A recent study, conducted by Worldcom Public Relations Group partners Belfort Group and The Pollack PR Marketing Group, reveals that colleges and universities need to be concerned about marketing to a decreasing crop of prospective students who are significantly more critical of and less responsive to traditional enrollment marketing tactics.
According to the “iGen Goes to School” study, college admissions and communications programs are not resonating with today’s new cohort of digital natives. Dubbed the “iGeneration” by Stefan Pollack, author of Disrupted, iGens are those born between 1994 and 2004 and require “information on demand” with a professed inclination to trust the advice of “friends,” or strangers, who share their opinions freely on social media platforms.
Considering the decreasing number of applicants, college admissions and communications departments are under pressure to reexamine their customary communications platforms and enrollment marketing mix. To be competitive, enrollment management strategies for the next generation of applicants will need a more personalized, multi-channel approach.
The two-part study consisted of four qualitative focus groups conducted in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, and a quantitative online survey of 130 current or recent college applicants. Findings indicated that iGens are dissatisfied with the impersonal nature of traditional college communications outreach, signifying a serious disruption in the higher education enrollment marketing process, which includes a barrage of emails, view books, letters and other print communiques addressed “Dear Student or Applicant,” and are often deemed irrelevant to the audience.
Key Insights for Enrollment Marketing from the iGen Study:
- Students want to engage with schools on their own terms. Today’s digital natives are likely to use social media to learn about a higher education institution, with Facebook (67%) being the top social media channel. Of those surveyed, 92% of students said they used social media at least a little during the application process and 60% of applicants felt comfortable contacting schools through social media.
- iGens desire authentic, personalized outreach from people similar to them. Of those surveyed, 43% stated personal contact influenced their decision to attend a college or university, such as one-on-one communication with a current student or engaging content such as videos.
- Applicants place importance on program specialties and digital presentation. Participants indicated that course/program offerings (48%) and school reputation (44%) were critical influencers in enrollment. Also, of those surveyed, 38% said that a school’s website was the most trustworthy source when learning about a school.
The results of this study hold major implications for the future of college enrollment and communications programs. The goal is not to reinvent the enrollment funnel, but to find moments in time during each institution’s application, acceptance and enrollment process where marketing professionals can insert new ideas that resonate with iGens.
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