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Research Report

How to capture stealth prospect applicants

March 31, 2016

As community colleges face declining tuition revenue and state funding cuts, they must find new ways to win enrollments. Traditional outreach strategies, including direct mail, on-campus recruitment events, and even face-to-face high school visits no longer resonate with the current generation of digitally-minded students. In fact, a recent ThinkEducation report found that 25% of prospective students never look to sources outside the web for information on colleges.

These potential students, or “stealth prospects,” are essentially invisible to your marketing staff because they independently research your institution without ever inquiring for more information (and without ever providing their personal information). For almost 50% of students, the first time they contact a college is when they submit their application.

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This resource is part of the Improve Communications across the Community College Student Lifecycle Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

This new stealth prospect phenomenon diminishes community colleges’ ability to influence enrollment decisions. But the most progressive community colleges have found low-cost, tech-driven solutions to connect with stealth prospects and nudge them toward enrollment.

Percentage of two-year students who make first contact through application




Guide stealth prospects through the digital front door

Community college marketing directors frequently refer to the college home page as the “front door to the college.” Prospective students rely on a college website for information about academic programs, payment plans, scheduling, co-curricular activities, and student services.


of all prospects will visit the college website at least two weeks before they complete an enrollment-related action
of all prospects will visit the college website at least two weeks before they complete an enrollment-related action

Approximately 75% of all prospects will visit the college website at least two weeks before they complete an enrollment-related action, such as submitting an application or inquiring for more information. In many cases, these interested students desire more information than they can find online. But if the website offers no convenient method to communicate with the college, these interested students will navigate away from the page.

In 2014, Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) redesigned its website to appeal more to prospective students. To ensure the website generated more inquiries, FVTC placed a compact request for information (RFI) form on every academic page. The college split the RFI into four short pages and included a progress bar to promote completion. The mobile-responsive design enabled completion on any device. Last year, the new inquiry form produced 4,611 unduplicated inquiries for the college.

Incent RFI completion with a customized electronic brochure

At its core, an RFI form represents an exchange of information between a prospective student and the college. Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) took this concept one step further by partnering with a third-party vendor to create customizable electronic brochures.

The college placed a link to download the brochure on its main academic program page and website footer. The e-brochure lists academic programs and student services that may be of interest to students, enticing prospects to submit their contact information so they can learn more.

After they complete the form, prospective students automatically receive a PDF e-brochure via email. The brochure only contains information on the programs and services that the student selected. Last year the college received approximately 1,500 brochure requests, which roughly equates to $6 per lead.

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