Student Recruitment: Identifying your Ideal Student

Recently, I have been helping several colleges improve their student recruitment efforts.  The projects are with non-profit colleges interested in better understanding market needs and wants so they can better serve students today and begin developing the programs and services they are going to need over the next 2-5 years in order to achieve their institutional goals.

The first place to start is with your current student population.  The goal is to identify those students that are most successful so you can target others most like them.  The premise is that successful students have common traits (heavy readers, hobbyists, first in family to attend college, etc.), so let’s focus on those have those common traits rather than [ex] “17 and 18 year olds that graduated from high school in the spring, had a GPA of 3.5 or higher out of 4.0” or “females, 25 to 29, with an undergraduate degree and 3+ years of post-graduate work experience, single, household income of $35,000 to $50,000″

What are the key characteristics of a successful student at your institution?  For example, in the past 18 to 24 months, you might want to consider data points such as:

Prior education

[list type=”dot”]
[list_item]High School GPA[/list_item]
[list_item]SAT Scores[/list_item]
[list_item]College GPA (if any, from other institutions)[/list_item]

And data from your own institution could include:

[list type=”dot”]
[list_item]Total Credit Hours[/list_item]
[list_item]Number of terms/semesters enrolled[/list_item]
[list_item]Grade Point Average[/list_item]
[list_item]Tuition Paid[/list_item]
[list_item]Remedial Services Used[/list_item]
[list_item] Courses Dropped[/list_item]
[list_item]Incomplete Courses[/list_item]
[list_item]Disciplinary Actions[/list_item]

Once you have gathered that data for all of your students, divide them into deciles and assign a number grade – ‘10’ for highest, ‘1’ for lowest.  Once completed for all data points, rank by total points and those students in the top two deciles are ‘successful.’1

The next step is to append data in order to gain a deeper insight.  Services such as PRIZM (Claritas), ElementOne (Neustar) and Experian can provide the demographic, psychographic and other key data insights that will help you better understand your audience – and the size of your audience for recruitment purposes.

The data that would be appended could include the following demographic, psychographic, behavioral and geographic elements:

  • Household Income
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Generation (Baby Boomers, Generation X, etc.)
  • Occupation
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Activity, Interest, Opinion (AIOs)
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Behavior

Next, you will want to perform some additional research (telephone interviews, surveys, focus groups) in order to understand why these successful students selected your institution and remained enrolled.  For example:

[list type=”dot”]
[list_item]What triggered your desire to go to college?[/list_item]
[list_item]Who did you turn to for information on college?[/list_item]
[list_item]What was your criteria for selecting a college?[/list_item]
[list_item]What colleges did you consider? Why?[/list_item]
[list_item]Why did you select our institution?[/list_item]
[list_item]Why didn’t you select the other institutions?[/list_item]
[list_item]Has our institution met or exceeded your expectations? How?[/list_item]
[list_item]Has our institution failed to meet your expectations? How?[/list_item]
[list_item]Would you recommend our institution to others?[/list_item]

Ask specific questions about the programs and services offered by your institution in order to understand the perceived value of these services.

At the end of this research, you need to be certain that your target audience and segments are large enough to support your goals for the near and long-term.  If not, select additional segments based on your research.

Remember that the segments of your target audience must be easy to identify and reach, and that they are in need of unique solutions that your institution can best provide.  (That means you will also need to have a deep understanding of the competition – those that your audience identifies as ‘competition’ as well as those that you know, based on your experience, are also competitors.  I will get into this in more detail in our next post.)

Once this has been completed, you will have the information you need to target your recruitment efforts on these segments of the market.  The next step is to ensure that your offering is unique and valuable to them.

Learn more about ways to improve student recruitment and Identifying your Ideal Student.

Download a free white paper that includes this post as well as 4 other key factors for improving student recruitment and retention by clicking on this button below.

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