I realize that colleges have it made it regards to the basic supply and demand theory of economics. College enrollment is on the rise, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Online degree programs are an excellent way for institutions to keep up with demand. Plus the anomaly of higher education is that it is generally not too difficult for students to obtain funding for their studies, regardless of the cost. The downside to this is that many schools regard their online programs as cash cows and they come up desperately short in regards to creating a sense of value to their customers (the students and applicants). And personally, I think this is a huge mistake.
It is simply not enough to just offer online degrees, get the students enrolled, and collect their tuition dollars. Successful marketing of online degree programs helps to greatly enhance public opinion (including the opinions of hiring managers) towards them. It also helps strengthen the overall quality of the learning environment by increasing the applicant pool. This begins a cycle where quality online education is created, reinforced, and then produces appealing results that will help minimize the impact of critics.
As a student who has earned more than 40 credits (both at the undergraduate and graduate levels) online, I will admit that there is a disconnect between what you expect going into the program, and what your eventual experience is. A large part of this is because the colleges often focus on marketing the institution and not the online learning experience. The first step in this process is identifying potential online college students as a unique target market. In fact, the Learning House has already done this, and has gathered some very insightful information about this particular group of consumers:
- 40% of online college students are under the age of 30; and 20% are under the age of 25
- 2/3 of online college students are enrolled in programs at non-profit institutions of higher education
- 34% of online college students major in business-related majors, making it the most popular major selected by online students
- 80% of online college students live within 100 miles of their online college’s brick and mortar campus
- 67% of online students listed “tuition and fees” as the most important information that they look for on a school’s website
- The “typical” online student is a 33 year-old White woman who works full-time and has an annual household income of $66,500
- Women enroll in online degree programs on a 2:1 basis compared to men
- 33% of the online degree students at for-profit universities are Black or Hispanic; while only 23% of online students in non-profit degree programs are.
Now, let’s compare this with what we commonly observe in higher education marketing and what the reality is in internet marketing. We know that rich media, which includes video and interactive web sites, are becoming a part of the standard marketing repitoire. Creating a YouTube channel and placing these videos on there also does wonders for SEO purposes. Yet it is still uncommon to see videos that highlight online studies on the webpages of non-profit (where the majority of online students are enrolled) institutions. Also, online degree programs are popular with women; and 80% of Pinterest users are women and 30% are between the ages of 23-34. Yet how many colleges have pinboards dedicated to online education?
We can talk about the statistics all day and all night; but the core of the issue is the fact that future online degree students want information and colleges are not utilizing the best tools to accomplish this. Social media is a huge resource that can not only help dissipate information, but also create the opportunity to connect with applicants, students and alumni. Speaking of which, it is important to incorporate the entire lifecycle of college students into the marketing mix; from applicant to student to alumni.
Online college degrees are here to stay. As with anything that has potential, service offerings will only grow and expand. It would be a shame for a school that offers a good online program to miss out on enrolling future students due to missed marketing opportunities. This is especially true in the case of non-profit institutions; which tend to have better tuition rates, an important decision factor for most online degree students,