Earning a college degree is a huge investment. College tuition and related costs loom large in the minds of your potential students. When you bring pricing into the conversation early, you confirm that you understand what matters most to your prospects. That connection builds trust so students will feel comfortable enrolling with you.
You might think that students base their enrollment decisions on quality or outcomes. These factors do play a role, but they’re not the deciding factor. Since 2015, cost has been the number one element that online college students consider when choosing where to enroll. In the 2019 Online College Students Report, 60% of undergraduates named affordability among their top three concerns. Graduate students are a little less price-sensitive with 46% including cost on their top-three list.
Clearly, money is a central concern for students. If you don’t talk about it, students may think you don’t really understand them and their needs. Even worse, they might think you’re purposefully hiding the true cost from them. Either way, you’re not doing your school or the student any favors.
Framing the conversation: cost versus value
Although students are looking for affordable education, they won’t always choose the lowest priced option. Only about one-third of students end up in the program with the lowest tuition. Slightly more than two-thirds consider factors like convenience, reputation and program content.
Some institutions avoid talking about money because they think it might scare potential students away. In reality, asking a student to enroll without discussing cost is like expecting them to buy a textbook without knowing the price. You can explain that the book is the correct edition, is printed in English and can be shipped to them in time for their first class. You might even add a special study guide. That all sounds great, but few will buy it without checking the price first.
Leaving students to jump to their own conclusions about cost can lead to undesirable results. They might overestimate the cost and stop the enrollment process before they’ve learned all the facts. Or, they might underestimate the cost and feel tricked when the topic of price finally does come up. Worst of all, by avoiding the cost conversation, enrollment officers miss a valuable opportunity to build a long-term relationship built on trust.
Mentioning cost early allows you to frame the conversation in terms of value for investment. When you discuss cost relative to value, you can discuss important factors like faculty, support, convenience, and reputation. You’ve just reshaped the conversation from a cost-based (negative) conversation to a value-based (positive) conversation.
Financial aid and payment options
Talking about money also allows you to help students tackle difficult parts of the enrollment process. Both graduate and undergraduate students named financial aid and figuring out how to pay for college as the most challenging part of the process.
Providing tools and guidance around these common stumbling blocks can help smooth the way for potential students. It can also help build trust. They know you will deal fairly with them and help when they need it.
A student who believes the program is outside of their budget may change their mind if you help them navigate financial aid options. Yet, if you don’t discuss pricing, you won’t even know that finances are the problem.
Best practices for talking about tuition
Make transparent pricing a part of your brand promise. Adjust your marketing and enrollment process with these best practices in mind:
- Start the pricing conversation early. Many people are uncomfortable talking about money. If you don’t mention it first, students may leave vital questions unasked.
- Communicate pricing clearly. State costs on your website so students can judge whether your institution fits their budget. Include a link to financial aid resources or financial calculators to minimize sticker shock. If students ask about costs over the phone, enrollment advisors should be empowered to give cost estimates.
- Talk about the actual cost versus tuition costs. Students may not always think about costs beyond tuition. Explain the difference between tuition and actual cost so students don’t feel blindsided by fees later on.
- Help students navigate financial aid options like federal student loans, private loans, scholarships, and grants. Online tools, video tutorials, and one-on-one phone support can help students find and use financial aid options.
- Create content that guides students through the FAFSA application. If your institution is eligible to accept federal financial aid, create systems and tutorials to help students complete this sometimes overwhelming document.
- Encourage students to take advantage of employer-provided tuition assistance. Many online learners are already employed. Encourage students to check with their employers to see if tuition assistance can help defray the cost.
While money and cost can be an intimidating topic to discuss, your advisors must actively pursue and engage in the conversation. Train your team to provide honest and complete financial information at every step of the enrollment cycle. With the right tools and support, they can build student trust in your institution, which leads to more enrollments.
EducationDynamics helps institutions of higher education create marketing and communications plans that drive enrollment. Contact us to find out how our enrollment management, marketing, and contact center services can help you reach and enroll more students.