Niche Marketing vs. General for Higher Ed: A Guide to Choosing


By: Jarad Petroske Nov 19, 2018

Should colleges try to be all things to all people, or should higher ed marketers focus their recruiting on specific niches? Is niche marketing better than a general approach?

It’s an important decision with big implications for your recruiting campaigns. 

Let’s explore both approaches so you can better decide where to put your marketing dollars.

When You Should Focus on NicheMarketing in Higher Ed

1. Raise Awareness for New Offerings

Many institutions have revamped their academic offerings in recent years to address changes in the market and meet student demand. More programs are moving online every year, and colleges are expanding curricula to incorporate new majors. If you find yourself in this situation, then creating a marketing plan is critical to reaching and enrolling new students.

2. Your Programs are In Demand

There’s a lot of competition for students these days, and the overall number of prospective students have been declining in recent years (though, on the bright side, we expect them to stabilize soon). If your institution offers programs that are among today’s most in-demand majors, like biology, business, and nursing, then program specific marketing can help you stand out in a crowded marketplace.

3. Boost Under Enrolled Programs

Another big reason is boosting enrollment numbers in already-established but under-enrolled programs. Colleges would do well to focus on promoting programs like this that are also low cost. For example, programs in the humanities or social sciences that don’t rely on expensive labs or equipment can benefit from marketing campaigns.  

When You Should Focus on General Marketing in Higher Ed

1. You’re Trying to Raise Brand Awareness

If your brand needs better recognition, focusing on your school as a whole is the way to go. Market demand studies will tell you whether your institution is resonating with prospective students or whether your outreach needs to be revamped. If you find this to be the case, an institution-wide marketing campaign can help you meet your recruiting goals.

2. Your Programs are High Cost

If you find your institution features popular programs that eat up a significant chunk of your academic budget, consider a broader approach to marketing that highlights your entire university or college. STEM programs are frequently impacted and expensive to run. In this case, a campus-wide campaign can raise your school’s brand awareness without highlighting impacted programs that aren’t accepting new students.

Other Considerations

Another thing to keep in mind is that many students change their majors once they’ve enrolled. If you’ve used niche marketing to recruit for specific programs, there’s still a change they’ll switch to a different course of study. The National Center for Education Statistics tracked more than 25,000 students over three years and found 30 percent of associate’s and bachelor’s degree students changed their major at least once, and about 10 percent changed it more than once. Even STEM majors change their minds: 35 percent of these students changed major within three years of enrolling. Getting students into your programs doesn’t mean they’ll finish. These days, more students and their families are concerned with a college’s graduation rates and time-to-graduation. It’s not enough just to fill classes. Colleges need to focus on ensuring they’re recruiting high-quality students who will complete programs and earn their degrees.

Need help getting the most out of your marketing programs? EducationDynamics has years of proven experience in crafting highly effective marketing campaigns for higher education clients. Learn more and schedule a free marketing consultation today.