Enrollment Management: Shifting Demographics & Shrinking Population
Apr 04, 2019
The population in your target market is changing – and that impacts your ability to achieve your enrollment and revenue goals.
Fewer high school graduates.
More Hispanics and African-Americans.
Different wants and needs and expectations.
All with more competition, and society is questioning the value of college versus a trade school.
Well, to survive and thrive in these conditions, here are some tips to help.
Is Your Target Audience Large Enough For YOu to Achieve Your ENrollment Goals?
Few have a clear definition of their target audience, which also means they lack a clear understanding of the size of the audience. That’s why this is a key data point to monitor constantly.
If the audience is large enough today, what are the projections for the near and long-term? If the size is shrinking over time, or failing to grow at a rate that will sustain future growth/enrollment goals?
What Can Your Institution Do To Increase Your Share of Your Target Audience?
When your primary target audience is decreasing in size, increasing your share of that audience is one way to pursue your objective for more enrollments.
And since tuition revenue is the real end-game, let’s keep “price discounts” off the table for a moment.
What can your institution do that will provide a larger number of your target audience with an added incentive to enroll in your institution?
A couple of things you want to look at are your media, messages and offer strategies – are they generating enough quality leads? If they are, next step is to look at your lead management processes which include media, message, offer and contact/frequency strategies.
When evaluating your media strategies in the lead generation and management phases, you are searching for sources that generate the greatest response rates and, ideally, the highest enrollments.
Same for your message and offer strategies. Hopefully, you are testing various benefit rich messages and offers that are unique, relevant and designed for the stage of the decision-making process the lead is currently in. For example, in the early stages, when prospective students are gathering information so they can determine which institution and program offers them the greatest value, your offers might be content that helps them understand your unique value to them. A checklist on how to select the right college and program, or a “Financial Aid 101” video are ideal pieces of information for these early stages.
Later in their process, invitations to open houses, opportunities to speak with faculty about the program or even scheduling 1:1 calls to start the online application process are better suited for prospective students that have identified your college and programs as a top choice.
Other options might include modifying admissions requirements so that a larger number of prospective students feel more confident about their ability to be accepted.
What Other Audiences/Segments Offer You The Opportunity To Achieve Your Enrollment Goals?
If your target audience is no longer large enough for you to achieve your enrollment goals, use the data gathered on the population mix of your target market to identify others that are like your target audience but slightly different – perhaps older or possessing different demographic attributes such as ethnicity/race, gender/sex, and household income.
This helps broaden your target while still maintaining some focus – and it’s a lot more effective that simply trying to appeal to everyone.
That said, be sure you have a strong understanding of their wants, needs, expectations, perceptions of your institution as well as their buying process and selection criteria – because you may need to develop different strategies and tactics to attract and enroll them.
Does It Make Sense to Pursue Your Target Audience in New Markets?
If your target market is [ex] a county or several counties within a state, expanding your target market to state-wide might be the best course of action. Keep in mind that when this approach is used, you need to be sure that those in the new market know who you are and have a positive perception of your institution and programs – and if that isn’t the case at the start, you may need to spend more of your resources in the new market to address the lack of awareness.
Also, be sure to look at the competition in the new market and make sure your strengths outweigh the competitions. This may lead to you pursuing a segment of your target audience with select programs that are not currently available in the new market or, if they are provided by other institutions/competitors in the new market, you have a unique and valuable benefit you can leverage to attract and enroll students.
How Has the Job Market Changed – And Does Your Institution Have the Right Programs and Services for New Demands?
Though not directly tied to the changing population and demographics, checking the job market is another valuable step to take at this time because if the population is changing, the job market might be changing as well.
Who are the larger employers in your market? What jobs are they forecasting to be in high demand? What are the education requirements for those positions? Do you have the right programs for those requirements?
Reach out to the economic development departments at the county and state level in your target market – they are great sources for this type of information.
What Is The Competition Up To – and What Opportunities Does This Create For Your Institution?
Change is going to impact your competition, and they are going to make decisions that can create opportunities – and threats - for your institution. A competitive scan will help you gather the data you need to identify those opportunities and threats.
For ideas on how you can create your own in-house competitive intelligence program, check out this webinar.
As the audience and market changes, your best course of action is to understand what the change is and identify opportunities and threats. This will most likely lead to modifications in your program/services, pricing, modality and promotional efforts - but these modifications are necessary if you intend to achieve your enrollment and revenue goals.
Patrick McGraw is VP of Higher Educaton Marketing Services and has more than 25 years experience in market research, competitive intelligence, business intelligence including database marketing and CRM, strategic planning, brand development and management as well as operations/campaign management. His work has consistently helped his clients and employers develop and implement more efficient ways to attract and retain profitable customers, enter new markets and launch new products. His areas of focus include the education, hospitality, travel and tourism, hi-tech, telecommunications, financial services, and retail industries on both the agency and customer sides.