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.