27%1%
Enrollment management68%28%3%
Politics and public policy47%48%5%
Personnel management and staffing36%58%6%
Competition from other institutions34%53%14%
Educational matters18%67%15%

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.
TotalEnrollment Is DownEnrollment is Stable or Higher
Adding new programs on campus81%77%86%
Adding options to make it easier for students to transfer to four-year institutions75%75%73%
Adding online programs71%68%73%
Increasing spending on marketing58%67%44%
Keeping tuition the same or cutting tuition27%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.

If you are ready to work with us to grow your market reach through content marketing, contact us today.

Ways to Integrate CareerFocus with Your Current Marketing

A unified marketing strategy is key to building student engagement.

Very few of our community colleges rely solely on CareerFocus for their marketing campaigns. Instead, while CareerFocus may be the main initiative for some, almost all have other projects running at the same time.

Unfortunately, it is easy for these projects to become siloed. While one member of the marketing department is organizing content for the CareerFocus magazine, another is working with the faculty to improve brochures for student services, and another is working on PR with a local newspaper.

While each of these projects is important in their own right, all benefit from a coordinated effort. This is especially true for CareerFocus, whose multi-media content platform is especially effective at integrating diverse campaigns. So, if you’re looking for more ways to help your marketing campaigns work with each other, here are five strategies to use.

1. Use the content library for short social media posts.

Most of our clients use the content library for the CareerFocus magazine, but that’s not it’s only application. Articles from the library can also be used to create content to supplement social media strategies.

Many colleges under-utilize their social media channels due to lack of content. Even though posts are short, finding interesting topics to share can be challenging. However, articles from our content archive can easily be edited to create multiple social media posts. Simply find the facts most useful to your students, and schedule your updates to last the whole week.

2. Send articles to an email mailing list.

Email marketing is still one of the most effective strategies for many colleges. Prospective students are more likely to sign up for an e-newsletter if they believe it will contain important information about upcoming programs, events, or seminars.

Email lists also allow for segmentation, meaning you can direct specific kinds of content to different audiences. If you have a donor list, for instance, you might direct content about the regional economic benefits of a community college to that list, while sending course information to potential students.

If your college already runs an email mailing list, articles from our content library can be an excellent means of providing more value to your subscribers. You can share articles in full or in part within the body of the email, or use the list to direct subscribers to the article online. Either way, with only a little extra effort time-wise, you deliver significantly more value to your email list.

3. Drive traffic to your micro site.

Of course, both email lists and social media campaigns can serve the purpose of driving traffic to specific areas of your website, or to your CareerFocus micro site. This serves your overall content strategy by exposing visitors to information that is more pertinent to their interests.

For instance, you could use an article on IT careers from our content library to create a week’s worth of social media posts, with each post directing students either to a piece of related content on your micro site, or toward specific course information on your official community college web page.

Similarly, many community college students aren’t aware of their own eligibility for student aid. A feature piece on student services in your email mailing list can direct potential students toward information that might help them learn more about their financing options.

4. Feature current marketing initiatives in your CareerFocus magazine.

Our direct mail print magazine isn’t just a platform to distribute articles from our content archive. It also provides community colleges with a way to share other important marketing programs with their readership.

As an example, if you’ve recently redesigned a student lounge area on campus, a custom article in the magazine full of beautiful images of the new space is a great way to publicize this new amenity to prospective students. Inset articles on upcoming events, teacher profiles, or charity drives are also a great way to use this resource.

5. Print digital tracking codes in your magazine issues.

One common struggle of marketers lies in the difficulty of tracking the effectiveness of print publications. While digital marketing campaigns come with many helpful metrics, judging the effectiveness of print often relies on trying to interpret cause and effect without hard data. Many marketers are left with a sense that the print magazine is working, but without exact numbers to prove their hunch.

Although print can never be tracked as effectively as digital, there are ways to learn more about audience reach. Including a landing page link to a specific webpage is one tactic. If you create a special link only to be used in the magazine, then any traffic that comes in through that link will be as a result of the magazine.

This also means you can use the magazine to drive traffic to specific pages on your site. For instance, if your current PR campaign directs readers to one of your career pages for more information, you can use that same copy in the CareerFocus magazine to boost the reach of your PR initiative. It’s a great strategy to help your marketing projects build off each other.

Your marketing initiatives accomplish more when they work together.

Separate marketing strategies don’t just lead to a fractured message. They’re also a lost opportunity to amplify the efforts of each team member through coordination with the others.

No matter what marketing initiative your department is working on, it has a place in our Campaign Builder. By uniting print, digital, and web marketing tactics, you can boost the reach of all your marketing campaigns.

When to Start Planning for Next Semester’s Enrollment

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.