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Solutions to Higher Ed's "Lean Years" Challenges
Hadley Rosen

A recent New York Times article boiled down the many challenges facing higher ed.—demographic factors, economic forces, expensive, debt-funded capital projects among them—and determined that it's less expensive for colleges and universities to retain students than to recruit new ones.

"Seat filling" is notoriously expensive, with deep tuition discounts causing a decline in revenue despite constantly rising tuition rates. To add to the challenge, the current political climate around immigration policies may mean fewer international students, a possible loss of $250,000,000 in the next academic year.

And with almost half of students not staying to complete their degree, things look even more bleak. So what are schools and colleges to do? The (surprisingly affordable) answer may be an investment in a new digital strategy to get the right students enrolled in the first place and keep them there until graduation.

It's a fact that there are less 18-24-year-olds than in previous years, meaning there are fewer potential applicants visiting your school online or in person. When faced with this reality, it's essential that your digital strategy line up with your goals to increase conversions, applicants, and finally, enrolled students and make every visitor count. Simple, right?

For schools like Lenoir-Rhyne University, part of their new digital strategy meant a new site that showcases what makes them special, shares the value of their education beyond tuition, and lets visitors know exactly what they should do on the site from the homepage onward. The result? Higher conversions, more applicants, and a journey from application to admission that makes "filling seats" a little easier.

Free eBook: The Ultimate Website Optimization Guide for Colleges and Universities

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Showing Value

As the mother of two children under three years old, I wince at the College Board's College Savings Calculator's projected $500,000 tuition price tag for each child to attend college years in the future. And while projected tuition "rack rates" are rising each year, the total amounts schools net is actually far below what they need to balance their budgets. And with such fire sale prices to attract paying customers mismatched with actual sticker prices, colleges are risking an unsustainable future.

Showing a school's value is essential to its overall marketing strategy, and helps families understand the benefits of tuition, including challenging academics, a beautiful campus, and job opportunities after graduation. Vanguard University excels with a their page "Value, Tuition and Aid" that shares how the schools spends tuition dollars on what matters.

College of Coastal Georgia's front-and-center homepage image featuring their US News and World Reports ranking of the school as #7 for public colleges shows prospective families that a degree from the school is worth it.

Converting Site Visitors

With fewer visitors a reality, every site visit counts more than ever, so schools need to convert potential students early into leads likely to apply and attend. For Vanguard University, clear calls-to-action invite visitors to "inquire," "visit," or "apply" after viewing a lively homepage that shares the school's value proposition in a photo-rich, modern layout that gives a sense of the school's values and mission.

Cleveland University-Kansas City uses short forms and simple calls to action to make conversion easier. From scheduling tours to applying online they make it easy for prospective students to take the next step.

Interested in learning more about how you can set your school on the right path to retaining the right students? Download our eBook ,"The Ultimate Website Optimization Guide for Colleges and Universities," for practical tips you can apply now to improve your site and strategy.

The Ultimate Website Optimization Guide for Colleges and Universities

Sarah Van Tiem

Hadley is Finalsite's marketing and communication manager and is a former independent school teacher, fundraiser and marketing director with a passion for cooking, travel, and spending time outdoors with her growing family. She founded and produces the FinalsiteFM podcast network and enjoys meeting Finalsite clients from around the world.


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