July 14

How to Market College Tuition Costs through Transparency


by | Jul 14, 2022 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Each year, the cost of tuition goes up. And that means each year, it gets a little harder to market college tuition costs.  

While there are creative ways schools can help struggling families, like Yale’s loan repayment assistance program, the solution doesn’t have to be that complicated. 

To market college tuition costs, I believe that transparency is essential along with helpful language that educates families on their options.

On The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, we talk with a lot of guests about college admissions from the higher ed perspective. 

But for this conversation, we wanted to see things from a secondary school angle.  

In this episode, Chris Cleveland, Principal at Wesleyan School, shares his perspective on how colleges can transparently and effectively market themselves to prospective students.   

Two-Pronged Approach for Two Different Audiences

When you market college tuition costs, Chris leads with an incredible insight on how you’ve got to market to more than one persona.

When it comes to tuition costs, you need a messaging strategy for both the student and the parents

I read recently that over the last two decades, college tuition and fees have increased somewhere around 180%. For a lot of our parents, their [expectation of the cost of tuition] is what it was when they went to college. Sticker shock is a real thing. 

In terms of your audience, college admissions professionals have got to have a two-pronged approach. 

It is making an appeal to students about the experience [such as] the programs and amenities they might experience on a college campus. But for mom and dad, there has got to be a conversation about cost and what’s available in terms of scholarships and opportunities. 

We feel that tension here at Wesleyan. Obviously, we’re a tuition paying school. 

Parents are already shelling out a significant amount of money to send their children to this school. On top of that, they’re looking at the potential burden of a college tuition as well, which could be for multiple children. 

Colleges and universities [should] take on the role of educator and educate parents on what scholarship opportunities are available at their institution. 

[Parents need to] understand that the advertised price is not the real price.

How to Market College Tuition Costs in Easy Language

We need to make sure that as higher ed marketers we can convey that pricing information in ways that people can understand. 

Even parents who have a college education need help understanding all the in’s and out’s of financing a college education.  

When you start throwing around terms like “FAFSA” and “cost per credit hour” it doesn’t always make sense to prospective students and their families. 

For one, it’s been a long time since those parents have been in school. 

Secondly, they’re really just wanting to know how much they need to budget.

[It begins with] finding a way to really scale it down. [You should not only] be able to talk about it, but [you should] be able to hand families a piece of paper with an overview of how financing education works when they leave a tour of your school.

It’s a complicated landscape, I can attest to that. 

I’ve had one son go through the college admissions process. My second son is a senior this year. It’s daunting even for me [a professional educator] and my wife who are familiar with higher ed! 

It’s still a daunting process to consider how to finance a child’s education. 

Marketing Outcomes as Well as Experience

Chris went on to show us how enrollment marketers can better attract new students and families by marketing student outcomes, not just the campus experience.

There is a lot of discussion at the secondary school level [over whether a] college degree is really worth it. 

The question really embedded in that is this: At that price point, is there really a return on investment?

That’s something my child is going to realize and appreciate over time. 

As marketers, it’s hard to grapple with this factor in a family’s college decision, because we know education is so much more than career payoffs.

However, it’s a very practical consideration if you’re going to commit so much time and money to something.

I do think it’s a little bit of a slippery slope. We don’t want to talk about college education solely in terms of cost. Am I going to get a job that [will enable me to] pay off my college loans quickly? I don’t think that’s the sole purpose of college. 

But I think for the purposes of [this concern of outcomes], there are some colleges and universities who are doing an outstanding job of very clearly articulating the cost of their school relative to [the job success of their graduates]. 

One school I’m familiar with has done an outstanding job of really tracking their grads. 

When you go there to take a tour, they can tell you what percentage of their graduates land a job within six months of graduation and what their average starting salary is.

I agree with Chris on this. Find whatever stats you can on the job outcomes of your students and market them.

Yet, at the same time, continue marketing how the college experience is worth the investment in a holistic way.

Marketing Holistic Outcomes

As higher ed marketers, we should always be talking about our student outcomes.

But there is the question of which outcomes are most important. 

Is the cost vs. future earnings the only calculation that matters?

Not necessarily.

Schools need to make sure they’re having good conversations with our families, and not just about things like starting salary and job security. 

But also about all the intangible things that take place in the college experience.

I look back on my own college experience, and I’m thankful for what I learned. I’m also thankful for where I am now professionally. 

But the most important thing for me in college is that I grew up. I learned how to go from being a boy to being a man and how to be responsible. [During those formative years,] I learned how to take care of myself, to be independent, to take initiative, and to be my own advocate. 

Those intangibles, I’m afraid, are getting lost in the conversation because we’re so focused on cost and outcome. 

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Later in our interview, Chris explains how they use social media tools to create community among students at the top of the funnel. 

Listen to our interview with Chris Cleveland to get even more insights into:

  • How to effectively market to high school students and their families
  • What the benefits are of a personalized approach
  • Finding the balance between outcomes and experience

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Featured image via wesleyanschool.org

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