What’s Driving Changes in Recruitment Marketing?

Between changes in student search, upheaval in federal financial aid, shifting prospective student demographics, growing cost concerns among families, the massive digital transformation in student recruiting, and much more … the vastness of the higher ed landscape and the exponential shifts happening across the recruitment marketing space require leaders to maintain awareness over a litany of issues.

Here are four key drivers to consider when building a recruitment marketing plan.

1) The decline in traditional student enrollment is here.

Academic leaders are preparing for a projected decline, known as the demographic cliff, of more than 15% in college enrollment after 2025, attributed to steadily declining birth rates since the 2008 recession. While the impact of the cliff varies by region, this demographic shift expected to lead to a significant decline in college-bound students.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, fall 2023 total undergraduate enrollment grew 1.2% along with a 0.6% increase in total graduate enrollment. But first-year enrollment points to the challenges ahead, with first-year enrollment growth lagging behind total undergraduate enrollment at just 0.8%. This modest growth was driven primarily by growth at community colleges and older first-year students (ages 21-24 and ≥25).

As the cliff peeks over the horizon, the pressure on recruitment marketing is growing. Institutions need more and better marketing to expand their reach, draw students through the enrollment process, and improve marketing outcomes.

2) Changing student preferences are upending the recruitment experience.

Today’s prospective students are looking for new ways to engage with colleges and universities. These digital natives, influenced by technology advancements and the impact of the pandemic, are reshaping the recruitment process.

Prospective students now seek personalized and transparent communication, user-friendly dashboards, virtual experiences, remote engagement, and automated follow-up to stay informed and engaged throughout the recruitment and enrollment process.

This digital transformation of the entire recruitment journey is driving the need for institutions to adapt their recruitment marketing strategies.

3) Modern marketing is becoming more sophisticated.

As student preferences evolve, so must the marketing outreach institutions create to connect with them. As traditional sources of naming buying become less reliable, institutions need diversified inquiry sources — and marketing to drive conversions in the enrollment funnel.

With a growing focus on digital advertising for lead generation, data-driven decision making to optimize campaigns, understand student behavior and deploy personalized marketing strategies is critical. More marketing teams are implementing agile campaign management, making rapid adjustments based on real-time data and performance metrics to enhance marketing effectiveness.

Keeping up with marketing trends requires the adoption of advanced marketing technology, such as marketing automation and AI, to empower marketers to create personalized and targeted campaigns at scale and see real-time visualization of marketing’s impact on enrollment goals.

4) Employee turnover has reached a new high.

As institutions grapple with the challenges over retooling recruitment and marketing strategies — many are faced with staff shortages and growing turnover.

According to the CUPA-HR 2023 Employee Retention Survey, turnover increased to 14.3% in 2022-2023, up from 12% in 2021-22 and 1.9% in 2020-21. Among enrollment management teams, more than 57% of staff surveyed reported they were at least “somewhat likely” to look for other employment in the next 12 months.

For marketing and enrollment leaders, high turnover leads to challenges in cultivating high-performing teams, building alignment between marketing and enrollment, and maintaining the in-house expertise required to create and manage sophisticated recruitment marketing efforts.

While marketing can’t be the silver bullet solution for all these issues, understanding the current environment can inform the strategies and tactics included in your recruitment marketing plan, as well as how you approach resourcing and external support.

By Christopher Harris, Ed.D., Senior Enrollment Strategist,Capture Higher Ed