Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Since peaking in 2010, college enrollment has steadily declined each year. The period between spring 2020 and spring 2022 saw some of the sharpest declines yet, with a 7% decline in enrollment — a loss of roughly 1.3 million students.
For many institutions of higher education, such losses can prove financially devastating, particularly for smaller schools that rely heavily on tuition dollars. In fact, a 2021 survey of higher education professionals found that 74% of colleges were facing financial challenges, with schools with fewer than 5,000 students facing the most significant constraints.
2022 saw this trend continue, with several smaller colleges shutting down — some of which had previously served students for over 150 years.
In the midst of this financial turmoil, few things can prove more crucial for your institution’s lasting stability than its ability to become more appealing to prospective students. So, here are a few tips to get started:
Offer virtual tours, info sessions and more
There are various reasons why campus tours and info sessions can be inaccessible to prospective students. Perhaps they live on the other side of the country, or maybe they work a job to help support their family and can’t attend during the times when scheduled on-campus sessions are available. In this case, going digital can improve accessibility for all.
For example, Arizona State University provides online self-guided video tours for each campus location. The tours are available online or via mobile app, and prospective students can personalize their virtual tour experience based on their areas of interest. Curated tours that highlight popular campus locations are also available.
While virtual tours and info sessions often became necessary during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, they continue to provide great value by helping more students get a feel for what it is like to be on campus. The flexibility to match a student’s available schedule will go a long way in getting them more engaged with your school and more motivated to apply.
Of course, you can (and should) still offer tours and info sessions in-person whenever possible. Still, even these in-person events can take on a digital twist that expands your reach and makes them more engaging. Even something as simple as live-streaming an info session or posting highlights to social media can expand your reach and influence.
Let current students do the talking
Social media can be a powerful tool for showing off your campus, classes and activities to prospective students. But the messages that come directly from your college aren’t going to be nearly as persuasive as the messages coming from the students who already attend your school.
For example, Brigham Young University regularly hosts #MyViewFromBYU posts and reels on its Instagram account, in which current students are given the opportunity to “take over” the Instagram account as they share stories about their life as a student and their journey to the university.
This is a great method to provide a more candid and casual look at student life at your institution of higher learning — and in a way that can feel more relatable to prospective students. Of course, social media isn’t the only place where this can occur. You could also feature blogs and videos from current students and alumni on your website or in other marketing materials.
Alumni can be an especially powerful voice for making your institution more appealing to prospective students. Highlighting alumni success stories — be they in sports, business or the sciences — and their ties to your university can be an incredibly powerful testimonial for students who share similar goals.
When making the pitch for your institution, it’s important to remember that messaging shouldn’t necessarily be focused on the school itself. Rather, your focus should be on the student and the experiences they will be able to create for themselves while attending your school.
For example, a case study from EAB that evaluated 1.2 billion student interactions found that student-focused recruitment copy increased response rates by 50%. Something as simple as using the word “you” and focusing on the student’s individual journey — rather than your “excellent curriculum” or “highly-trained professors” — can prove much more persuasive.
Your messaging should also be personal and focused when it comes to parents. A study of 2021 high school graduates found that 48% ranked “parental influence” as one of the top sources of information they used to make their enrollment decision. Parents were actually the second most commonly cited source of information, only ranking behind college websites.
Because of this, institutions of higher learning should also focus much of their personalized messaging on the parents of prospective students. Marketing campaigns that frame the institution and its benefits with a focus on the parents’ mindset can lead to more highly influential parent-driven conversations.
To combat financial instability, institutions of higher education should focus on becoming more appealing to prospective students by offering virtual tours and info sessions, letting current students do the talking on social media, featuring alumni success stories and getting personal in their messaging to potential students.