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Shift Happens. Deal With It

Angela Brennan
VP, Web Development

Shift happens. We all know it happens…and often! But it is how you react to a shift that makes all the difference.

A demographic or environmental shift to your marketplace can be jarring and leave you struggling to recover for weeks, months, or even years. It can also be a time to stand back, reflect, and look for new opportunities. If you don’t want to be caught off guard for these shifts, there are some key types of data that you might want to keep an eye on, especially if you are a marketer at your institution that has any say in your institution’s marketing goals, strategies, and/or tactics.

To give you an idea, here are some recent data examples we found that may warrant a thorough review and tweaking of your marketing department’s plan of attack.

High School Students
As Kevin Kiley pointed out in his recent article, The Pupil Cliff, “After about two decades of steady growth in the number of graduates, the country likely peaked at about 3.4 million graduates in 2011 and will see a modest decline over the next few years.” This will put some colleges and universities in a tight spot in terms of recruitment.

However, this is not true of every state. If you look closer at the data, your institution might be in a rapidly growing region such as Texas, Colorado, or Utah. Monitoring your region’s high school population will be beneficial so you can forecast for your institution.

Minority Growth
This changing demographic might be another place to watch as it will impact both your prospective students as well as bring new policies to retain students. According to the U.S. Census, the non-Hispanic white population is projected to peak in 2024. Hispanics and Asians will more than double from 2012 to 2060, with the black population also growing at a rapid rate.

Being that minority populations do not complete higher education at as high a rate as the non-Hispanic white population, take a look your geographic region for projected trends. For example, states like California, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona have higher rates of Hispanic residents.

Aging Population
The U.S. Census is reporting that the population under the age of 18 is projected to decrease from 23.5% to 21.2% from 2012 to 2016 while the working-age population and older is expected to increase. Many adults will want to enter college or return to finish their education and they will need institutions that can accommodate their specific needs.

New Work Force
Keep an eye on the largest growing jobs like social network game development, video game publishing, e-commerce, elder law, pharmaceuticals, and environmental engineering. These are the jobs that students are interested in as they look for relevant institutions. If you are in the hotbed of a booming industry, you might find leverage in working with the community, introducing new programs, or updating current programs, to increase the quality that your institution provides.

So, after reviewing some of the key data points such as decreasing high school graduates, you realize that your institution may be coming on some rough times. You start to think that you have to expand your marketplace, increase retention, or get lower performing students. You start to panic! But the reality is that you should not react to data in a vacuum.

Review your goals and keep watching these trends. Gather enough data to get a good sense of the world around you and try not to paralyze your department with too much data. And then review your goals again.

After reviewing and analyzing key data, review your marketing plan at least once a year. Reintroduce yourself to the goals of your institution and carefully review the strategies and tactics that have been defined in order to reach those goals.  Most often during a demographic shift, it is not the goals that need to be changed, just the strategies and tactics that help to reach the goals. Here are some tips on how to react strategically:

  • Come to grips with the fact that your school’s goals will, for the short-term, be your goals. You cannot easily change institutional marketing goals and should not attempt to do so solely on mutations seen in data. Goals are set by administration through months and years of discussion and meetings, don’t expect the goals to change anytime soon.
  • Rework the marketing strategies and tactics you use to reach your institution’s goals. The marketing plan’s strategies and tactics can easily be rewritten to counteract a dramatic shift in data trends. For example, if Market A is a key feeder for your school and data suggests Market A will see a 40% drop in high school graduations, you may want to consider looking for another feeder area to advertise.
  • Keep close tabs on your annual and five-year marketing plan. This can provide some peace and solace in this continuous process. As mentioned above, simply creating a marketing plan is not enough. The plan cannot sit on autopilot; it must be reviewed and tweaked to make sure you are still meeting your organization’s goals.

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