While career colleges have been aggressively courting students for online programs via e-marketing for years, traditional colleges and universities have been slower on the draw. That is changing according to a recent report from eLearners.com, a company that recently conducted research on the higher education field.
In a survey of colleges and universities that actively market degree programs online, 82 percent of career colleges claimed they devote more than 50 percent of their budget to online marketing. Only 40 percent of traditional schools claimed expenditures of 50 percent or above.
But those numbers have nothing to do with planned spending for next year. When asked about anticipated spending, 80 percent of traditional schools indicated they would be increasing their online marketing budget for the coming fiscal year while 82 percent of career colleges said they plan for their budgets to decrease or remain the same.
The study, titled “Attracting the Next Generation of Online Learners,” has also shed some light on student enrollment processes for career colleges and traditional schools. Career colleges still seem to reach potential students faster: ninety-one 91 percent said they follow up with prospective students at least once per month after initial contact compared to just 50 percent of traditional schools.
However, the outcome in this area tends to lean in favor of traditional schools, at least with respect to timing, where 70 percent of traditional school respondents say the average time it takes from initial contact to paid enrollment is three months or less. In that same time frame, the average for career schools to close the deal is only 55 percent.
“Obviously, the for-profits have been realizing success using online marketing channels for a longer period of time, and their budgets reflect it,” said Andrew Gansler, CEO of eLearners.com. “But without question, the not-for-profits are taking the field and want to play.”
“The question now is whether the not-for-profits can leverage their brand names enough to offset the tremendous marketing prowess that the for-profits have achieved.”
Overall, the participating institutions indicated that the biggest challenges facing them in online recruiting are generating qualified leads, name recognition, contact rates (ability to reach the leads) and conversion rates of leads to enrollments. A unique struggle among traditional schools was dealing with internal bureaucracy challenges while career colleges mentioned the challenge of ever-increasing competition and costs.
eLearners.com interviewed 25 percent of its higher education associates for the survey. The sample was evenly distributed, with 52 percent of respondents representing career colleges and 48 percent representing traditional schools. The candidates were interviewed on a host of subjects, including contact response, conversion, retention, vendor relationships, budgets and program selection.