Is your institution acting like an old-time used car salesman when sending financial aid letters?

Posted on June 29, 2018

The Wall Street Journal’s recent article titled “Financial Games Colleges Play” exposed the flim-flam approach used by many colleges and universities when composing financial aid award letters to prospective students. The Journal concludes that it’s shameful students are confused at best and misled at worst by these befuddling financial aid award letters. Your institution can stand out by providing easy to understand language and concise numbers when sending your award letters to those you have accepted as enrollees.

There is little long-term advantage to misleading or confusing your students.  Word gets around when a student feels suckered into paying – or owing – far more than expected.  Institutions wonder why they lose so many students when that second or third enrollment period rolls around.  No one really knows how many transfers or dropouts leave their college because of unexpected costs that smack them in the pocketbook.

You can avoid being penalized with withdrawals, transfers and dropouts if you make sure your institution doesn’t play the game of “get them in now, worry about dealing with the shocked student later.” Do not lump grants and loans together as seventy percent of colleges did in the study noted by The Wall Street Journal.  And don’t do what Northern Arizona University did when it sent a letter stating that their aid offer resulted in “Total Unmet Need: $0” implying that loans included in the aid package were somehow free.

You can differentiate your institution in two ways. One is to create a marketing message that says your school is different because you clearly spell out actual costs and whether financial aid is a gift or has to be paid back. The other way is to use the aid letter version created in 2012 by the Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Most colleges don’t use this version and it might be concluded that the reason is that it does not provide room for their usual obfuscation tactics.

Our organization, CollegeLeadExchange.com, soon to introduce what we’re calling the “eBay of prospective enrollee leads,” will blacklist any college or university whose financial aid letters to enrollees sourced from us are misleading or deceitful. Should we be made aware of such practices by a school we will prohibit that school from using our platform. Ever.

 

 

How smaller colleges can find leads that convert to enrollments

Posted on June 18, 2018

The big challenge for many colleges and universities that don’t have a widely recognized brand name and elite reputation is finding enough qualified prospective students to meet their enrollment goals. Marketing budgets – and maybe expertise – are in many cases insufficient to generate the number of leads required to fill seats or online courses. Recruiting students is never easy nor inexpensive, but there are some best practices that have evolved, using new technology, that are proving to be a lifeline for admissions officers and representatives.

Make no mistake, the very best enrollment leads are the ones that call you. Conversion rates for leads you develop through your website, your publicity, and especially your happy students and alumni, are the highest of any lead source. But sometimes you can’t get enough of these calls to meet your enrollment goal. So what’s next best?

Many large institutions contract with third-party marketers to originate leads. Some score these leads and only pass on the ones that are likely, or somewhat likely, to enroll. The problem with this process is that it is expensive and priced out of reach for most colleges, especially those schools that are discounting tuition to be competitive in costs to attend.

There are other marketers who will handle generating leads, calling them, and processing enrollments. But you pay dearly for this service, many times a large portion of the tuition generated. This, by the way, works best for those institutions that don’t understand how to market themselves and “close the sale” with prospective enrollees. Many of us think this is a “fool’s game” that increases enrollment but decreases bottom line for the institution.

Of course, there are the standard lead generators like ClassesUSA. Many of you have used them or their competitors paid about $40 per lead and experienced a conversation (enrollment) rate approaching 2%. You have also experienced responses from these leads like “How did you get my name?” and “I’m not interested in college.” For the two-out-of-one hundred that enrolls your admissions team have been frustrated by the ninety-eight that proved to be a waste of time. And there are no refunds for the ninety-eight that didn’t pan out.

We think there’s a better way. An answer to locating prequalified prospective enrollees that is inexpensive, easy to use – it’s self-serve – and works somewhat like an eBay for college enrollees leads. It’s an online platform where admissions managers can list their criteria for “ideal” leads and quickly find out how many are immediately available.  They can then check the cost and, with no contract, download some, all or none. These leads originate from several sources, among them purpose-built and promoted websites like www.WhatsBestforMe.com as well as established marketing organizations specializing in higher education leads.

This online source is found at www.CollegeLeadExchange.com. Like shopping online, it doesn’t cost anything to browse, and no contracts are required. Purchases of leads, for those who choose to acquire them, are billed at the posted price on a net-30 basis. But here’s the problem: the site won’t be transactional until around August 1, 2018. You can browse now, establish your custom criteria for leads, and see how it all works, but you won’t be able to buy anything until early August. So take a peek now…

Is Higher Education in a Death Spiral?

Posted on June 12, 2018

Are you in the business of higher education? If so, a June 5, 2018 article in The Atlantic (link below) will surely interest you. The message is that higher education has reached its peak and is in an irreversible decline.

A self-declared futurist and former professor, Bryan Alexander, says he started paying attention to higher ed in 2013 and coined the phrase “peak higher education.”  Alexander compared higher ed to other “peaks” like cars, oil and other massive industries that had probably seen growth top out and begun to fade. Five years ago he noted enrollment dropping, the number of adjuncts growing, skyrocketing costs of college, and concerns regarding the actual value of getting a degree.

Now he says his hypothesis is gradually becoming reality. Aiding the decline is fewer people being born and recent barriers to foreign students entering the U.S. to attend college. He makes some interesting points, most of which are based on raw metrics. But is he right?

The article touches on all the “usual suspects,” including reduced state funding and the polarized views around the purpose and value of higher education.  And the recently popular common-sense trend of focusing recruitment efforts on adults, not just high schoolers.

What do I think about all this? Alexander hits on some good points, especially suggesting colleges add online programs – duh – and begin targeting those 24 and older, not just 17-year-olds. But his doomsday message is perhaps a bit misdirected. Maybe the reason for this is the fact that his background, according to the article, is that of a former English professor who calls himself a higher education futurist. That narrow level of experience, at least in my eyes, isn’t broad enough to allow him to see the much broader picture, especially the “business side” of education.  My own view is that of an entrepreneur who happened to spend the last fifteen years in and around the periphery of higher education. And as a non-academic, the challenges seem to be quite clear and eminently addressable.

The way the vast majority of colleges and universities run their “business” – and many will cringe at the term business – is outdated, myopic and as a result is in desperate need of change. Many of these schools refuse to reconsider their mission or, especially, their marketing message even in view of the massive changes that have taken place since 1999.

An extremely important change is the digitization of our world, including the easy availability of information, the result of which is expanded choice. No longer can a college expect a stream of automatic enrollees sent from their feeders, like churches and alumni. People comparison shop online with ease; choosing a college is now very much determined by a school’s marketing message and web presence. Nearly 90% of colleges are non-elite institutions and as such do not have an overabundance of people wanting to enroll. Complicating things for thousands of schools is their inability to attract enough prospective enrollees to increase, or maintain, enrollment and revenue levels. They can’t seem to find enough of the “right” prospective enrollees as they try to compete with hundreds and thousands of marketing messages.

As a former CEO of a little-known university, I experienced these challenges myself. As a result, hands-on experience as both a businessman and a college executive I decided to address one of the challenges facing non-elite institutions:  finding the best prospects for enrolling in a specific institution.

My team developed an online easy-to-use platform and, importantly, a “wish list” of characteristics, which taken together describes the kind of person an admissions team wishes they could have access to. It has been eighteen months in development and will be released to colleges and universities in late summer 2018. We call it the Future of Student Recruitment.  Tell the online system your optimal student profile is, for example, a female 24-35 years old, with some college, who’s interested in a bachelor’s in nursing and wants to start a part-time program in 3-6 months. Voila! There might be over 100 people with these characteristics in the system. The system asks How many do you want? Or are you “just looking?” We think this soon-to-be-introduced service will help solve major student recruitment issues for many colleges and universities.

Want a sneak preview? Email js@collegeleadexchange.com

Here’s the link to The Atlantic article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/06/heres-how-higher-education-dies/561995/

Will A College Degree Matter In 2020?

Posted on May 22, 2018

Of course, a college degree will matter! But the real question should be “Should everyone get a college degree?” The obvious – and the real world – answer to this question is “Of course not.” Far too many people hear the someone in authority say we need more college graduates and they automatically nod their heads in agreement. No deep critical thinking occurs. The word “lemmings” comes to mind. For the most part the media fuels this thinking. It’s an easy story for the sound bite crowd. College degrees for everyone, rah-rah. It has a nice ring to it. But there’s more to the story. And those commentators who say degrees don’t really matter are as bad as the college-for-everyone crowd. We need to come to our senses, look at what’s happening in the real world with real people and real jobs.

A successful high-profile investor like Pete Thiel says drop out of or don’t go to college and I’ll spot you a hundred grand to start a business. Other dropout stories abound and we hear them repeatedly. Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs, et al. Did they need a college degree? Obviously not. But there are a lot of people like that who have made millions starting a company. There are also a lot of people who have made millions playing lotto. These rare birds are poor role models and like the lotto winners, a bit of luck surely played a part in the success stories. For you and I, these folks are bad examples even though the media love them.

But a college degree certainly matters if you want to be an accountant, or a nurse, or a teacher. If you think a liberal arts degree doesn’t matter much there are a lot of people who will agree with you, this writer among them.

Too many high school kids, and let’s not forget their parents, grow up with the thought ingrained in their head that they have to go to college. Everyone who wants to be successful goes to college, or that’s what these kids and parents delude themselves with. Bunk. There are, in this writer’s experience, two key elements of success, neither of which is a college degree, although a degree will probably not hurt. The first element is the makeup of the individual. If they’re lazy, inconsiderate, lack curiosity or persistence, or have no empathy they are likely to have a miserable life and be unhappy and probably fail in their career. On the other hand, if they have these qualities and are blessed with even average intelligence, they will be much more likely to be successful. And happy. The other key element, I think, is being “aware.” Aware of things that lurk beneath the surface, like trends, opportunities, intangibles, and importantly, warning signs. This is the opposite of taking a passive role in life, allowing things to affect you that shouldn’t, or shouldn’t for very long anyway. College degrees are not part of this secret sauce at all.

Practically speaking, a kid – or adult – who discovers what they are good at, hopefully leading to satisfaction and contentment, need not obsess with college. That person might have a talent for things mechanical or may have a unique spatial aptitude. There are thousands of well-paying jobs – or companies waiting to be started – where a person can, as the human culture expert Joseph Campbell explains, “follow their bliss.” That bliss may or may not include college and the guesswork selection of a degree program. Statistics show at least half of all college students change their field of study at least once before graduation, and that’s only for those who graduate. But there are those who select a field of study and stick with it. Hopefully, life proves they made the right choice. For them a degree is important. Even though it might take them six or more years to get one. Six or more years of forsaking income and probably accumulating debt.

So who’s right? Depends on whether we’re talking generalities or examining a specific person and his or her unique situation. Generalities are great if you’re a statistician but not so much if you’re an individual. So let’s not follow the lemmings and generalize but look at each situation for what it is. Then, all things considered, decide whether or not a college degree matters to you.

 

Smart college marketers recruit adult students

Posted on May 7, 2018

The Adult Prospect Survey, a report released in February 2018 by Eduventures, provides some interesting insights into the adult student demographic.  Institutions that are trying to build enrollment should pay attention to Eduventures’ findings.

For many colleges and universities, the adult market is an alien landscape; it shouldn’t be, as adults when enrolled, tend to finish their courses and continue their programs.

Adults’ motivations are drastically different from those of eighteen-year-old freshmen, half of whom go to college for “the experience” according to a 2013 survey.  Adults have little interest in the social aspects of college. Adults are serious students. According to the Adult Prospect Survey, they are looking for one – or more – of four things: personal fulfillment, career advancement, and either immersion or convenience.  The choice between immersion or convenience is usually determined by the speed by which a degree can be earned, usually for career advancement. Convenience, on the other hand, is important to those who have full days with work and family. And adults, interestingly, in most cases don’t distinguish if a course is provided online or in a classroom setting, although our own experience with recruiting adult students leaned heavily to online programs.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past two or three years to the increase in the number of adults attending college – and the decrease in traditional “teen” enrollees – you may have wondered how you might tap into this lucrative market. We wondered the same thing and two years ago began developing a service that would benefit both prospective adult students and the institutions that want to serve them.

At our organizations, WhatsBestforMe.com and CollegeLeadExchange.com, we have targeted adult learners as we understand their motivations. We do not represent specific colleges or universities but instead allow schools access to our systems to select prospective enrollees based on a school’s specific criteria. Files in our database each contain detailed information on prospective students of all ages although much of our own marketing is directed at adult learners.

Ideally, an admissions department should look for prospective enrollees each of which have a certain predetermined profile. So a college that is interested in recruiting students who, for example, are between 24-37, have some college, want an online part-time degree program, and are interested in enrolling within three months, can plug that criteria in at CollegeLeadExchange and see how many files meet most of these requirements. The criteria, of course, is determined by the college. This easy and inexpensive – there is no obligation to buy – online service is not available today (May 1, 2018) but will be available by mid-summer.

Don’t ignore the adult student. They are serious “buyers” of education – and training – and once enrolled will usually solve any retention problem you have with those 20-year-olds.

College admissions departments use psychology – and dollars – to lure enrollees.

Posted on April 20, 2018

 

In 2004, when I first became involved in the business of higher education – I had been an entrepreneur for the previous thirty years – I was a bit shocked to learn that colleges discounted their tuition for a large percentage of students. But college admissions executives only used the word “discount” when talking among themselves; when speaking to the public they substituted “scholarship” for “discount.”
Why do they do this, I wondered? The “why” became obvious after I had been involved in higher education for a while, including six years as CEO of a university. When I passed on what I had learned to friends and relatives they either didn’t believe me or thought I was belittling their childrens’ or grandchildrens’ wonderful achievements in securing scholarships to college. So I said little while being frustrated at what I perceived as closed-mindedness, which was probably better defined as “don’t give me any information, factual or not, that will in any way diminish my pride.” It is all about pride, and college admissions people use it to their advantage.
On Wednesday, April 18, 2018, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Melissa Korn titled Prizes for All: Colleges Use Scholarships to Lure Students (URL below). Seems like Melissa discovered what I had discovered years ago and wrote about it in a prominent publication (not Fake News). Here, in her words, is the essence of the article:
Hundreds of colleges and universities are using academic scholarships and other merit-based financial aid to gain an edge in a battle for students. The scholarships make students feel wanted and let families think they’re getting a good deal, like a shopper who buys an expensive sweater on sale.
Ms. Korn goes on to describe how tuition discount rates for full-time new students at private colleges averaged 49% in 2017. I can imagine all the moms and dads who crowed about the huge scholarships their sons and daughters were awarded last year. There’s no harm in feeling good, and I guess it’s a bit like all the kids in kindergarten coming home with a gold star. Everyone’s happy – the kid, the parents, and in this case, especially the college.
The wide availability of discounts – call them scholarships if it makes you feel better – and the lack of awareness of their availability, is one of the reasons my organization created WhatsBestforMe.com. This new website allows prospective college students of all ages to state what they want in a school and what they’d like in the way of scholarships, grants or financial aid. Then schools who are looking for that type of students offered admission as well as tuition discounts (0ops. I mean scholarships).

Melissa Kern’s article can be found at https://tinyurl.com/y825mjzp.

Are adult students the answer to increasing your enrollment?

Posted on March 19, 2018

Yes, they probably are, according to a March 12, 2018 article in The EvoLLLution newsletter by Walter Pearson, Dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Loyola University. The heading on an illustration in the article reads:

While demographic shifts spell a tough road ahead for institutions and divisions focused squarely on traditional-age learners, those that serve adult students have a brighter future in store.

What does this mean for institutions (like yours?) that seek either an increase in enrollment or more adult students? It means a couple things, especially that your institution promote – or develop – online programs that appeal to a growing segment of college students, particularly adults. Easier said than done, you say? Maybe. But there are proven approaches you can use.

And where can you find these proven approaches? Aim small, for starters, by encouraging a shift in your marketing message to appeal to those ages 24-35 who started college but have not yet earned a degree. This should be your primary target market, not those who have never attended college. For more details I encourage that you read Walter Pearson’s fine article at https://tinyurl.com/y9qjtqbv and then look for inexpensive qualified leads at www.collegeleadexchange.com .  Easy, inexpensive…and smart.

The best prospective enrollees are yours for the taking

Posted on March 5, 2018

It’s frustrating to pay forty dollars for a supposedly good lead and, when you call them, have them say, “How did you get my name?” or “I’m not interested in enrolling in college.” According to industry statistics, this happens over ninety percent of the time. Makes you want to rely on the leads you develop yourselves, doesn’t it?

Having dealt with the same frustrations while heading a small university for six years I decided to try and improve this situation for all the colleges and universities, many like the one I led, trying hard to either maintain or increase enrollment.  And after a false start, my team finally came up with something that drastically improved the situation.

We started with the assumptions that institutions trying to recruit students of all ages would want the following: access to prospective students who fit specific profiles; the ability to access these profiles easily online and with no buying requirement; the ability to select none, one, or multiple files; files having detailed information on the prospective student; and finally, a low-cost with no contract or minimums.

When we queried multiple marketing, enrollment and recruiting experts to verify our assumptions – remember, we wore those same hats ourselves – we picked up a few additional “it would be nice to have” things. So we added additional features, one of which was what I’ll call “trust.”  In this case, trust means we will invoice for purchases an institution chooses to make. No contracts required prior to an admissions department acquiring leads. No credit cards and no money up front. Buy what you need when you need it.

Beta testing began; the usual issues were identified and fixed.  Pilot programs were next. More tweaks were needed (of course). Now we’re in the final phase, which adds weighting to each file based on an institution’s specific enrollee profile. This means that if an “ideal” profile, as determined by each institution, contains ten qualities (i.e., age, military, program choice, time to start, etc.) and a prospect’s file indicates eight of the qualities are present, the weighting will be greater than if the file only contained three qualities. The result is that only the files with higher weighting will be shown to the institution on the website.

The platform itself, collegeleadexchange.com, can be easily accessed online. Any enrollment team can, without cost or obligation, create a profile of their best prospective enrollee. And without buying anything, can see how many profiles in the database match their ideal profile. But keep in mind the weighting feature is still being tweaked and will not be fully functional until about the middle of April 2018.

I believe this new approach to finding the best prospective enrollees for each institution’s programs will soon play a major role in assisting enrollment teams in meeting their goals of quality and quantity. And I invite you and your enrollment team members to keep an eye on collegeleadexchange.com over the next few months.

 

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Posted on January 26, 2018

Wow, I haven’t read anything like this in years. And to my great surprise, it is about colleges and higher education in general, written by an insider – a professor of sociology. Mom, dad and their college-age kids should read this eye-opening piece. The laundry is dirty and it’s being aired out in this article titled “Higher education is drowning in BS.” And the “BS” doesn’t stand for bachelor of science.

Click on this link and enjoy: https://tinyurl.com/y8sl3xsf