We hear so much about students fearing their college application will be rejected. But we don’t hear too much about colleges being rejected so to speak by prospective enrollees who simply don’t apply to certain schools. The brand name and flagship schools have an oversupply of applicants while the lesser known schools go begging. Why is that?

Prestige, brand recognition, intelligent positioning, and high visibility lead to popularity. On the other hand, a lack of these attributes makes it extremely difficult to attract the attention of potential enrollees. And many smaller lesser-known institutions add to their recruitment problem by neglecting to market their strengths intelligently. Or even do any marketing.

I had a surprising conversation last week with someone responsible for enrollment marketing at a small college. She said that they never pay more than fifty-two cents for a lead. She also said they were essentially cold-calling these leads and, when asked what their conversion rate was, replied it was far less than one percent. I was shocked. She didn’t realize the difference between names purchased from a list broker and leads. I explained leads contained at least some details on the person, importantly including that person’s interest in enrolling in a specific college program. My explanation fell on deaf ears.

The actual scenario outlined above is indicative of some of the problems faced by small traditional colleges in attracting students. The heads are deep in the hay looking for the needles that are new students. And the solution is…get some real marketing expertise first, examine what works for the most successful colleges, and begin testing new approaches. After all, the old approaches just aren’t working anymore.