What Community Colleges Can Learn from Entrepreneurs

Being in the business of education

Since most community colleges are nonprofit institutions, schools don’t always think of themselves as businesses. After all, community colleges want their students to have a chance at a life-changing education regardless of the bottom-line. Affordable tuition rates, Pell Grants, low-interest student loans, and wrap-around support from the colleges make an education possible for everyone, even people who couldn’t enter a traditional university.

Still it’s indisputable that the bottom-line does matter. As enrollment drops and state budgets get slashed, community colleges are fighting to survive. In that battle, the same entrepreneurial strategies that give businesses a competitive edge can improve enrollment and raise your academic profile. So, what can your community college learn from successful businesses?

Identify Your Strategic Resources

A successful business knows how to identify the assets that make it stand out from the competition. These can be human capital, organizational processes, or physical assets. Once the business has identified its key strategic resources, it knows the most valuable things it has to offer potential customers and shareholders. This means that the business can focus on effectively delivering these valuable resources to consumers.

For a business this might mean promoting an especially effective worker or marketing a successful product. In a university it means sending prospective students to visit the class of a particularly charismatic professor or streamlining your school’s financial aid processes. It’s unlikely that any school or business is superior to the competition in every way but highlighting what makes you stand out is the key to market appeal.

What’s your Absorptive Capacity?

Businesses that succeed have a particularly high absorptive capacity. A company’s absorptive capacity is its ability to recognize and assimilate new and valuable information and then transform and exploit the information to its advantage. For instance, an IT department must learn to predict technical malfunctions and security threats, or a marketing firm must understand the purchasing patterns of each successive generation.

Community colleges can also improve their absorptive capacity. Whether it’s understanding why certain students aren’t finishing their degrees or predicting what majors will be most popular for the next few years, community colleges need to quickly assimilate important information. This will improve organizational decision-making and make community colleges a competitive option.

Can your staff innovate?

Sometimes the best ideas come from rank-and-file employees, and smart businesses take advantage of this. For instance, Google encourages it’s employees to spend 20% of their time at work exploring side projects. It’s thanks to the twenty-percent rule that the world has AdSense, Gmail, Google Maps, and Google News, which all started as employee passion projects. Allowing dedicated employees to lead and innovate often turns a profit.

Even in an academic institution, employees can be invaluable resources. For instance, the person who redirects students fifty times a day probably knows what signage is confusing, and a concerned professor can usually name the students who need some additional help to complete a degree. A college should ask itself whether its employees are encouraged to innovate, suggest changes, and contribute in ways that will help the school succeed in its broader mission.

Are you competitive with other schools?

Unlike businesses which are directly competing with one another for market share, community colleges usually serve a specific local community and do not compete with their sister institutions. However, this does not mean that community colleges shouldn’t spend time differentiating themselves from other colleges. A strong school identity is an important selling point.

If there are a few community colleges and technical schools in your area, your marketing department should emphasize what makes your school stand out. If your print and web materials show nothing unique or distinctive, your school will be forgettable when students are making enrollment decisions. It’s important that your promotional materials are personal and customized, offering a glimpse of what makes your community college special, different, and even better than the alternatives.

Do you have a marketing strategy?

Particularly at small community colleges, marketing departments are tasked with doing a multitude of tasks on a limited budget. With so much to do and so few resources it’s not surprising that schools often have trouble coming up with a broad marketing strategy. Few things will give schools such a positive ROI as well-placed marketing dollars spent on a successful campaign. But how can you tell whether your marketing budget has been optimized?

Sometimes it’s time for the experts to call in an expert, and that’s where we come in. We know how to support college marketing departments in creating smart and effective campaigns that deliver real results. With print and digital strategies that are keeping pace with the 21st century, we will work with your marketing department to create a comprehensive strategy that reaches prospective students.

So, if you need help with a marketing strategy that will boost your profits like a company’s, reach out to us for a demonstration today. By combining your heart for education and our head for business, community colleges can keep transforming lives for generations.


Herman, Adam. “Strategic Thinking Enrollment Organizations.” ed. Don Hossler and Bob Bontrager. Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management. vol. first edition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2015

Trust and Content Marketing

Rebuilding trust in higher education through quality content

More and more businesses are creating and distributing original content. It’s an amazingly effective way to boost sales and build a customer base. Content marketing can turn fans into customers and customers into advocates, and, since the digital revolution, it can do it all at a fraction of the price of traditional marketing strategies. Content marketing builds meaningful relationships with consumers and then monetizes that trust.

Although the buzzword content marketing is new, schools have long used content marketing techniques to boost enrollment and establish local and national reputations. Among other things, they distribute publications, publicize faculty accomplishments, host lecture series, and sponsor meaningful and cutting-edge research. All of these things build a school’s academic profile and reach, build credibility, and foster relationships with potential students. Yet, it will take more than a lecture series to raise your institutional profile in the 21st century.

Now more than ever higher-ed marketing departments need to harness the power of content to create willing consumers. As enrollment drops at institutions around the country, and national leaders publicly question the very value of higher education, colleges must convince prospective students that a degree is still a worthwhile investment. Content marketing that keeps pace with our changing world can make a difference. By building trust and relationships through content marketing, colleges can prove their relevance once again.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is the gold standard for brand building.  By consistently curating solid content that people want to read, share, tweet and follow, your brand raises its profile and grows its reputation. Over time you establish yourself as a trusted expert, one that consumers rely on for useful information, entertainment, and inspiration. Good content is not a sales pitch; it’s a valued resource.

Content marketing can turn fans into customers, and dreamers into students without selling anything. That’s because purchasing decisions are often emotional. People want to trust the brands they buy, which is why they are more likely to purchase from known brands than to try something new. Colleges that establish themselves as prestigious institutions with excellent faculty and successful graduates don’t need to do anything more to sell their school. Their reputation will drive enrollment.

Is content marketing a new thing?

Content marketing isn’t new, although the explosion of digital content might make it feel that way. There certainly are some recent astonishing success stories about some content marketing superstars in the business world, like Glossier. Successful content marketing campaigns can attract huge numbers of followers and subscribers, and then turn those subscribers into customers. It also costs 62% less than traditional marketing, while still generating three times as many leads.

However, content strategies have been around for years. In 1904 Jell-O began distributing a free recipe book featuring recipes in which Jell-O was the main ingredient. By 1906 Jell-O sales reached $1 million dollars. John Deere’s first magazine, The Furrow, came out in 1895, and Michelin’s famous motorist guides hit the presses in 1900. Michelin actually gave away 35,000 copies of the first edition. These brands were able to successfully build their reputation and increase customer loyalty by distributing high quality content.

A community college is a business too

Although an academic publication may be quite different than a recipe book, marketing a school isn’t altogether different from marketing any other business. Deciding to invest in a college education is, at least in part, a purchasing decision. Before spending the money, prospective students and their families want to know that they can trust your school. They want to know that you understand their hopes and fears, their needs and their struggles.

As institutions of higher learning, colleges command respect, which means community colleges already have an advantage when it comes to content marketing. Prospective students and other interested consumers already trust colleges more than they would a new brand. By producing piece after piece of solid content that addresses the worries and aspirations of prospective students, you begin to build important relationships that will drive enrollment decisions. Consistently providing information about career paths and sharing real student stories does build trust.

Trust has to be earned

Just like in any relationship, colleges have to demonstrate that they deserve the customer’s trust. That means you can’t build brand loyalty with bad content. Just as consumers won’t recommend or repurchase a bad product, and they won’t share or follow bad content. It should go without saying that good content is honest first and foremost. It should also be engaging, informative, and speak to the reader’s heart and head.

For instance, a prospective student has real questions about the college process. They need solid information about degrees, financial aid, and career potential. They also may need help picturing themselves in a college classroom. Maybe they are the first person in their family to consider going college. They are worried about whether they can fit in and succeed. Content that speaks to their hopes and fears is more likely to get them into a classroom than an application checklist.

Creating good content isn’t easy

It sounds like it would be simple to create good content, but the vast majority of content strategists feel like what they’re doing isn’t working. Your college, for instance, probably has a social media presence or a weekly email newsletter, or some informational pages online. Yet, these resources don’t seem to be having any sort of impact on your overall enrollment. If your community college is like many others in America, it’s actually been seeing enrollment steadily drop for the last ten years.

So, can your school harness the power of content marketing? The answer is yes, but not alone. It’s difficult to create content that is personal, factual and appealing. To do that, you need to work with a company that’s just as passionate about your school as you are, and which can communicate everything you have to offer to your community. Aperture Content Marketing knows how to use high-quality content build relationships with prospective students. We can prove that your institution is worthy of trust. If you’re ready to see what content marketing can do for your school, contact us today.



Expanding Dual-Enrollment Programs to Increase College Enrollment

The growth of dual-enrollment programs in the United States

Dual-enrollment programs aren’t a new idea, but they’ve grown in popularity over the last decade. There haven’t been many large-scale studies of the phenomenon, despite the fact that community colleges have been allowing academically advanced high school students to enroll in courses for years.  Still, proponents of the practice believe it can increase students’ college readiness, make education more affordable overall, and improve outcomes for students who might struggle to matriculate in a post-secondary institution. Nationwide, lawmakers in places like Idaho, Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana have been pushing to expand high school students’ access to post-secondary education. As dual-enrollment programs grow, community colleges benefit by increasing their overall enrollment number.

Still, dual-enrollment programs can be a controversial subject in academic circles. Much of the initial research about dual-enrollment programs has had promising results and seems to support the conjecture that these programs can increase college readiness. However, some groups have raised serious concerns about expanding dual-enrollment programs. These detractors say that the growth of dual-enrollment programs may be harming both students and colleges. Community colleges have a great deal to gain by growing these programs and so must confront these sorts of issues directly, especially if they hope to merit further state finding and student tuition dollars.

Students who dual enroll may be more likely to achieve post-secondary success

According to Jennifer Zinth, expert on high school policy and STEM efforts at Education Commission of States, and Elizabeth Barnett, Associate Director of National Center for Restructuring Education, there is a substantial body of research showing the benefits of dual enrollment. In a recent article they show that dual-enrolling students are more likely to finish high school and to enroll in a post-secondary institution after high school. Previously dual-enrolled students are also more likely to be successful when they went on to higher education. Most surprisingly, both academically advanced students and middle-achieving students are successful in dual enrollment coursework. Middle-achieving students and high-achieving students received similar final grades in Zinth and Barnett’s study.

Dual-enrollment programs boost community college enrollments

Inside Higher Ed reports that community colleges have found dual-enrollment programs an attractive way to boost overall enrollment numbers. As the economy improves adult enrollment has declined. After the Great Recession community colleges have experienced a slow but steady decline in enrollment among adults over 25 – a key demographic. However, with the rising popularity of dual enrollment programs, some schools are making up for the difference with thousands of eager high school students. Many schools offer these courses at a discount, hoping that students will consider completing a credential after high school at market rates. State lawmakers have also put funding behind expanding such programs, even as other budget cuts loom.

Potential issues with dual-enrollment programs

There are a few serious concerns about the future of dual-enrollment programs. As the Inside Higher Ed article clearly suggests, colleges can lose revenue on dual-enrolled students if they don’t choose to enroll in classes after high-school. Moreover, there are some reasons to doubt that there will be positive outcomes for many dual-enrolled students after high school. The Community College Research Center has done a broad analysis of dual-enrollment programs by state, which showed the final outcomes for students are clearly influenced by external factors, including income levels. And the NEA has expressed grave reservations about whether dual-enrollment programs are really improving outcomes for at-risk students, or simply forcing post-secondary institutions to address K-12 institutional shortcomings. In the meantime, budgetary concerns mean few community colleges feel they can refuse new students however ill-prepared.

Reasons to be optimistic about dual-enrollment programs

However, community college may be able to benefit immensely from dual-enrollment programs, if they are administered responsibly and in a fiscally prudent manner. In fact, Generation Z is the largest generation yet, and 82% say they plan to go straight from high school to college. Community colleges should try to capture some of this key demographic. Dual-enrollment programs give community colleges a chance to demonstrate their unique course offerings and affordable paths to graduation. Gen Z, pragmatic, career-oriented, and engaged are likely to respond positively. However, colleges must make sure that at-risk students are truly supported on a path to graduation. Otherwise states are unlikely to continue funding dual-enrollment programs long-term, and schools will undoubtedly lose money.

By taking on the burden of supporting at-risk students, community colleges with dual-enrollment programs are assuming some of the responsibilities of K-12 schools. Rather than assimilating academically advanced students into college classrooms, the school must meet struggling students at their own level. This may mean tutoring, flexible deadlines, or other kinds of support. Though this will prove an extra outlay for community colleges, overall these schools are generally in well-placed to provide these kinds of services. Colleges often have more flexibility than high schools in how to confer credentials. Class schedules are adjusted for working students, and even offered online. Community colleges also often have writing labs, peer-tutors, research librarians and other support services for struggling students.

If your school is ready to connect with Gen Z, explore our SmartStart marketing campaign. With short, punchy articles, infographics, and custom content tailored to your school, SmartStart lets you effectively reach another generation of students. It’s time to show high school students everything they can achieve with a degree from your college.




For-Profit Higher Education and Community Colleges

A comparison of for-profit and public two-year institutions

For the last ten years or so for-profit colleges have been in the news for a number of scandals, culminating in the widely publicized closure of Corinthian Colleges. Each time these sorts of headlines dominate the news cycle, critics address the same fundamental issues and consumers have learned to be wary of the industry.

However, for-profit colleges share many similar features with community colleges, including a focus on career education and recruiting student populations that have been traditionally excluded from four-year public and private programs. Today we’re taking a look at the for-profit college sector and how it compares to public two-year colleges.

Are for-profit schools and two-year public colleges competitors?

For-profit schools and two-year public colleges draw from the same enrollment base. According the National Center from Education Statistics (NCES), 28% of all two-year degree-granting institutions were for-profits by the beginning of the 2000s. Secondly, minorities make up the largest share of enrollments in for-profit colleges, while public two-year schools came in second. For-profit colleges also enrolled a large number of low-income students, who are represented in large numbers at public two-year institutions as well.

However, according to the Community College Research Center, public two-year institutions still issue the vast majority of associate degrees and certificates, 87% and 84% respectively. This means that the market share of for-profit colleges may have expanded in the last three decades, but it still is relatively small compared to the number of total students served by public two-year institutions. Therefore, it seems the more affordable and traditional public two-year colleges are still preferred by students looking for an alternative academic experience.

Mastering the art of running a school like a business

For-profit schools exist, as the name implies, as businesses looking to make a profit. This means that they run their programs efficiently. Majors that aren’t profitable (in other words bringing in tuition fees) are cut outright. This doesn’t mean for-profit colleges don’t care about offering a quality education. However, they can’t afford to carry majors that end up losing the owners and shareholders money. This means students at a for-profit institution may have fewer major choices available.

For-profit schools also spend a great deal on marketing, far more than non-profit colleges. In 2012 the University of Phoenix was Google’s biggest advertiser, spending $400,000 a day on targeted ads. Other for-profit institutions of higher education were also on Google’s list of the top twenty-five biggest advertisers. These include Kaplan, DeVry Inc, and IFF Educational Services Inc. For-profit colleges invest in marketing because they know that to expand enrollment they have to treat potential students like customers and build their university like a business.

What are the criticisms of for-profit schools?

For-profit schools have been criticized for predatory recruitment processes that target primarily veterans and low-income prospective students. Some for-profit schools misrepresented employment data to attract potential students. The students that enrolled were saddled with large loans to seek certificates or degrees that they could have received more affordably from a public two-year institution, and then couldn’t find jobs. The upshot was an alarming number of loan defaults, which left tax-payers holding the bill. This prompted more government regulation of the entire for-profit education industry.

For-profit schools also lack some of the appealing qualities of a traditional educational experience. Because they are narrowly focused, for-profit schools don’t need traditional campuses or even a full roster of majors. Many operate out of leased office spaces and run the majority of their courses online. Although the flexibility can be appealing, some students might miss having opportunities to explore new interests or bond with a student community.

What can public two-year institutions learn from for-profit schools?

The Community College Research Center compared a reputable for-profit school with three public two-year institutions, and concluded that the for-profit provided a more flexible, convenient and responsive education. Entrepreneurial spirit made the for-profit school more responsive to market-shifts and attuned to the needs of their student customers. They also weren’t tied to traditional academic schedules or campus infrastructure costs and had access to venture capital that the public two-year institutions couldn’t hope to receive.

While none of this means that public two-year institutions should upend their academic models, it does provide some provocative information. First of all, reputable for-profits treat students as consumers and use aggressive marketing and streamlined academic services to keep enrollments up and overheads low. Two-year institutions can do the same. With a better marketing strategy and careful financial planning community colleges can fight the twin perils of falling enrollment and ballooning costs.

Taking the good and leaving the bad

The success of for-profit schools also reveals what kind of marketing is particularly effective when recruiting prospective students. Prospective students care about how an education can advance their career. Many for-profit schools are particularly good at communicating how an education can increase earnings and lead to satisfying careers. Two-year public schools can market their own academic programs with honest information about future career prospects. By doing so, they will attract students eager to improve their economic situation with a valuable credential.

The key to this kind of marketing strategy is providing clear and well-researched content for consumers about the employment opportunities in your area, and how your college’s degree and certificate programs will help them get the job they want. This is the kind of content that Aperture Content Marketing provides. We do the research and you adapt the articles for your community. The resulting custom content is perfectly tailored to attract motivated students looking for affordable and accredited alternatives to a four-year degree.


Factors Facing Mature Students as They Consider Community College

Charting a course to success for low-skill and working adult students

Adult learners bring incredible diversity into classrooms across America. Their variety of life-experiences and perspectives, their determination to succeed, and their work-ethic make them model students in many ways. However, adult learners also face special challenges. They need support dealing with new technology, financial issues, and intergenerational classroom dynamics.

Adult learners make up a large part of the student body at community colleges, and so whether they succeed or fail will impact these schools’ enrollment goals and financial targets. Community colleges and non-traditional students succeed together when schools understand how best to serve this important demographic.

Community Colleges are an important resource for adult learners

A study from the College Research Board shows that community colleges are a key resource for adults returning to school. In 2011-12 about 44% of first and second year undergraduate students in the public two-year sector were older than twenty-five. This is more than double the percentage of older students in the public four-year sector, which served only 20% of students over twenty-five. The percentage of full-time adult students in the public four-year sector was even lower, only 10%, a third of the number of full-time adult learners in the public two-year sector.

Although community colleges are not the only institution serving adult learners, they are often the first choice for returning students looking to pick up new job skills or obtain a degree. Both affordable and friendly to working students, community colleges appeal to returning adult learners. In turn, adult learners provide a large part of the tuition dollars that community colleges need to keep functioning each year.

Adult learners need help picking up the pieces

Returning adult learners often have had some previous college experience. The difficulty is how to best fashion it to support their new academic goals. Obtaining decades old transcripts can be difficult, and even once the official copies are delivered the courses may not be up to the institution’s transfer standards. However, adult learners are highly motivated and returning to school with clear objectives in mind. Whatever missteps they’ve had in the past, with the right support they can flourish in an academic setting.

Admissions officers should encourage adult students to request old transcripts that could reduce the credit load they have to take to complete a degree. Even just helping adult learners find the right number to call at their previous institution can make the process easier. The credit transfer process should also be as simple as possible. Otherwise, adult learners lose time and money re-taking courses they’ve already had.

Adult learners need wrap-around support services

Adult students are likely to be financially independent from their parents, and so assuming the entire financial burden of college. NPR reports than half are financially independent, and 1 in 4 have their own children to support. Because of this, they may need more vertical support from advisors, teachers, and financial aid counselors, as well as additional services like technology classes or childcare assistance.

How well a community college can provide this kind of support will have a measurable impact on whether these students thrive. Of course, colleges are financially limited in what they can do. Yet, an adult student without a ride to school, or childcare, or a home computer is bound to struggle with completing assignments. If your institution can proactively work with students to confront these challenges, they are more likely to matriculate.

Financial aid makes a difference to adult students

A longitudinal study of community colleges in Washington state showed that adult students enrolled in community colleges were more likely to earn a credential or complete at least 45 credits when they received financial aid. However, the same study showed that less than a majority of low-skill adult learners received this kind of support. This meant more returned to the workforce without the additional earning power a community college could provide.

Other adult learners might be returning to school to retrain for a new job after years in the workforce, when they’ve suddenly lost a long-term job. With their own retirement looming, it can be difficult to know how to factor in student loans or pay for courses. Having a financial aid staff that understands the special challenges that older students face, from paying for courses to planning for retirement, is an important part of supporting mature students.

Adult learners worry about navigating relationship with younger students

Adult learners might be anxious about participating in study groups or other peer learning opportunities. Joining a classroom with much younger students, especially those that seem adept at the kinds of academic tasks that adult learners find intimidating, can be very difficult. In fact, fear of humiliation can keep adult learners from forming invaluable student-to-student relationships.

However, teachers can help draw adult learners into the classroom experience. Their life-experience enriches classroom discussion and their mature perspective and determination to succeed can motivate younger students. With the right encouragement, older and younger students can develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Community colleges succeed when adult students succeed

Adult learners are a critical part of the community college student body. To continue to meet enrollment goals, community colleges must be appealing to adult learners. Doing this means showing that the school understands the kind of support these students need. Every interaction with admissions staff and financial aid officers should leave returning adult learners feeling satisfied that the school can help them overcome the unique kinds of challenges they face.

However, the college needs to communicate this message to prospective adult students long before they arrive on campus for a visit. We believe the best way to do this is by providing clear and informative content that engages prospective students and the community at large. This is the best way to attract adult students in today’s competitive college marketplace. If you want to know how your college can do this economically and effectively, request a demonstration of our services today.

Advantages of beginning a degree at a Community College

Why community colleges are a top contender for Gen Z

Generation Z is the first fully digital generation. They’ve lived through the recession, national tragedies, and wars. They are also practical and curious and ready to chart a new course in higher education. Gen Z is the largest college going generation, but their expectations for higher education are much different than previous ones. Less altruistic and value-driven than millennials, Gen Z sees higher education as a critical step along the path to a better career.

While this offers some hope to colleges facing declining enrollment, marketing a college education to Gen Z will require a different strategy that reaching the Millennials. Gen Z wants to graduate with as little debt as possible and a degree that lets them land a competitive high-paying job. As the best bargain in career-focused education, community colleges are well-placed to make this happen. However, to capture the attention of this demographic, community college is going to have to embrace the digital revolution.

Gen Z understands the importance of a college education

Gen Z values higher education a great deal. The Barnes & Noble College study shows that 89% consider a college education as valuable, and 82% plan to go from high school directly to college. This makes them the largest college going generation yet. As they try to choose between colleges they are likely to use online college resources, like College Greenlight, MyMajors, and College Board, and to visit individual college webpages. They will also speak to people whose advice they trust, like teachers, counselors, family members and friends.

Gen Z worries about student debt

Generation X, Generation Z’s parents, indicated on a reported in a recent survey done by the National Association of Realtors that their student loans totaled around $30,000. This was the highest of any generation surveyed. It had a noticeable impact on their ability to make major purchases, like a home. Generation Z is wary of accruing large amounts of college debt that could limit their options as adults. Therefore, they are attentive to consumer information about the cost of a degree and financial aid options.

Gen Z’s number one concern related to college is finding a good job afterwards

Gen Z grew up during the great recession and have a practical approach to college education. Unlike previous generations they don’t think that simply obtaining a degree is enough to find them a job. Despite the economy’s growth trajectory, Gen Z is acutely aware of how their choice of major will affect their ability to find a job. They report that their number one concern related to college is finding a good job after graduation. This makes Gen Z far more financially driven than Millennials, who define success in terms of personal fulfillment rather than financial benchmarks.

Gen Z will make good students

Generation Z is the first fully digital generation They also are naturally curious, independent, and able to process large amounts of information quickly, all good attributes in college students. They are also predisposed to learning and conducting research, probably because their technological savvy has allowed them to seek out information on their own from a young age. Almost 50% of Generation Z students between 16-18 report that they have already begun taking some college courses to increase their desirability to the universities to which they apply, and 84% of younger teens plan to take a course for college credit.

Education-Tech is here to stay

Generation Z is used to using technology to have an interactive and hands-on learning experience, and they expect to continue using technology in college classrooms. However, they still report valuing time spent learning collaboratively with peers and from teachers. Gen Z uses technology as one part of a multifaced learning experience. From studying with friends over Skype to using game-based learning systems and digital textbooks, Gen Z seamlessly transitions between digital and traditional learning systems.

Nearly half of Gen Z is considering community college, tech or trade school

One of the findings in the Barnes & Noble study is of particular significance to community colleges. The survey showed that 39% of Generation Z is considering community college, and 22% are considering tech or trade school. While some of these students are looking at four-year colleges as well, community colleges are on their radar. This make sense, because just starting a degree at a community college can translate into big savings down the road. And, increasingly students are also realizing that career credentials, like a B.S.N. or a welding certification without a four-year degree will get them the kind of career they want.

The community college advantage

By and large the trends the study documents are encouraging, particularly for community colleges hoping to recruit either transfer students or degree-seeking students. Giving the ballooning costs of higher education, getting started at an affordable community college has never been smarter. Gen Z has noticed, and they are very responsive to the fiscal advantages and career-focused courses offered by community colleges.

Gen Z is turning the old stereotypes about community college upside down. They want degrees that will help them land solid careers without the crippling debt that burdened their parents. They are going online looking for reliable and career-oriented information about what a community college has to offer. With the right marketing strategy community colleges are ideally placed to capture these practical and budget conscious consumers.

Making the Case for Rural Community Colleges

Attracting and retaining rural community college students

Rural community college students face a unique set of challenges. They live in homes with less technological access, travel long distances to school, and come from communities that are economically struggling (Garza & Eller, 1998). Prospective rural community college students struggle to overcome these obstacles on their own. They report having difficulty finding child-care and reliable transportation, and also obtaining financial aid (Bell, Rowen-Kenyon, & Perna, 2009). They also identified several other related issues that make a college education appear out of reach, including not owning a computer, not having a strong high school GPA, and not having parents who also attended college (Scott, Miller & Morris, 2015).

Further compounding these problems, is the fact that prospective community college students in rural areas are often uninformed about the college process. A systematic study has also shown that a particular hurdle for prospective college students in rural communities is a lack of information or guidance about the college process (McKinney and Novak, 2013). They are likely to have limited access to important information about the college, like the value of education, admissions deadlines and financial aid opportunities. This is unsurprising given that they are often the first in their families to attend college.

Evening the odds: Supporting rural community college students

Overcoming all these issues will require a multifaceted approach. This includes support and transition services for new rural community college students, improved public primary and secondary schools, and more financial aid solutions like the Pell Grant and state funding. Many of these are outside of a college’s control. However, community colleges can improve remedial academic classes for struggling students and provide wrap-around support services for new students. They also can create an outreach and recruitment plan that compensates for the general lack of information about the value of a college degree and the college process.

The expense of remedial education

Remedial education services are an expensive outlay for students. According to the report Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High school Student Achievement on College Affordability, low-income students are not the only ones taking remedial classes. Rather 45% of rising college students taking remedial classes are from middle, upper-middle and high-income families in a broad range of college sectors. Only 57% of these remedial students were enrolled in a public community college. In the 2011-2012 school year the collective cost of these courses was nearly $1.5 billion.

How needing remedial education affects community college students

It is inarguable that the financial burden of remedial education falls most heavily on low-income and first-generation college students. Although high-income freshmen at private universities paid the most per student for remedial courses in the 2011-2012 school year, these students are better able to bear the expense. Moreover, remedial courses rarely count towards a degree, making higher education take longer, and they negatively correlate with retention. Full-time community college students are 12 percent more likely to drop out after taking a remedial course. Those that complete their degree take an average of 6 months longer to graduate.

Wrap-around support for rural community college students

The data suggests that for rural community college students, especially those from areas with failing public schools, remedial education will be an expensive and unavoidable opportunity cost. Rural community colleges should therefore make these classes pedagogically excellent. Along with providing strong remedial education services, colleges may need to support students in these classes with wrap-around services to improve retention, like on-campus childcare. They could also insist students have more contact with tutors, academic advisors and financial aid counselors. These kind of transition services may improve outcomes for underprepared, low-income rural students.

Breaking through the information gap

Since prospective students in rural areas are less likely to have information about college enrollment financial aid, and the value of a community college education, community colleges must bridge the gap. In the 2007-2008 school year about 42% of college students who were eligible to receive a Pell Grant didn’t even fill out a FAFSA (McKinney & Novak, 2013).  Most traditional advertising and marketing methods, like targeted ads, billboards, or TV spots will not make up for this lack of awareness. It’s impossible to attract prospective students in rural areas who don’t understand the value of the education or how to access the necessary support services to enroll in school.

Content marketing and rural community colleges

Consequently, colleges must provide clear, timely and relevant information about degree programs, career opportunities, financial aid, and enrollment deadlines. This is the best way to increase enrollment in rural areas. Given the overriding concerns rural community college students have about finances, highlighting other sorts of assistance the college can provide, like subsidized health benefits or childcare, will also be important. Digital articles or a print magazine that can be shared with a prospective student by friends, teachers, or relatives are the best way to distribute this kind of information. This is the content marketing strategy.

Making the most of your marketing budget

Since rural community colleges draw from a smaller pool of prospective students than colleges in big urban centers, they often have small marketing departments as well. It might seem like they can’t handle the demands of a big content marketing campaign. However, your college doesn’t need to produce unique content on its own. With access to our deep content library, your marketing department can pull articles about issues relevant to their prospective students and personalize these articles for the local market in a very short amount of time. A single person in your marketing department can put together an entire magazine in only a few weeks.  If you’re interested in seeing how this might improve enrollment at your rural community college, contact us for a demonstration today.



Bell, A. D., et. al. “College knowledge of 9th and 11th grade students: Variation by school and state context.” The Journal of Higher Education, 80 vol. 6, 2009, p. 663-685

Garza, H., et. al. “The role of rural community colleges in expanding access and economic development.” In McGrath, D. (Ed.), New Directions for Community Colleges, vol. 103, San Franscisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1998, p. 31-41

McKinney, L., Novak, H. “The relationship between FAFSA filing and persistence among first-year community college students.” Community College Review, 41 vol. 1, 2013, p. 63-85

Scott, Shanda, Michael Miller and Adam Morris. “Rural Community College Student Perceptions of Barriers to College Enrollment.” Academic Leadership Journal. vol. 3, 2015

How to Create a Community College Recruitment Plan

Winning over prospective students visiting campus

In the first of this two-part series we talked about marketing as an exchange process and identifying and reaching your market segment. We concluded that good academic marketing strategy relies on solid market research and quality content marketing. Prospective community college students respond enthusiastically to content marketing that communicates clear information about how education will advance their careers.

In this second part we will discuss recruitment plans. When a college sets out to recruit a class of incoming students they are attempting to convert potential students into customers. There is a great deal that goes into the recruitment process. However, what colleges ultimately hope to do is to sell customers on the idea of their central mission: to educate, inspire, and provide a vital credential. Prospective students are being asked to make one of the most expensive purchases of their lives in return for this service.

Unlike a product, which a customer can inspect carefully before purchasing, an education cannot be viewed. In the Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Marketing, Tom Hayes explains that marketing a college education differs from marketing a product in four ways: it is intangible, inseparable, variable, and perishable. A successful recruitment plan must account for these basic differences between marketing an education and marketing a product.

Overcoming Intangibility: Selling what can’t be seen

When a prospective student visits campus he or she is looking for indications of a quality education. However, because a quality education can’t be seen, they are likely to zero in on other indications of quality, like a beautiful student center, recent technology in classrooms, and general upkeep of the grounds and facilities.

Community colleges vary in what they can offer in this respect. Although some have quite sizable operating budgets, few can compete with state and private schools that are housing their students in lavish dormitories and creating cafeterias with omelet stations. However, that doesn’t mean community colleges cannot overcome the intangibility issue. It is possible to communicate quite clearly the value of a community college education.

Even without fancy facilities, a community college can showcase the success of their former students and explain how education was a key part of that success. They can also make explicit and concrete the connections between the majors and programs offered by the school and the student’s future earning power. Through content marketing the college can communicate all of this clearly and consistently to prospective students, demonstrating that the education they will receive is of the highest quality, worth the kind of money the student will pay for it.

Inseparability and Variability: When you’re only as good as your last contact

In some respects, higher education is just like any other service for sale. Importantly, it is inseparable from the people providing that service, from professors and admissions officers to the campus phone operators. This means every campus representative is capable of making a positive impact on a prospective student, showing that an education at the college is worth the cost of tuition.

It also means that the service the campus provides will be as variable as the providers. For instance, if a student visits a class and hates the professor’s lecture or style, she is unlikely to think highly of the quality of education at the school as a whole. This kind of variability is unavoidable. Humans, unlike iPhones, have bad days, make mistakes, and fail to perform consistently. Services are, by nature, both inseparable and variable.

However, the college can retain some control over this apparently external factor. First of all, presumably the college makes hiring and tenure decisions with an eye to quality. Secondly, it is the college’s job to make sure that positive messages outweigh negative interactions. By producing a constant stream of positive content directed at potential students, the college can mitigate the damage done by poor interactions.

Perishability: How long does a quality experience last?

Good service is not like a shipment of TV’s that can be stockpiled in a warehouse to meet market demand. Colleges cannot preserve positive interactions for future use. Good service is in this sense a highly perishable product, one that constantly must be renewed in every interaction. Whether or not this can be done consistently will depend on human factors that are outside of the college’s control.

However, it is important and possible to counteract this kind of perishability. One way the college can do this is by seeking to retain excellent faculty and administrative employees. Yet another way is to invest in marketing that reaches potential students with important information about the quality of services the college does provide. This shows that the college is committed to building on previous successes.

Why a strong content marketing plan is a strong recruitment plan

The biggest obstacles to convincing a prospective student that he should invest in a community college education can all be overcome by content marketing. Prospective customers are wondering about the quality of the service the school provides, whether they will have positive experiences, and whether the school can continue to provide those experiences. They have few indicators about the answers to these questions, since the school is selling a service which is intangible, inseparable, variable and perishable. Unsurprisingly, this makes prospective students hesitant.

Marketing departments need to take charge of answering these questions. They are ideally placed to send a clear message about the quality of the service the institution provides. Because of this, strong content marketing is a strong recruitment plan. And you don’t need to act alone to create high quality, meaningful content. Contact Aperture Content Marketing today for a demonstration of everything we can do for you.



Hossler, Don and Bob Bontrager. Handbook of Strategic Enrollment Management. vol. first edition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2015

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.