Over the last decade, higher education has experienced an evolutionary shift in the way students pursue their education. In 2013, 2.65 million students studied exclusively online and by 2020, a projected 5 million will be studying exclusively online. For enrollment managers to capture the growing segment of online students their strategies and tactics must too evolve. Recently, Carol Aslanian’s research team published their annual Online College Students Report for 2016. Within the report’s 60-pages of colorful charts, practical examples, and useful suggestions, I’ve found 5 important topics that I believe are worth sharing with any enrollment manager looking to grow their online enrollments.
1. What will it cost?
Those surveyed for the report indicated that the cost of tuition is among one of the most important factors for choosing an online school. Prospective students not only want to be able to access a program within a reputable school but also pursue their education in a convenient online format. It’s important to note that being competitive with tuition doesn’t necessarily mean offering your online programs at the lowest cost, but rather being able to support your tuition structure. In addition, the data show that providing prospective students with financial assistance options can improve the likelihood that they will enroll in your institution.
2. Which comes first: the program or the college?
In earlier years, students who were considering online learning often began their search based on their desired program of study. The 2016 report has found, however, online students have moved to making their choice based primarily on the institution that is offering that particular program. This means that as an enrollment manager, you not only need to pay close attention to your online program offerings but also the infrastructure your college will be providing those students. You should always aim to provide the “full” college experience to your online students. To ensure you’re providing the full experience to your online students, you should ask yourself the following three questions:
What student services are you providing to online students?
Are they offered some of the same campus services remotely that they can access on campus
What degree is financial aid available to online students?
3. Location, location, location
The 2016 Online College Student Report revealed some surprising trends in terms of the geographic preferences of students. Online learning doesn’t mean distance learning, and though, prospective students now have the opportunity to study at online institutions around the world, 75% of students surveyed are actually choosing to study online with an institution within 100 miles of their home, with 55% of those students studying online with an institution within 50 miles of their home. As an enrollment manager, you must structure and market your programs at a regional level because contrary to popular belief, you aren’t competing with national institutions but rather your “friends” down the street. And by using hybrid or blended learning models, you can still provide your students with the experience of having a face-to-face conversation with their instructors, which builds rapport and a positive learning environment.
With online learning, institutions have seen an increased demand in what they refer to as “speed to degree”, which allows an online student to complete a degree in an accelerated fashion. Online colleges who offer a high degree of flexibility are the same colleges that see the highest enrollments. What’s more, online colleges can offer flexibility in their programs through accelerated course offerings, year-round course scheduling, rolling starts, and a generous transfer credit policy that recognizes a students’ prior education and experience.
5. How can you increase online enrollments?
You have many possible options for increasing online enrollments once you’ve understood the motivations of your prospective online student. Below are just a few ways to increase your online enrollments:
Ensure your website is optimized for search engines and includes a landing page where a prospective online student can easily retrieve all required information about your school and your programs offered
Provide attractive financial assistance programs that will increase prospective students’ access to online education opportunities
Participate in local college recruitment fairs and events to show regional students what is available online at their local college
Consider methods of program delivery that will allow the online student to make important touch points on campus
Optimizing your approach to online learning is your key to increasing overall enrollments at your institution. When you understand the motivations of your prospective online student, you can build programs, and an online infrastructure that is tailored to what prospective online students are searching for in their educational goals.
Read the 2016 Online College Student Report for more insights into the demand and preferences of today’s online student.