College Admissions Marketing Needs to Focus on the Degree, Not the Reputation

According to the results of a recent study conducted by EAB on thousands of incoming college freshman, majors and academic programs topped the list of their concerns, ahead of tuition costs and concerns about financing their education. The result may be surprising, given the current student loan debt crisis facing millions of young Americans, but they have prompted some experts in the field to consider how campus post-graduate career advancement programs and resources remain a top motivator for college attendance and enrollment.

Why Academic Quality Trumps Reputation for College Students

According to the survey results, 70 percent of respondents indicated that they looked to college websites for information on the school’s academic programs, a 3.6 percent increase over the past two years. Meanwhile, less than a quarter of prospective students (19 percent) were most concerned with the reputation of the institution. Perhaps most surprisingly, the percentage of students seeking information about financial programs and opportunities was a relatively modest 24 percent.

The ROE (Return on Education) Factor

According to EAB, “research shows that Generation Z students are increasingly selecting majors and minors that will have a greater ‘ROE’–return on education. For example, Michigan State University, like so many other colleges and universities, has reported a sharp rise in engineering and business majors, and a steady decline in arts and letters majors since the recession.”

Data from the EAB study found that when presented with potential salary information and hiring prospects for their major, 12 percent of students switched to a different major. Concerns about job prospects and salary may be a key factor behind the growing uptick and resurgence of enrollment in engineering and computer science programs over liberal arts degrees.

Helping Prospective Students Calculate ROE

Although all young college-bound students may not place how to pay for college at the top of their list of concerns, the majority are viewing the colleges they are interested in through a lens of “what can your school do for me?” Placing your institution’s ROE at the forefront of recruitment efforts should be the main focus and selling point when recruiting Generation Z students, and to an extent their parents as well.

Student loan financing company SoFi helps to breakdown “return on education” for college students trying to decide where to go to college and just as (if not more) importantly, what to major in:

  • Is the degree/program worth the cost?
  • Is the program worth going into debt and taking out student loans for?
  • What is the projected salary and change in income relative to the costs and debt?

The answers to these questions can help students determine their personal return on education. For college recruiters and marketers, shifting the focus to helping students and their families make the right connections between the institution’s programs and their future career and financial trajectory will be necessary to meet enrollment quotas.

According to EAB’s assessment of the findings from their study,

One ‘so what’ of this New College Freshmen Survey finding, and from the return on education phenomenon overall, for that matter, is that colleges and universities should be thinking more deeply about the enrollment impact of their program portfolio choices. We find that as many schools review their academic programs and make changes, they too seldom and too narrowly factor in market information from enrollment managers.

Factors to Consider When Recruiting Generation Z Students

Not surprisingly, the students who participated in the EAB study admitted to getting much of their information through social media, so focusing efforts on advertising to and reaching students where they are most actively engaged should not be ignored. This ranges from Facebook ads to relevant sponsored content across social media platforms popular with college-aged students.

Merging College Recruitment With Career Counseling

More so than previous generations, incoming college students are less likely to wait until their senior year to decide what to major in, let alone to begin the job search and career-building. Consider incorporating the traditional campus career services with your institution’s recruitment efforts to highlight how getting a degree at your institution also offers a leg up on the job market, well before graduation:

  • Emphasize employment rates and industry accomplishments and success from past alumni.
  • Highlight internship and job training programs.
  • Focus on prominent faculty and mentorship programs.
  • Build on career fairs, career counseling services and opportunities for networking that can lead to job prospects.

Despite the fact that college financing and student debt are a major concern for a large portion of American college students and their families, Generation Z students are placing a higher premium on the quality and feasibility of their chosen majors and academic programs.

While an academic institution’s general reputation and extracurricular offerings may factor into the decision, the current generation’s main concern seems to be firmly placed on how their chosen field of study and college will help them to find the right career and meet their desired earning potential.

Meeting the needs of the new generation will require doing things differently. According to the Guardian, “The best way to manage the change? Work with Gen Zs and involve them in designing your services.”