2015 was a very interesting year. For many schools, it was a year of transition. Some had to “refocus” their mission, while others transitioned to an online or programmatic focus (i.e., health care or STEM). The biggest challenges for universities in 2015 were to simplify their mission and offerings, build a data warehouse, and create an integrated marketing plan to leverage the many channels in today’s marketplace.
As we move into 2016, the transition will continue. Here are some predictions and items to focus on to drive more success this year:
- Health care programs will continue to drive growth. This is not necessarily your diploma, nondegree programs, but ones focused on nursing; health care management; and technical areas such as dental assisting, pharmacy technician and health information. Employment in health care has and will continue to surpass other degree areas.
- Online programs will be launched at a record pace. I see no slowdown in the launching of online degrees. The difference in 2016 will be the competitive landscape for these programs compared to past years. Successful online programs launched today must have unique attributes (not another generic MBA) and significant marketing dollars behind the launch (approximately $500,000-$1 million per program).
- Leads/inquiries are NOT dead, but leads/inquiries without cultivation ARE! Gone are the days when we could buy a bunch of leads and push them down the funnel. Prospective students today have more information at their fingertips and are taking much longer to convert. This is the year of cultivation. How you communicate with your database is just as important as, if not more important than, how you generate new inquiries. My rule of thumb is that 10-15 percent of your marketing budget should be earmarked for cultivating your database of interested prospects, and I mean beyond just making more phone calls.
- Data insights are coming to an inflection point. I still believe most schools are data rich and information poor. But, many schools have built (or have partners with) a robust data warehouse. I don’t believe the models are robust enough to throw away past best practices, but as an input, they are beginning to give us better insights on propensity to start AND graduate.
- Outcomes will rule the day. Yes, outcomes have always been important, but most of us had to review individual websites to learn about placement and retention rates. Today, we have so much information from ranking sites, LinkedIn and other social networks that give information about graduate success. Let’s make sure we focus on outcomes that students care about: career placement, graduation rates and salary upon graduation.
- There will be enrollment growth in 2016. While macro trends are not favorable, schools can focus and make the hard choices to ensure they’re viable for the long haul and take market share from those that hold on to past success.
I’m looking forward to a great 2016 and wish you health, happiness and success.