[Video] Marketing and Recruiting Graduate Students


By: Christopher Tashjian Feb 01, 2017

Anthony Levato: Hello, my name is Anthony Levato, director of marketing here at EducationDynamics. I’d like to thank you for joining me for another spotlight session, where I introduce you to speakers from the Conference on Adult Learner Enrollment Management, CALEM 2017. Joining me today I have Marcus Hanscom, director of graduate admissions at Roger Williams University. This year, Marcus’s session at CALEM titled “Challenge the Status Quo: Strategic Marketing and Recruitment Efforts for Graduate Students” will discuss how you use the tools currently available to you to reach today’s expanding and ever-changing demographic of graduate students. Thank you for taking the time to join me today, Marcus. I know that you just flew in from Florida, so you must be exhausted.

Marcus Hanscom: Yeah, it’s a busy time of year, but glad to be here. Thanks, Anthony.

Anthony Levato: Great. Well, I’m sure our viewers want to learn more about your session at CALEM, so I have a few questions for you. The first question I have: Why do you feel this is such an important topic to discuss at CALEM?

Marcus Hanscom: Right now, in the graduate market in particular, I think is growing in importance on our campuses. I’m on a small, private campus like I’m sure many of the folks coming to the conference are, and grad always tends to be second fiddle. I know that it’s, for many of us, a third of our revenue, so a large share is coming from our undergraduate, so I understand why that’s important at different places, but for us, especially in the northeast and of course the Midwest, I’m sure many clients and viewers are coming from the Midwest, it’s a declining high school population, and by 2024, we’re all going to be facing that—at least for a period of time. So, it’s really important that we start looking at alternative audiences, and graduate can certainly fulfill one of those opportunities. Not to mention the demand for graduate degrees across many if not most industries, at this point, for people to really differentiate themselves and grow in the marketplace. Particularly for adult learners. A lot of them are going back, and they may be earning a bachelor’s degree that they never earned before, or they may be trying to grow in their current career, or maybe even switch careers. And the Master’s degree really offers an opportunity to do that.

Anthony Levato: Exactly. That’s just some of the research we’re finding here as well, that in order to get those higher paying jobs, just going back to school to be more specialized, higher credentials. My second question for you is what is the biggest change you’ve seen in the graduate student market?

Marcus Hanscom: Well, I think it’s something that’s really true of a lot of markets, particularly in the adult market, and that’s how buying behavior is happening. It’s changing dramatically with all the new tools, and of course Google and social and all the electronic tools that are influencing how people can get their information, but also particularly in the millennial generation—and I’m on the older side of the millennial generation, but unfortunately still part of that group that gets stereotyped—and the millennials expect things now, but they also tend to have more communication adversity. They don’t seem to want to talk directly to us. They’re also on to our selling opportunities and how we want to talk with them. So more and more people are utilizing the funnel deeper and deeper to learn about our schools before they ever really contact us. So that growth in stealth applicants is a dramatic change and continues to grow. We’re also seeing more parents come with some of the undergraduate students. That’s something that we have to keep in mind, but overall that buying behavior is really pushing the funnel so that we may have had in the past an opportunity to really grow the lead pool, and then that funnel at the top is a really big portion of our numbers, but now a growing percentage of that number we’ve never heard from. So now they’re just showing up as applicants, and it’s really difficult for us as, at least in the admissions side, we’re the “salespeople”—I know that’s a dirty word in admissions—but we’re not able to do that kind of selling because students aren’t getting to us until much later in the funnel. So that puts a much greater emphasis on what we’re doing as marketers, on the web in particular, but throughout our channels.

Anthony Levato: Yeah, they’re doing the research without you being involved, right? So it’s a little bit more difficult to track it. I can imagine. So my next question: What are some of the tools you are currently using to reach the market?

Marcus Hanscom: I think I talk to a lot of my colleagues and, particularly on the graduate side and I don’t know what it is, if it’s just in the nature of graduate professionals, they tend to more traditional, a lot of us are more career-focused, and this is something they’re passionate about in doing for a long time. There’s less turnover, and I think it’s just nature of the beast that we tend to get into the… We’re much leaner offices, too, so we tend to have less resources than the undergraduate side have, whether that be with people or money or with other resources too. So we’re trying to do so much more with significantly less resources than the undergraduate side is using, so we tend to fall into this trap where we’re kind of in a box and going, “Well, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing because I don’t have the time or maybe the knowledge or the resources to do these new things that are really going to be innovative and expand what we’re doing.” So we tend to kind of just get stuck and do the same thing over and over, so it’s still, I think, among a lot of my peers, and emphasis on using prints for example, that really is not as effective anymore. But I also say, “Don’t kill print.” There’s still an emphasis on using it, it’s just a matter of how much of our budget resources are we utilizing on print versus electronic sources. So, for me, I’ve scaled our print budget back to less than 10% of our overall spend, whereas that number was probably upwards of 50% in the past, so we’ve significantly reduced our emphasis on print. And that’s… Whether it be regional newspapers or industry magazines or industry publications, we’re now doing a lot more on Google search, we’re doing a lot more social paid, and organic for that matter. But for smaller brands, the organic with the new algorithm is significantly less effective than those in the past. And I also caution my peers on thinking, when you’re looking at social, for example, that we assume that because all of the working professionals are on LinkedIn, we might as well go advertise on LinkedIn, but how effective is that? When you think about your own behavior, how much of us are logging in on a daily basis to LinkedIn and just checking what people are doing versus how many of us are logging into Facebook multiple times a day and scrolling through our news feeds? So, it’s a matter of where we’re allocating our money and being smart about it, but we can’t do anything in a vacuum. We still have to be integrated. My goal is to have people see our ad, even if it’s on a billboard—I don’t have an adversity to using billboards, but I certainly wouldn’t just throw up a billboard and nothing else—my goal is to have them see our ad on Facebook or on Google in the morning, maybe get an email from us, they get a postcard in the mail because we’ve targeted them, maybe with a geo-target, whether it’s through income density or something or education attainment they were looking at, but also a billboard or maybe hearing our radio ad on one of the local pop stations. We’re not doing much NPR anymore; there was an over reliance on that. That’s really not where our audience is. If you talking a 28- to 35-year-old demographic, they’re on pop radio, they’re on country radio, they’re listening to classic rock. So, those demographics are really critical to hit, but you have to hit them in multiple ways so that they’re thinking about us. And for a small brand like us, it’s critical that we’re on their plates at all times. And we have to be thinking outside the box and not just doing the same old thing because we have to do something different than what the competition is doing.

Anthony Levato: That’s a great response. It all comes down to eyeballs and time in front of those people, just like you’re doing. A multi-channel approach and making sure you’re allocating that budget to where the eyeball’s spending most of their time. So, here’s my last question for you, Marcus.  In your opinion, what’s the biggest opportunity in graduate student marketing today?

Marcus Hanscom: I mean, electronic, broadly, is the biggest opportunity today. I think one thing that schools can do more of is inbound marketing. It’s something that we’re not talking a whole lot about, and again, it’s a resource issue. Can you develop a guide on how to get to a job… Or how an MBA will advance your career, for example? Or how a degree in forensic psychology or licensure would… Or what the differences are, we’re talking about, in our psychology programs. How can we get students prepared for a PhD versus licensure, and what are the different types of programs out there? Because students are confused. When you get an MA in clinical psychology, how is a 45-credit program different from a 60-credit program, and why is that important? So we can develop guides for those things and essentially make them a value add, so when you’re advertising, say on Google or social, say, “Hey, download our free guide to this,” and in exchange, you’re usually asking for an email address or some sort of contact information for that student. It’s a relatively basic concept, but a lot of us aren’t doing it, at least not very well. I also think video is a tremendous opportunity. We’re not telling stories very well, and I think that’s broadly true of higher education as a whole, but in particular with graduate, and again, it’s a resource issue, but how can we better tell our story? What’s really compelling about what we’re doing for our students, that they’re providing them successful opportunities once they graduate? Or we’re helping these working adults get a better job or grow and become supervisors or managers or CEOs of their companies, or helping someone get out of a dead-end job that they just don’t like anymore, and they want to do something in a different industry. We need to show those stories and those proof points, so people look at those and say, “Okay, that degree is going to get me there, and this is how Roger Williams or any other university is going to get me there.” So that’s important to tell those stories, and we’re just not doing a great job of it.

Anthony Levato: Wow. That was a really good response, and I definitely want to thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions today, Marcus, and I’m looking forward to hearing your entire presentation at CALEM on April 5th in Denver, Colorado, this year. And for everyone watching this, be sure to check out our website, www.calemconference.org, for a list of all 28 speakers that will be presenting at the CALEM conference. So, thanks again for your time, Marcus.

Marcus Hanscom: Thanks, Anthony. Looking forward to it.

The Conference on Adult Learner Enrollment Management (CALEM 2017)