It might sound obvious that attracting students is important to FE colleges, but we know that the significance of student numbers runs deeper than that. Student enrolments and retention mean funding. Funding means being able to keep smaller courses viable, and able to provide better resources for your students. Those boost your overall offer, and that attracts more students. And so the cycle continues. But as we said, you know all that.
You know that, too. You’re selling a product, and that product is similar to many of your competitors’ products. The time and budget you can spend on that selling is limited. Unlike commercial brands, your product doesn’t change that much year on year, so it’s hard to keep your marketing fresh and exciting. Your audience is local so word of mouth matters and reputation is everything, but that’s hard to control. You need your marketing to work with (or if your reputation is struggling, reframe) what people think of you.
There are ways around all those challenges if you tackle them logically and with a commercial marketing approach. It doesn’t have to cost the earth. Let’s take a closer look at ways you can improve your student recruitment, and how working with an agency might actually save you money.
You know you’re looking at school leavers and, to a lesser extent, adult learners. You understand that parents are also a huge part of your audience and a key influencer in decision-making. But have you examined them further than that?
Your school leavers aren’t just picking between colleges. Lots of them will be looking at the wider options which are open to them when they leave school. Apprenticeships, traineeships, work based training, volunteering, specialist vocational training. For some of your students at least, you have to convince them (and their parents) that college is the right choice for them, before you can sell yourself as their best option among the colleges on offer.
Once you know your audience are interested in going to college as their preference for further education, it’s time to start thinking about what they’re basing their decisions on. Courses and facilities are definitely important, and you know all the details about those inside out. What’s harder to sell, but arguably more important given that college courses and facilities are often similar, is the overall experience of YOUR college. Of course, students and parents are invested in the future opportunities students enjoy, but it’s easy to forget that they’re often more focused on the immediate.
Will they be happy there? Will they enjoy themselves? Feel part of a community? Be proud to be part of the college? Be given opportunities and experience? Is it easy to get to? Is the social scene up to much? And what’s the support like? Lots of students are desperate to move on from school, but plenty more find the whole experience daunting, whether they want to admit that or not. Aside from the educational side of things, what pastoral support is there?
It’s no longer enough to list your courses and show pictures of your campus. You’re selling a lifestyle, and your audience are consumers, as well as students. They have choice, even if it’s limited to some extent by location, and that’s why you need to approach student recruitment using the skills, experience and methods developed by the commercial world, and adapt them to the world of education.
That can be tricky, given it’s unlikely you have the budget, skills, experience, or the time to pull off a carefully designed, targeted commercial campaign.
We can’t speak for all agencies, there are plenty out there who will happily do a poor job and take your money, but we’re not one of them. If you use your budget with us, we’ll get the most out of it for you. That’s not only because we can use our combination of experience working with colleges and with the commercial sector to come up with concepts for your campaign which will work. It’s because we can also handle the production side of printing and publishing everything you need. And really crucially, it’s because we buy lots of advertising for our clients, so we have much stronger buying power than an individual college can have. We can place your advertising, probably with the very same people as you might deal with yourselves, but at a much better rate.
A chat won’t cost you a penny, and we can explain how we can help you. From designing and producing your prospectus, to planning and delivering your summer enrolment campaign, your media advertising, or even a rebrand for your college or group of colleges, we have the right skills. We recommend starting to think about your summer recruitment campaign right at the start of the new year, but we’re always happy to talk about how we can help you with your marketing, creative and advertising, whatever the time of year. Get in touch and let’s talk.