One of the scariest parts of higher ed marketing is talking about higher education tuition costs. Here are some guidelines for navigating this difficult topic. 

For better or worse, higher education tuition has become a highly politicized topic these days. 

No matter where you fall politically on questions like student loan forgiveness, it’s just a fact that higher education tuition can be a scary topic for prospective students and their families. 

In fact, it might be even scarier for higher ed marketers and admissions staff!

Paying for college is no easy task for families already grappling with financial commitments, especially if the family comes from an economically challenged background. 

But while this topic may be difficult to bring up with prospective students, there are some general guidelines for higher ed marketers that will help prospective students keep moving in their college decision despite the challenge. 

Make pricing information transparent.

Most prospective students and parents do not understand the cost per credit hour.

It is an academic financial construct that means absolutely nothing to the consumer.

Think of it this way, imagine you go to a furniture store, and you ask for the cost of a certain table.

You’d expect a straightforward answer like $750. 

But what if the store told you it cost $35 per square foot?

Imagine the nightmare it would be getting out your measuring tape and calculator for every table you wanted to consider! 

Making it worse, imagine that each table had a different price per square foot. 

Now, I think we’re beginning to understand the frustration that many prospective students and their families feel.

It may be tempting to err on the side of confusion. 

If families knew how much tuition really costs, they might decide they can’t afford to come to your school.  

However, transparent and simple pricing will build trust in your prospective students. 

They’ll feel as though you’re being entirely upfront with them. No surprises. No gotchas. 

Tuition needs to be presented in full-time, full-year ways and clearly and transparently shown in relation to fees, housing, dining, etc. 

This is what prospective student families need to know. 

It’s what they’re asking for when they enter the financial discussion with your institution.

If you think about it, this is naturally the kind of information they need to make a good decision for their child and their family. 

Credit hours confuse and frustrate the family’s buying decision. 

While it may be more work for you and those in the school’s administration, the trust you’ll gain in the admissions process with families is well worth making pricing simpler and more transparent.

Itemize higher education tuition costs.

Itemization allows families to more quickly compare the costs of your school with others, and do so fairly.

If you’re a four-year institution with state-of-the-art facilities, you wouldn’t want to be compared with other institutions with more economically attainable installations.

Likewise, if your academic offering includes unique programs with their own specific costs (like equine studies, travel programs, or outdoor excursions) you don’t want families to compare you to schools with more traditional classroom courses.

Everything needs to be separated and line itemized to allow apple-to-apple comparisons. 

Itemization of costs allows you to once more communicate the special parts of your academic offering, campus, or faculty to the prospective student. 

The items in the cost breakdown are another chance to show prospective students your biggest competitive advantage.

Make the whole thing EASY to understand.

There is no way around it. 

Talking about higher education tuition costs will always produce a little anxiety.

However, by making things easy to understand, you can alleviate so much of that anxiety for families and your admissions staff.

Here are some ways to make things easier for prospective student families:

  • Be sure to use a net-price calculator to demonstrate aid and how that affects the bottom line
  • Show percentage of students receiving aid on tuition pages
  • Consider comparing to other schools
  • Link to data about “after aid costs”

Give prospective students confidence.

There is so much fear when it comes to higher education tuition costs, and sometimes the only thing a prospective student needs is confidence. 

They need to know that there are real people who really care about them who will help.

It’s hard for prospective students to believe that there really is an office full of people in administration who care enough about them to help them with what is going to be one of their highest financial investments in life.

In your messaging, I highly recommend showing prospective students how much you care about their financial well being. 

Show them your financial aid team and make it easy for prospective students to get in touch.

The message here is… 

“Yes, this is going to require faith and hard work to pull off, but you’re not alone.”

Which could also be said for education marketing. 

It’s hard work, and it’s not always easy to understand. 

But, you’re not alone!

Feel free to contact us for help in boosting your enrollment marketing impact.


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