How Marketing Can Help Attract Returning Students
Five years ago, the average price of a gallon of gas was $2.40, Tom Brady still played for the Patriots, and the first all-civilian space flight was just a pipe dream. Back then, ‘to zoom’ meant to go really fast, and you could attract returning adult students back to your colleges with promises of flexible online learning.
Today the world is a lot different. For one thing, pretty much every college offers online programs. Flexible learning is no longer enough to convince students who stopped out to return. Smart marketers are digging deeper to understand what students really want and need from programs. From there, they can build messaging and support systems that encourage students to finish what they started.
Here’s how colleges and universities can enroll more returning students from the 39 million and growing group of people with some college and no degree.
Acknowledge the Roadblocks Returning Students Face
For many stopped out students, their experience in college was less Blue Origin and more Apollo 13. They have been on this ride before, and it didn’t go the way they hoped. They know that finishing their degree is going to require investments of time and money and they may be worried that whatever blocked their progress the first time will pop up again.
In a perfect world, marketers and enrollment counselors would know exactly why each student stopped out and could deliver the specific messaging and support that student needs. If a program has been vigilant about communicating with stopped-out students, those reasons may be available to marketers.
But, since the world is a little short on perfection, marketers can achieve the next best thing by creating messaging that speaks to some of the most common roadblocks students face. These could include finances, family commitments, other time constraints, health challenges, and changes in employment.
Factors That Can Smooth the Way for Returning Students
Marketing messages are more likely to land when they acknowledge challenges and give returning adult students the tools to overcome them. Highlight factors like:
- Ease of credit transfer – Returning students want to finish their credentials, not start all over. Plus, students spent time and money to earn credits. They want to see a return on that investment.
- Non-traditional credits – Coursework isn’t the only way to learn. Returning adult students appreciate when programs can translate work and volunteer experience into credits.
- Time to completion – Getting clear on time to completion can help students see how quickly their investment will pay off.
- Flexibility – This can’t be the only selling point, but it is a selling point. Students want reassurance that they can fit this program into their busy lives.
- Value/Return on investment – Cost is a major reason students stop out. Show them the value of completion and offer solutions to defray the cost.
Even subtle language shifts can make an impact on returning adult students. Language like “start your degree” can leave them feeling like this program isn’t for them. Ads and landing pages should be geared specifically toward those students. They shouldn’t be about starting something new but about picking up where the student left off.
Returning Students Approach College Research Differently
A digital marketing strategy that attracts first-time applicants probably can’t be recycled for returning students. Stopped out students may not even be sure they want to go to college. They’re unlikely to search for “colleges near me.” They may need to be convinced that completion is right for them before they decide when and where to finish their degree.
Facebook and Instagram can be good platforms to float the idea of a return to college. LinkedIn is especially valuable for degree completion programs that tend to appeal to people in a particular industry, like healthcare or finance.
Help Returning Students Understand the Benefits of Completion
Stopped out students had reasons for pausing their education, and they’ll need even better reasons to come back. Programs can build marketing messages around the benefits of completion.
- Highlight statistics about job salaries and potential titles so students see where their degree can take them.
- Share stories from alumni and current students to show that these outcomes aren’t just theoretical.
- Identify the unique value of a particular program to help students see how it will support them.
Many programs try to self-identify their unique value, but the ones that ask for input from current and former students often see better results. Focus groups, surveys, and other market research can help colleges and universities understand what makes them special in the eyes of their students.
Act Fast To Bring Back Returning Adult Students
Life was different five years ago, and it will be even more different five years from today. We can guess that the price of gas will continue to rise, more people will be launched into space, and Brady might actually retire. The passage of time will affect stopped out students as well: the longer they’re out of college, the less likely they are to return.
Start putting the right messages in front of the right students today with help from the higher ed marketing experts here at EDDY. We’ll help you plan and launch a stopout campaign with support from dedicated enrollment management coaches.