Lowering the Cost to Recruit a Student

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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I recently read a report that outlined the cost to recruiting students for different  types of  institutions.   

One of the things that intrigued me was the note that private colleges are increasing their expenditures in the kinds of products that the firm that produced the report happens to sell. While this is a bit self-serving and troubling.  

What bothered me, is the fact that there was no discussion on how to  reduce  recruiting expenditures.  The report assumed that to be successful in the recruiting arena one must  be willing to  ever  increasingly up the ante.  It  is reminiscent of the US and Soviet arms race. The thinking was if we spend more than them on weapons, we will be safe. 

Rethinking that old shibboleth  

It is time, I believe, to consider this problem in a completely different way.  

Over the years, as I have worked with countless colleges and universities, I noticed something interesting: Those schools with strong brands actually spend less on recruiting than do their lesser-known counterparts.   

In fact, a big part of me believes that colleges that spend the most on marketing are either offering products and experiences that are exactly like their competitors, or their brand has not been differentiated from competitors in ways that prospective students and families find meaningful.  

The only alternative, then, is to spend money. Rather than creating buzz, they seem content on merely generating noise.  

Rebuilding recruiting brand

Based on hundreds of research studies we have completed for our clients, I also learned that well-branded colleges and universities tended to build their brands around the same single quality:   

  • Being well-known for doing/being something in demand by their prospective students   

It is important to note that the one thing is not the same thing for all colleges. A faith-based school should build its brand around the one thing that matters to their prospects. The odds are high that this one thing will be different than the one thing valued by students who want to attend an R1 research university.   

The only way to identify this one thing is to ask your prospects. This involves research. And yes, with a nod toward full disclosure, Stamats sells research. But our goal is to use research to reduce recruiting expenditures rather than increase them.   

As you define this research, you must carefully consider who your prospects truly are. This calls for a big dose of honesty. Your goal is to identify those students who will persist (don’t set the bar too low). At the same time, these must be students for whom you have a legitimate shot (don’t set the bar too high).    

And remember, too, that your goal is to identify that one thing that matters most around which you can build a brand, and not a panoply of things which would only dilute your image.   

After you have used research to identify the essential brand drivers for the students you wish to pursue, you must:  

  • Also use the findings to ascertain their communication needs, expectations, and channels a priori1  
  • Commit to providing a complete brand experience (think pre-experience messaging, the experience itself, and post-experience follow-up)  
  • Integrate your brand messaging across all platforms, particularly traditional and nontraditional media    
  • Use mROI to enhance the brand experience and the effectiveness of your brand messaging  

If you’re interested in using research to identify your brand drivers please drop me an email. I’d be glad to show you how this type of  research can help.    

Read next: Enhancing the Marketability of your Academic Programs

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