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3 Ideas for Increasing Student Enrollment While Cutting Marketing Spend

Have you ever been in a situation in which you’re expected to deliver the same results as you previously achieved, but this time with fewer resources?

Maybe your budget has been cut or your staff has been reduced, yet you’re still expected to hit certain benchmarks because you’ve hit them before. It’s an age-old dynamic that enrollment marketers everywhere grapple with and probably something you’ve faced at least once in your career.

This is especially true now with enrollment decreasing and competition being so fierce. Schools everywhere are looking for new ways to hit their numbers while dealing with tighter budgets and fewer resources.

The good news is that there are ways to increase—yes, increase—student enrollment at your institution while also cutting down on your marketing spend. To do so, you’ll need to make some strategic decisions and think outside the box. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Stop Spending on Enrollment Marketing Tactics that Don’t Work

If you’re looking to cut your marketing spend, this is where you should start. 

If you ask most marketers, they’ll usually admit that there’s at least one avenue that just hasn’t panned out the way that they’d hoped. Maybe their display ads are getting too expensive. Maybe the networking events they’ve hosted don’t have great attendance. Or, maybe their direct mail campaigns are not worth the significant investment of printing all of that marketing collateral.

Identifying the programs that are underperforming should be a data-driven process, so hopefully, you’ve got key insights into your marketing campaigns and are able to make data-backed decisions.

If you have a good understanding of your marketing programs, you’ll know which ones lead to consistent enrollment numbers and which ones seem to fall short.

When you think about how colleges market to prospective students, one tactic that’s quite costly and doesn’t always work is purchasing bulk contact lists. Many schools buy these expensive lists in order to cast the widest net possible.

Then, they’re able to play the numbers game with direct mail campaigns, cold calls, and ads hoping that they’ll hit their enrollment targets. It can work—but it’s an approach that takes a lot of time and effort to execute.

Consider cutting (or at least cutting back) on the channels that aren’t working and focus more on what actually delivers results. Unless you're just testing the waters and exploring new options, don't pour money into a new tactic just because you think your strategy is supposed to check certain boxes.

Target Parents in Your Marketing

Did you know that parents are the top influence in which school a student picks?

And yet, how much of your marketing resources are actually targeted toward this demographic?

Of course, the students themselves are still your primary audience and that shouldn’t change. However, think about redirecting some of your marketing spend toward their parents.

There are lots of effective ways to do this without breaking the bank, and it should start before your target audience reaches their senior year of high school. The earlier on in the college search journey, the greater influence the parents will have.

So, what does this look like?

College prospect with his parents

First, find a way to get high school students and their parents on your campus as early and often as possible. The more time that people spend with you and get to experience your beautiful campus, top-notch facilities, and passionate faculty and staff, the better.

For example, you could host open houses, promote class shadowing events, hold a career fair, or maybe even offer a course that high school students can take for credit at your institution. These events should be specifically designed for high school sophomores, juniors, and early seniors—and make it clear on the invitation that parents are invited as well.

At these events, you could have breakout sessions for parents in which, while their kids are touring the campus or sitting in on a lecture, you could share information about your school that parents care most about:

  • A safe environment
  • Acquisition of real-world marketable skills
  • The college being a good fit for their child
  • A first-rate academic experience
  • Affordability
  • Quality of career placement support services
  • Job placement rate
  • Four-year graduation rate

Before and after these sessions, be sure to collect some basic information so that you can follow up with the parents and deliver messages that will resonate with them. Involving the parents in the college search will help with your enrollment numbers and doesn’t have to break the bank.

Another effective idea to try if you haven’t already is to create a private Facebook group for parents of accepted students. At this point, these students would still be at the decision-making stage and haven’t committed to a school yet. 

The page should be exclusive to parents so they can ask each other questions, share their ideas, and get excited about the upcoming school year. This will help create a sense of community around your school, which can go a long way in turning those accepted students into enrolled students.

Leverage Multi-Channel Marketing

One of the best ways to avoid providing a stale experience to your students and prospects is to make sure you’re communicating across multiple channels. It’s important to have a mixed approach with an intentional strategy that includes email, phone, text, chat, and video. 

A well-designed plan will utilize these different channels into a cohesive communication strategy that meets students wherever they are.

For example, if there’s a career fair coming up, your promotion strategy could look something like this:

  • Emails to the student body inviting them to the event
  • A registration page that includes a video of why they should attend the career fair
  • Reminders sent out via SMS text before the event for all those who registered
  • Phone calls to all attendees asking how the event went and answering additional questions

The important thing is that you deliver consistent, valuable touchpoints.

Your students are already busy balancing their school work, activities, and personal lives. They probably get dozens of messages every day in their inbox, so you don’t want to simply add to the noise by communicating for its own sake. When it comes to marketing to your students, it’s all about quality over quantity.

For more insights on communicating through the student lifecycle and templates that you can start using right away, check out our guide, 21 Multi-Channel Communication Templates.

College student with his mom on move-in day

Harness the Power of Storytelling in Marketing

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

This well-known Maya Angelou quote reflects that what people remember most is how they connect with one another, and there is no better way to create those connections than through storytelling.

The power of storytelling in marketing creates deeper connections with your audience, facilitates learning, and enables your brand to cut through the noise and deliver your message. So, avoid leading with the “facts” about your school with its teacher-to-student ratio or average class size. 

Instead, tell stories. Leverage your students, faculty, staff, and alumni to bring out their experiences and what makes the school so special.

Why did they pick the school? What was their first impression of the campus? How did they meet their best friends? What was their most challenging course? Who was their favorite professor and why? What’s their best memory at school?

Asking questions like these will bring out some incredible stories that can then become a big part of your marketing strategy. And, above all else, put the students and their experiences at the center of these stories because those are what will resonate most with your prospects.

Looking to harness the power of storytelling in your marketing strategy? Check out our guide, The Power of One: A Higher Ed Roadmap to Effective Student Lifecycle Management, for insights into:

  • Target personas for each step of the student lifecycle, including their challenges and pain points, ideal engagement opportunities, and more
  • How you can begin with the end in mind, approaching every touchpoint with specific goals so you can hit your targets and measure your success
  • Actionable, expert strategies for each step of the student lifecycle in a comprehensive roadmap that you can use to build your own

Lifecycle management in Higher Ed