Let’s be real for a second. The brand of colleges and universities are in trouble.
College is obviously expensive. It's pulling on the economy, and up-and-coming college students know that. Less high school graduates are seeing college as the doorway to their future and more like a ball and chain of debt. Second, college has become less appealing in general because Gen Z’ers are realizing that they can make a comfortable living working at McDonalds or Starbucks for $10-$15 an hour. Lastly, colleges are in deep trouble because even those that are considered to be “top tier” schools might not prepared for the long-haul.
So, when you’re in the business of selling education, what’s a university to do?
Leverage the strength of your brand with your target market
All schools are trying to sell education the same way. It has high school graduates saying, "All universities are exactly the same—so, why does it matter which one I choose?” Which means it’s time to leverage the strength of your school’s brand.
A new target market
Sorry, but, as a whole, Gen Z’ers don’t care too much about a university’s football stats last season, or wide variety of extracurriculars. Not that these aren’t important to them, they’re just not their top priority. Gen Z’ers see college as a way to meet their future goals on the road to becoming financial stable. If they see a university doesn’t unlock that door for them, they won’t waste their time.
The good news is, evidence suggests that Gen Z’ers believe a college education is still important in order for them to meet their future goals. But, it also means that a shift in how universities sell to this unique target market will need to change. Especially if your school is in a rut, a new target market could mean an opportunity to put some energy back into a brand.
SEO vs student buyer behavior
To shake up how students see your university, assess your current branding efforts. Posting regularly on social media, updating your website, and providing quality content is all important to getting found in the SEO; but, to get the conversions (and applications) that matter, well, that's going to take a bit more psychographic work. This means universities must:
- Highlight a personalized educational experience students will actually care about
- Provide transparency with how they can pay for school
- Capitalize on integrating technology into an educational experience
- Provide assistance for finding jobs and internships that will help pay for the cost of education
- Be open to online courses that fulfill the needs of Gen Z
Just to name a few ways to turn your potential student leads into conversions.
What else you got?
College isn’t for everyone. And, you probably don't want everyone applying to your university either—that’s why you should be spending more time understanding and researching who your student personas are, so you can create more content that is tailored towards them.
But, do pull a page out of the book of those who've decided to sidestep college all together. Gather a better understanding of what their alternatives are and if you can integrate those solutions. This includes real-world job experience, certifications through self-study, military, vocational professions, and other options that require less schooling and money.
What can you integrate into a student’s college experience that will delight them? Can you work with local companies to offer internships or part-time positions for real-world experience? What about offering a discount on certifications? Think outside the box when it comes to selling an educational experience—students are looking for more.
Ultimately, the quality of your education, the graduation rate, and job placement are all appealing aspects that you can offer the newest target market--but what else can you offer?
Every school has been researching this market too and trying to elevate their brand in an already competitive industry. How you can be the school that stands out when it comes to this target market? Change tradition, change your branding, and understand that your new target audience expects you to go the extra mile to equip them with the education they need to reach their future goals.