The Changing Education Landscape

Rethinking outreach to prospective students, parents, and donors.

The landscape for higher education is changing. Student demographics, influencer networks, new media, an overall market perception of the value of a degree is causing many schools to rethink their focus.

A shrinking and changing high school graduation population is forcing colleges and universities to compete on a national level. Too many schools are generally saying the same thing and competing on the same merits. To increase their appeal, schools are trying to attract students in a variety of ways – from offering scholarships to new college sports like bowling or fishing. Meanwhile, schools tend to underutilize or completely ignore alumni in the admissions process, and also rarely differentiate between materials targeted towards parents as opposed to students. All this is under the umbrella influence of technology and what it means for education generally.

Here are a few key trends we have found through our experience and research.

Changing demographics

  • The high school graduation population is shrinking, forcing colleges to compete and market more heavily on a national level, and more ferociously with local competition.
  • Traditional demographics of graduating high school students are also changing, becoming more ethnically diverse. How could a college’s outreach change to speak to different cultures?

Influencer networks

  • Prospective students are somewhat conscious about choosing a school that will give them the best chance of getting a job out of college and see alumni networks as a key role in achieving this goal. The alumni population, however, is rarely engaged in the admissions process.
  • Parents are feeling the financial pinch of their child's education, questioning the value of each college, but also feeling the emotional charge of giving their child the best chance to succeed no matter the cost.
  • High school guidance counselors are swamped with administrative duties and have little time to focus on college prep for their student population; what tools can schools equip these influencers with to better tell their story?

New media

  • Students and parents are looking for different content from schools, and looking in different mediums (view book vs. website vs. social media).
  • When it comes to "attraction" websites may be lower on the list in terms of interaction and potential students are looking more for pictures of students they could identify with rather than academic programs.
  • Kahn Academy and MOOCs are challenging traditional pedagogy. How can schools utilize technology in a positive way?

The value of a degree

  • Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, and others have made it just as acceptable to be an Ivy League dropout as an Ivy League graduate.
  • High school students, to some degree, see that the market is being flooded with college degrees, the economy is down, and the value of a college degree is less precious.

These trends are disrupting the traditional go-to-market strategies for colleges and universities and creating a dynamic new landscape. Schools that are clever will rethink their marketing tools and adopt new strategies based on a greater focus of their brand and target audiences to reach these students and parents on a national and international level.

While this may seem like “doom and gloom,” it actually represents immense opportunity for schools willing to create sharper focus around their brand and express that brand in ways that are new and meaningful to parents and students.