No one was budgeting for a global pandemic. The long-term effects of coronavirus for higher education have already started. Here’s what education marketers have to do.

The economy has suffered some big hits lately that are bound to affect your private educational institution for some time to come.

While the long-term effects of coronavirus for higher education are not entirely clear, the picture is not encouraging.

In a recent Yahoo! finance article, a Federal Reserve representative confirmed that “our economy will face severe disruptions.”

On Monday, March 16, 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced the second biggest single percentage point drop in history.

Morgan Stanley predicted that the global pandemic would slash GDP growth in the second quarter by as much as 30%.

However, Morgan Stanley is optimistic compared to St. Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard who sees the GDP dropping by 50%.

How does all this affect you?

Besides the obvious personal ramifications, the economic upheaval presents significant long-term effects of coronavirus for higher education.

In just the past few weeks, private colleges, universities, and independent schools have had to shut down athletic events, conferences, and alumni gatherings.

Education is a high-touch “product” with one of its many blessings being the relationships you foster with your fellow students, alumni, and colleagues.

Canceling these events not only hurts short-term revenue streams, it also presents risks to the camaraderie and brand loyalty felt among our constituencies.

Speaking of events, many private schools are trying to figure out what to do about their spring events.

Spring events, like commencement, are high-cost events coming at us fast during one of the lowest-revenue moments in years.

Also, most private institutions have had to send their international students home well before finishing their programs.

Although international enrollment has plateaued for the last three years, international admissions is a significant source of income for many institutions.

It’s hard to be optimistic about international enrollment in the near future.

The long term effects of coronavirus for higher education is hard to predict, but it's hard to be optimistic about international recruitment.

International recruitment will probably take some time to reach its current strength as travel restrictions, public health safety measures, and global economies stabilize.

To add to all this, summer is coming up.

Summer typically is a time when most private institutions struggle with cash flow. This already challenging time of the year is only going to be exacerbated by the pandemic.

Unfortunately, this list isn’t complete without talking about refunds.

Many schools are considering giving students prorated refunds on room and board for the time they were going to be on campus, only to be sent home.

All of these changes affect private educational institutions in the short run.

I have no doubt you and your school will find ways to make it through the short-run hurdles. But it’s the long run that I want to talk about today.

Long-Term Effects of Coronavirus for Higher Education

Ground zero for the long-term effects of coronavirus for higher education lies in the homes of each prospective student.

The average household has the most to lose in this whole situation.

“The way you initially ask the question, I think, is how much is this accelerating financial issues for families and institutions. The unknown length of this is very unsettling to everyone, especially to families.”

Beth Paul, president of Capital University in Ohio

Clearly, many households are struggling with everyday financial stress right now.

But especially for those with high school students who are graduating this spring, the yields from their investment accounts are going to be much lower than expected.

When these investment accounts come up short, many families simply won’t have what they need to help their children pay for college.

It’s very possible that many students in your fall 2020 enrollment pipeline will postpone or cancel their plans.

As we’ve discussed before, tuition rates have already been in decline.

And now, we’re facing further hits to enrollment prospects.

“It’s going to wreak havoc on yield projections for the majority of U.S. colleges and universities. Your regional publics are going to continue to draw from their regions. Your public flagships will draw from the state, and those that have a national reputation are going to continue to draw from contiguous states. But the small private colleges are going to be hard hit.”

Robert Massa, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and vice president emeritus of enrollment at Dickinson College

So what should you, and every other education marketer out there, do?

Stay Calm

Any recommendations I could give start out with a big reminder to NOT PANIC.

If you’re a person of faith, take care of yourself in prayer.

And even if you’re not a person of faith, there are many things all of us can do to take care of ourselves.

    • Meditate
    • Write daily in a gratitude journal
    • Step outside for brief walks or some sunshine (but with social distance)
    • Spend time catching up on good books
    • Strengthen family bonds while you’re in the house
    • Call older family members and make sure they’re okay

Don’t let the effects of this physical sickness turn into an emotional sickness in you and your family.

Stay motivated. Stay at peace.

Show You Care

    • Is it easy for prospects to get answers?
    • Can current students get reimbursed for expenses where they didn’t receive the benefit they paid for?
    • Is someone available for calls, chats, and comments on social media even during the quarantine?
    • Are you asking how your prospects and their families are doing?
    • Are you being sympathetic when prospects make the tough decisions to postpone or cancel their academic journey?
    • Is your marketing messaging and content relevant to the fears and questions your audience has right now?

Make sure that every message your department sends shows the care you have for your prospective students, their families, and their futures.

Even when you’re worried about your own well-being, put them first. You’ll reap the rewards later.

Dive into Digital

Now’s the time to put all your chips into digital marketing strategies.

Event marketing isn’t going to be a profitable venture for a while into the future.

You need to go where your audience is, and for the foreseeable future, they’re in their homes.

Digital can reach them where they are. An even bigger reason for investing in your digital channels is that they’re much, much cheaper.

When your budget is being slashed, you need to throw your resources into low-cost, high-yield channels like email marketing.

Invest in Content Strategies

Content marketing isn’t free – but it’s one of the most economic, effective long-term strategies out there.

A properly executed inbound marketing strategy will save you thousands of dollars in the short and long term. Yet the content assets you’ll produce can last for years to come.

And if you have doubts about the cost-effective nature of content marketing, download my free eBook Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

Inside, you’ll find a ton of ideas on how to create quality, consistent content that will attract new leads and help you close current leads.  And chances are, you have more content already available than you realize, allowing you to move quickly.

Reinvigorate Your Social Media

I’m sure you’ve got a social media marketing plan in place.

But now’s the time to ramp it up. Don’t go dark during these hard times.

You may not have all the answers for your audience, but they need to hear from you now like never before.

Gen Z prospective students have way more time now, and they are scrolling their social media feeds like never before.

Make sure they’ll find your education brand’s voice when they do.

It’s not the end.

I can’t accurately predict the long-term effects of coronavirus for higher education, but I do know one thing.

This isn’t the end for private higher education.

And it certainly isn’t the end for education marketing!

Asset-backed revenue streams like endowments and bequests will be getting hit hard in this financial crisis.

That means enrollment revenue will be the primary revenue stream in which you can affect the outcome.

So stay strong. We’ll outlast this storm together.

For more marketing information on how you can lead your institution through this crisis, contact us today.


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Featured image by Inna via Adobe Stock
Student wearing a mask image by Pop_thailand via Adobe Stock