How Online Marketing Can Help Community Colleges Rebound From the COVID-19 Pandemic
Community colleges need to prioritize marketing to survive the covid-19 pandemic
- The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented drop in community college enrollment.
- Proposed and existing programs are in place to support community colleges during the post-COVID-19 dip.
- To take advantage of these programs, community colleges need to attract students.
- An effective marketing plan plays a key role in the success of these programs.
- A powerful web presence is critical for reaching prospective students researching schools online.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to severe declines in college enrollment, and community colleges were hit the hardest. In 2020, fall college enrollment had an unprecedented 6.8% decline, and the decline was highest among low-income high school students. In contrast, enrollment in public four-year colleges from students at high-income schools was unaffected.
Right now, enrollment is down by 9.5% at the more than 1,000 two-year community colleges in the United States. As the country slowly returns to normal, these schools are struggling to get enrollment levels to pre-pandemic levels. If they want to attract new students and drive enrollment numbers, they need to embrace a strategic approach to marketing. Here's what community colleges need to consider as they try to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why the COVID-19 pandemic affected community colleges so severely
Typically, college enrollment increases during times of economic distress. Unemployed or underemployed people head back to college to learn new skills that will let them find better jobs when the economy rebounds.
What was different about the COVID-19 pandemic? Why didn't this economic downtown have the usual effect on college enrollment? Perhaps the pandemic itself. During a typical economic downturn, people aren't simultaneously dealing with a highly contagious and deadly disease. They don't have to quarantine or restrict their activities. While many four-year programs easily shifted to an online format, community colleges struggled to take this route.
Community colleges serve several roles, but a big one is training ground for students who want hands-on jobs as auto mechanics, welders, dental hygienists, and similar fields. They show students how to operate heavy machinery, draw blood, wire an online network, and perform other manual tasks that are difficult to demonstrate online.
How online marketing can help community colleges rebound
There's an adage in the business world: When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise. Community colleges need to keep this in mind if they want to survive.
Over half of all prospective students spend at least a year researching their higher education options online, and community colleges need to get in front of these prospective students. They need to reach out and explain why two-year programs make the most sense right now, but before they can start being persuasive about why students should choose their programs, these schools need to alert students of their presence.
Survival requires adaptability
Marketing cannot be static for community colleges or any other organization. Effective marketing plans must respond to changes in consumer activities. For example, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many community colleges were using geofencing ads.
This location-based marketing technique sends texts, emails, app notifications, or other types of advertising to people when they enter a certain area. It has countless applications, but as people stopped moving around during the pandemic, this technique became less effective.
Adaptable organizations knew their prospective targets were staying at home watching TV instead of traveling, so they shifted to OTT advertising on streaming services. Your marketing plan needs this type of adaptability if you want to survive.
Figuring out what works
In addition to pivoting to new marketing techniques, organizations need to pay attention to where they are getting their leads. For example, before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Texas College was getting 2,000 to 3,000 leads from its social media accounts. During the pandemic, that number jumped to 8,000 leads.
To make the most of those leads, the school needed to invest more resources in its social media management. At the same time, it also had to ensure that it was using its social channels to direct prospective students to landing pages that would convert leads into applicants and enrollees.
Targeting the right prospects
When crafting a marketing plan, you need to understand your target audience. For community colleges right now, the ideal prospects tend to fall into the following categories:
- High school students who want to save money by starting their education at a two-year school or community college.
- Recent high school graduates who were previously hyper-focused on four-year schools but are now open to the career-focused opportunities offered by two-year schools.
- College students who don't want to return to expensive four-year schools that are only offering online or hybrid programming.
- High school graduates and college students who are thinking about obtaining a certificate during a gap year.
- Unemployed or underemployed adults who want new job skills.
To recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as possible, community colleges need to be ready to attract these students. Rather than developing a marketing plan designed to appeal to everyone, you need to ensure that you're customizing your efforts to reach the optimal prospects.
Is help coming for community colleges?
The Biden administration has proposed making community colleges free as part of its American Families Plan. If this proposal eventually becomes law, students will be able to use Pell Grants to pay for food and housing
There are also programs that provide emergency grants to students who are considering dropping out of college due to housing or food insecurity. Even in good times, these are the main reasons low-income students drop out of college. Remember that the average age of community college students is 28, and these students are often juggling children and jobs in addition to going to school.
While programs like these may help community colleges across the board, they are not a guaranteed lifeline for individual schools. These schools still need to let students know about their presence. If they want to benefit from these types of programs, they need to engage in aggressive outreach to get students to enroll.
Contact KWALL to bring your online marketing into 2021
A powerful web experience is essential for attracting students to your community college, and we can help. We are a full-service digital agency that specializes in helping community colleges and other institutions of higher education manage their online brand presence through web design and development.
Contact us at KWALL today to learn about how we can help you optimize your existing website in a way that is easily maintainable and drives enrollment.