The price of gas is unpredictable, yet predictably more expensive. Student loans and college debt are in the news at an increasing pace. As a nation, the US has more college graduates in the workforce than ever and unemployment battles underemployment for the headlines.
Teens are now legendary in their ability to shut out the surrounding world for the device in front of them. They are on a life support system that keeps them plugged in and online in ways adults find astonishing.
And you’re still mailing out postcards encouraging students to visit your campus?
Welcome to the new campus battlefield: University Recruiting.
Let me be clear. This isn’t a story meant to scare you. It’s simply a story of how the world outside your office has dissolved into a murky mess.
Battleground Intel, or here’s what I do know. The Deans of Schools and Colleges we work with are telling me they aren’t seeing student applications fall off as much as level off. And on the surface, that’s okay for now. For now.
What’s troubling is the total number of schools students are applying to is falling. In other words, if you’re not in the 2 or 3, you’re done. Gone are the days of 5-7 applications, 7-10 campus visits and what not. Today’s students are being led to a select few institutions by, (1) friends, (2) parents and (3) extended family.
If you don’t have a relationship with one of those three groups, you’re a goner.
Oh wait, you say you had a group of students who enrolled after your football team won a National Championship? That’s cute. That was several years and a coach or two ago.
What happened to the “Leader’s Recon” aka the summer of love campus tours? Well, it is expensive to scout out a four year bridge between home and the real world. Parents don’t have the disposable income to spend months on the road traveling up and down the coast, into the heartland and all points in between to compare the University in the postcard to the University on the ground.
As a result, the leader’s recon has gone virtual.
Borrowing for College has gotten easy. Well, easier. You can’t borrow for retirement and you can borrow for everything else including where Johnny or Janie is going to spend four years preparing themselves for real earning potential down the road. That’s a safe bet, right?
As a result, tuition, fees, books, cost of living and travel are all now being weighed against the reality of the job market on the other end.
Which means, in addition to the beautification of campus and the stellar current students you introduce your visitors too, there should be some time for mom and dad to see and hear some recent success stories about job and career placement services. You should have a plan for everyone who visits to learn about the vibrancy of your Alumni network, the industries who invest in and routinely visit campus and the student enrichment programs you have that develop leadership skills.
Do me a favor, when you do showcase your alums, don’t focus on the aging Boomer who is now the CEO of the major tech company in the world. That might impress mom and dad, but it’s a lifetime plus one away to the student.
Otherwise, on this battlefield, your University is a sitting duck (not the Oregon kind).
You’ve got to start thinking more like a marketer and less like a coordinator. You’ve got to have a battle plan that is multi-phased and coordinated with all campus units and not the, “straight up the hill, Fix Bayonets!” approach.
You’ve got to do some homework. You may even have to go back to school yourself. You’ve got to review your online presence through the lens of the insecure and socially awkward. You’ve got to learn to fight in a completely new way with new tools.
You’ve got this. But it’s going to be a tough fight.
Author: Don Crow is Founder & CEO at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media is a strategic digital marketing and Public Relations firm assisting clients in Higher Ed, consumer goods, startup tech companies and more.