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May 13

3 Key Strategies to Finding Mission-Fit Students


by | May 13, 2024 | Featured, Strategies

With the current challenges facing higher education, colleges and universities have to get laser-focused on finding mission-fit students. 

The specter of the upcoming “enrollment cliff” has cast a shadow over higher education institutions ever since the global health crisis began back in 2020. 

The conversation among educators has evolved into a vigorous debate. Is the enrollment decline inevitable? Should institutions be bracing for a significant downturn?

Short answer is yes. 

Many schools are going to be profoundly affected by the marked decrease in new student admissions, particularly those heavily dependent on tuition fees.

Being unprepared could be disastrous.

As of 2021, 70 U.S. colleges have closed—all within a five-year period, with nearly half being faith-based organizations. 

The enrollment cliff is real! And it is coming fast. 

Of course, that is the bad news. The good news is that there is something higher ed marketers can do to avoid the harsh realities of the enrollment cliff. 

To do this, you and I will have to get almost obsessive about finding mission-fit students.

With a centralized plan designed to attract the right students—mission-fit studentsyou can meet your enrollment goals in spite of the upcoming demographic challenges. 

This means you might have to slough off some of the old marketing strategies you might have inherited at your institution. 

These old marketing strategies are legacy artifacts from an era when the enrollment pool was full of eager families waiting to get their kids into your college or university. 

In that environment, almost any strategy would bring results. But now, times are leaner. 

There is not a lot of margin for error in our marketing budgets or in our enrollment numbers to simply hope that something good will happen if we keep doing the same thing that we’ve been doing.

That means you’ve got to cinch the belt tighter on your marketing strategies. Zero-in on the prospective students who really desire precisely what you have to offer.

Mission-fit students have a goal they want to achieve. That is, they have a mission. 

They might want to become a photographer. Or, they might want to change their career and enter the field of journalism. 

If you have the program that will help that student achieve their goal, then you are mission-fit for them. 

Get your messaging in front of them (and help them with issues like financing and schedules) and they won’t just fall down your funnel, they’ll run to the finish line!

Schools that weather the storm coming are ones whose leadership can identify prospective students whose goals match the messaging and programs the school is offering. 

In this week’s post, I want to give you the 3 key strategies to finding mission-fit students that will help you thrive while others struggle through the enrollment cliff.

1. Enrollment-Driven Websites

Recent research underscores the vital role your website plays in the application decisions of almost all prospective students.

This means simply treating your website like a digital billboard, loaded with generic information, won’t cut it. 

Intentionality is key in its design. 

In fact, most visitors form an opinion about your institution within just 3.42 seconds (and even that opinion is based primarily on the site’s aesthetic appeal).

Such a brief window of time is critical for engaging the right students. Every moment is precious.

If you spend this limited time presenting what you believe students want to hear, rather than what they truly need to know, you risk creating barriers that could deter them from selecting your school.

For too many schools, the website is more of a Wikipedia than an enrollment site. 

That is, they’ve designed it to be a place for anyone anywhere to find whatever info they need.

But when you’re facing the harsh reality of the enrollment cliff, you don’t have the luxury of crafting a website for anyone anywhere. 

You’ve got to craft your site for the people who will keep your school thriving through the hard times—mission fit students. 

Enrollment is the lifeblood of any educational institution. 

When enrollment numbers are strong, every part of the school benefits, from student services to alumni engagement. 

Essentially, robust enrollment lifts all aspects of the institution.

Focusing your website content on enrollment not only streamlines resource use by reducing the need to produce media for every department across the whole site, but it also boosts potential revenue through enhanced enrollment figures.

A website centered on enrollment, supported by compelling content, is the key strategy needed for schools aiming to boost their enrollment statistics.

2. Content Creation

Speaking of “compelling content,” it’s crucial to clarify what content isn’t.

Content is not mere filler. It isn’t just words and images used to populate pages or audio-visual elements employed merely to break the silence. 

It should not merely exist to support something else that is truly valuable.

Content, particularly high-quality content, should possess intrinsic value.

It should fulfill a defined role: educating those who are unfamiliar with you, persuading them to engage further, informing those who are already involved, creating positive perceptions, or prompting specific actions.

This perspective should guide the creation and evaluation of all your content.

Now, there is a lot to say about content creation, but let’s boil it down to the things all your content needs to answer or reinforce. 

Let’s explore the three critical questions your school’s website must address for prospective students (plus two additional questions we strongly recommend).

1. Will I fit in?

Starting college is about finding your place and your people in a new environment.

Prospective students are keen to see if they’ll resonate with the campus culture and feel at home. They may compare your student body to their friends back home, assessing whether your institution aligns with their values, ambitions, and social preferences.

The content you create, especially on your website, should help students determine if your campus feels like a second home. 

You can help them visualize themselves fitting in in many ways such as using authentic photography of your campus and student body as well as through true student stories.

2. Do you have my major?

Students are primarily concerned with whether a school offers the programs they are interested in, along with the specifics of those programs and how they align with their career goals.

This is perhaps the most straightforward question that prospective students have when they visit your website or consume your other content pieces.

Showcase your academic offerings clearly and thoroughly, allowing students to easily find and explore the programs that interest them. 

Academic programs should be presented in an accessible format, with straightforward descriptions. 

Incorporate alumni success stories and testimonials within your program descriptions to boost engagement. 

These narratives give prospective students a tangible sense of what they can achieve and add a layer of credibility to your program details.

By celebrating the accomplishments of your graduates, you effectively demonstrate the value and impact of your academic programs, inspiring prospective students to imagine their own success.

3. How much does it cost?

Students need clear information on tuition costs, available scholarships and grants, and the financial aid application process.

Being upfront about tuition fees and providing a detailed breakdown of additional expenses like books and living costs helps demystify the financial aspects of attending college.

While the initial price tag can be daunting, it’s important to clarify the net cost after financial aid and scholarships are applied, reassuring students that an education at your institution is more attainable than they might think.

3. Lead Generation

At its essence, lead generation involves compiling a list of people who have demonstrated an interest in what you have to offer, typically capturing names and emails.

However, many institutions mistakenly equate driving traffic to their website with effective lead generation.

This actually falls under brand awareness, not lead generation.

Increasing web traffic is good. But…

Without actively collecting visitor information, like names and emails, for follow-up actions such as email campaigns, you’re primarily boosting brand awareness rather than engaging in true lead generation.

Lead generation provides concrete contact details that allow for direct interaction with potential leads.

In the past, marketing strategies were simpler and more general: broadcast your message broadly and hope for a response.

This was akin to casting a wide net while trawling for fish—you weren’t sure what you’d catch, but something was likely to end up in the net.

Nowadays, with the plethora of available channels and the constant barrage of information people face daily, this method has lost its effectiveness, especially for smaller institutions on limited budgets.

Today’s lead generation demands a more precise approach, similar to a fly fisherman using a specific lure on a rod.

The goal isn’t to attract everyone but to connect with those mission-fit students who are most likely to thrive at your institution.

Chasing Mission Fit

A Marketing Guide To Fill Your Institution With Students Who Will Succeed.

The essential marketing book every higher education institution needs! If you are a higher education marketing professional seeking a fail-safe plan to make your institution stand out, “Chasing Mission Fit” is your guide.

Chasing Mission Fit book cover Discover how to:

    • Precisely target your ideal student
    • Craft a compelling brand for your institution
    • Implement a proven marketing strategy from 30 years of expertise

So you can empower your institution with audience-focused marketing strategies, and attract mission-fit students who will flourish in your unique academic environment.

Ready to transform your institution’s marketing approach?
Order now!

Featured image by Khosrork via Adobe Stock

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