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.