Nine lessons on communicating the value proposition of your college to increasingly price-sensitive families

Why You're Worth It

Nine lessons on communicating the value proposition of your college to increasingly price-sensitive families

Recent higher-education industry research demonstrates that cost is playing an increasingly dominant role in how families pick colleges. It has also shown that growing price sensitivity is negatively impacting some schools’ enrollment outcomes and suggests that coming demographic changes are sure to intensify this phenomenon.

Among the various strategies schools should pursue to address this challenge, few match the size and speed of impact attainable via improved recruitment marketing. This white paper outlines nine related steps you can take to convince students and parents that your institution is a better choice for them than any other, at any price point.

0 in 3

parents want information on financial topics in their student’s freshman or sophomore year

Pressing questions answered in the report include:

  • How can I prevent families from being scared away by our sticker price?
  • Which factors really matter to students and parents when it comes to picking a school?
  • How can I help families differentiate our offering from that of other institutions?

Growing price sensitivity is hurting many colleges

Concerns about the affordability of college have always been with us.  But a growing gap between the financial circumstances of college-bound students and the cost of higher education has given those concerns a new urgency. The corresponding problem for enrollment leaders is not hypothetical; recent research suggests that families’ growing price sensitivity is actually causing many institutions to lose students.

Percentage of surveyed schools citing reasons for lost enrollment

Baccalaureate institutions that lost first-time undergraduate enrollment from Fall 2016 to Fall 2019, 2019 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Survey

  • 0%

    Student Price Sensitivity

  • 0%

    Competition Between Schools

  • 0%

    Demographic Mix

  • 0%

    Demographic Contraction

Marketing educates families on the value of your offering

One crucial means of addressing this problem is improved communication with college-bound students and their parents.  The daunting complexity of the college search process and families’ understandable desire to limit their spend can cause students to choose schools that are a poor fit with their needs and goals. Recruitment marketing, more often understood as a tool for persuasion, is also the most powerful means you have of helping families make informed decisions. Our white paper explains how enrollment leaders can ensure that their communications with students and parents are furthering both aims.

Nine challenges, nine solutions

Specifically, our 48-page report offers detailed descriptions of nine concrete steps you can take to address questions that matter most to families. Included in the white paper are explanations of the market factors increasing families’ price sensitivity, discussion of related implications for enrollment outcomes, data from national surveys regarding considerations that most powerfully influence students’ choice of school, examples of the nine steps in action, and guidance on their implementation.

Scared away by sticker price

Difficulty understanding college pricing and debt causes families for whom your school could be an excellent choice to cross you off their list, based on misunderstandings regarding your affordability.
Educate families on cost

Provide families with information on college finances starting early in a student’s high school career, including explanations of key concepts such as sticker price versus net price.
Missing what’s great about your academic offerings

Uninspiring program-level information on your institution’s website undersells your school’s offerings in key majors, a factor known to play a key role in students’ choice of school.
Invest in promoting programs

Partner with your faculty to ensure that the academic program pages on your school’s website paint a compelling picture of the interesting, exciting, and rewarding things their students do.
Concerned about employability

Students’ growing focus on their employment prospects leads them to under-appreciate the value of academic programs that are not obviously tied to specific careers.
Emphasize career connections

Underscore aspects of your offering that prepare students for today’s unpredictable, fast-changing job market and enable graduates to thrive in a variety of possible careers.
Undervaluing success support

Almost all students believe they will graduate on time, regardless of where they go to school, limiting the effectiveness of success-oriented support and guarantees as selling points.
Activate your guarantees

If you offer an on-time graduation guarantee, explain to families why it matters—i.e., that many students nationally don’t finish on time and that schools play a key role in that.
Unable or disinclined to visit

Campus visits, among the most powerful tools for converting prospective students, are costly and inconvenient for many families, limiting the number of students who get to participate.
Provide a virtual-visit experience worthy of your institution

Ensure that your virtual campus tour comes as close as possible to replicating the feeling of being there—an aim that is more attainable than ever thanks to recent advances in web media.
Overweighting expense

While creating transparency around the cost of an education at your institution is an essential step in converting students, it can also alienate them if done incorrectly.
Connect cost and benefit messaging

Never show information about your cost (or other financial topics likely to make families anxious) without compelling illustrations of the benefits of attending your school.
Feeling unwanted

Not all enrollment teams have the capacity and specialized skill set required to build deep affinity with students and parents, a key factor in overcoming price sensitivity.
Hardwire high-touch engagement

Students see their recruitment experience as a preview of how they will be treated after enrolling; lavish, personalized attention sends them the message they most want to hear.
Swayed by channels you don’t control

Several value-communication channels that carry a lot of weight with prospective students are not under your school’s direct control.
Leverage peer opinion

Take reasonable steps to influence the information that appears about you on channels where students seek peer opinions (such as YouTube and Reddit).
Struggling to understand differences between schools

Apparent commodification of the college “product” increases families’ propensity to trade down to less expensive options.
Demonstrate differentiated value

Ensure that your outreach to prospective students, especially in yield season, is informed by a clear picture of who your main competitors are and ways in which you outperform them.

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