09 Oct How to Market an Adult Education Program
While there are many factors that influence student enrollment in the higher education setting, a sound digital marketing strategy can dramatically improve your numbers.
But exactly what should that strategy entail? For starters, let’s discuss a school’s website. Oftentimes adult education programs are buried within a myriad of website layers because they are only part of a school district or career center’s offering. When a prospective student does find the program they are interested in, adequate content and SEO are key. Unfortunately, many adult education programs found online give only the briefest of descriptions, course numbers, and tuition costs. It’s important to remember that selecting a career program is a life-changing decision for a recent high school graduate or older adult student, and perhaps the biggest investment they’ve made thus far. Are you giving them enough convincing information to seriously consider your program as their best option compared to another school’s program or career option?
Today’s younger generation of adult students wants instant information and feedback. They are accustomed to finding what they need in “one click” and engaging with businesses via live chat help. Their user experience needs to be fast and seamless. One thing I recommend to marketing and recruitment specialists whose hands may be tied on the website end is to create a unique branded landing page that acts as a standalone website. Landing pages can be developed for a short duration, or left in place as an ongoing recruitment tool. A properly executed landing page should feature a clear call to action and a lead capture form that doesn’t ask a prospective student for too much personal information. It should also be visually exciting and written using the most current SEO strategies. Search engine optimization is now considered the most cost-effective source of inquiries that can lead to enrollment, and a landing page is a great opportunity to gain traction here.
When the Columbus Practical Nursing program saw its enrollment numbers declining, they turned to my team at Linear Creative in Columbus for help. “Incorporating a landing page into our marketing mix was something we hadn’t tried before,” said Mindy Bobich, Practical Nursing Admissions/Community Coordinator for the Columbus City Schools Department of Adult & Community Education. “The number of inquiries, leads, and students enrolled has not been this high in years for our Practical Nursing Program,” Bobich added. In fact, Linear Creative was able to DOUBLE the program’s enrollment numbers in a very short period of time.
Of course a landing page is only effective when used in conjunction with a dedicated social and online strategy. Finding the right balance between Google AdWords, online display ads, paid social ads, and regular posting can be a tricky thing, especially when you’re trying to work within a constrained budget. This is where targeting the right audience with the right messages becomes crucial. As a marketer, I’m often surprised to learn that schools don’t always know WHY students choose to enroll in their programs. When this happens, I suggest a simple questionnaire be administered to existing students so they can rank their reasons in order of importance.
One recent questionnaire that I developed revealed that students in a semi-urban area were mostly drawn to an adult education program because of its low cost. The tuition for the 12-month program was slightly lower than that of the competition, and a much lower alternative to a traditional four-year program. The same students also indicated that they chose to attend the program because it did not require any prerequisite courses. Knowing this and other information that students shared helped us craft winning messages that we knew would appeal to the audience’s preferences and needs.
When doing any type of online marketing, the importance of showing the success of your real students and graduates cannot be stressed enough. They are your best assets and proof that your program works. Tell their stories using branded photographs and short video clips. This is also a great way to increase engagement across social platforms.
Always consider things from the students’ point of view. What are their biggest concerns? Most of them don’t have the luxury of large funds set aside for their education by their parents. Getting financial aid means everything to them. And while you cannot promise what – if any amount – of aid they will receive, you can promise to help with the financial aid process. Completing the FAFSFA form can be a daunting challenge so if you offer any type of assistance with this task, be sure to consistently include this as a valuable marketing message.
Students also worry about whether they will find a job after completing their education. This is another area where you may be able to alleviate some fear. If your school doesn’t already have strong partnerships with area businesses, begin developing them as part of your enrollment strategy. This is a win-win situation for all parties, and you might be surprised to learn employers will often enroll their existing staff into your training programs. Following local employers on your social channels is also a good way to increase follow-backs.
There are many advantages that a digital marketing plan offers when trying to attract adult education students. With digital marketing, you can directly attribute inquiries to your efforts and measure results. Once you become familiar with your your best converting sources, you can adjust them to improve your growth. Converting to a digital strategy is also cost-effective. But should you eliminate those more traditional marketing tactics altogether? The short answer is no. There is no magic mix to obtain the best results. One thing that should never be eliminated is face-to-face student interaction. Career fairs, open house events, campus tours, and financial aid presentations are all very effective and should be supported by your digital efforts. Other traditional methods, especially direct mail, just need to evaluated before any decision is made to replace them. The old adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” definitely applies.
Patti Kohler is an account manager and copywriter at Linear Creative with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. She and her team provide school clients with affordable and flexible marketing solutions. The agency offers nonprofit discounted rates to all education organizations.