Why Education Branding Matters for Enrollment

10.19.2018 »
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Image of college students walking on a college campus.

“Schools that don’t have a unique brand will be casualties. They can spend more on marketing, they can bribe applicants with more financial aid, but in the long run they will lose to schools whose brands can survive without offering the lowest price.”

– Forbes Magazine

Colleges and universities across the U.S. are struggling.

In 2017, 52% of private colleges and universities and 44% of public universities failed to meet enrollment goals, according to a study by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Competition for students is increasing: Out-of-state recruiting, advertising budgets, and acceptance rates are all on the rise, while overall college enrollment declined for the sixth consecutive year in 2018, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Competition isn’t the only challenge – as states shift to outcome-based funding, graduation rates become more important than ever. Right now, though, the overall graduation rate stands at 60% - and at 28% for community colleges.

Students are increasingly questioning the value of a college education: in 1995, the U.S. ranked first in the world in the percentage of young adults with a college degree. By 2014, the U.S. ranked 16th.

It all adds up. According to a study by consulting firm Kaufman Hall, nearly half of U.S. universities are on an unsustainable financial path.

Nearly half.

It sounds pretty dire, but before we hurtle ourselves over a marketing cliff in a fit of panic, let’s step back for a moment and ask a few key questions about your education brand – because it can make or break how students perceive your college, and whether they’re inspired to apply.

5 Key Questions About Your Education Brand

  1. Who, exactly, are we trying to reach? We all know that not every prospective student is a fit for every institution, and there are many different factors that go into each unique student’s choice. Understand your audience and their needs.
  2. What makes the right fit? What makes one student thrive in your environment, while another struggles and feels disconnected? Identifying what prospective students are most likely to stay (and succeed) – at your institution is critical for success. And even survival.
  3. What’s unique about my institution? What are your strengths, and what do you have to offer? The answer is at the heart of your education brand – what differentiates you with the right target audience, attracts and engages them, and brings them to your door.
  4. What do we need to improve? Nobody’s perfect. Understanding what opportunities your institution has for improvement also factors into your education brand positioning. Note that we’re talking about the students’ perceptions – not your institutional goals (e.g., declining enrollment).
  5. Why are these the things that matter? Understand what drives the students who are the best fit for your college or university…and not just the students. It’s also about their influencers: parents, guidance counselors, community leaders, bosses, and friends.

Answering these questions is the critical first step in creating a strong education brand – one that resonates with students and their influencers, and can help drive enrollment numbers higher. In upcoming posts, we’ll explore the process of creating an engaging, sustainable education brand strategy, as well as case studies of education brand strategies that are delivering real-world results. Like how Clark State Community College increased enrollment 20% and doubled (yes, doubled) its graduation rate in just two years.

Ready to make your education brand stand out from the crowd? Let’s start a conversation. 

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Sanger & Eby
501 Chestnut St.
Cincinnati, OH 45203

Katie Krafka
Director, Client Engagement
p. 513.784.9046

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