Posted on 12/4/2015 in Business and Strategy

By Dean Dorazio

Many people are dismayed to hear about the increase in dropout rates of colleges in the United States. None are more distraught than the administrators of public and private institutions in the higher education industry. Only 46% of students– that’s less than half! – who enroll in any type of college or university actually graduate.

Being a professional member of an educational institution, you are most likely concerned by these findings because you are dealing with these issues in your school. When roughly half of your income along with a large number of students are going to disappear, often within the beginning of a new student’s second semester, it means less revenue for your school. This not only affects your graduation rate, but it makes it very difficult to budget for the future.

This increase in dropout rates also means that there are a plethora of the students you invested heavily in recruiting who you won’t see a return from, as they aren’t going to get the education they deserve. This necessitates a couple of questions: Why are students dropping out? Why are dropout rates increasing? What can I do to prevent this from happening?

You might not be surprised to hear that the increased rates come from a changing climate of the majority of students. What you might be surprised to learn is that a holistic approach to digital marketing can help you achieve these goals in the higher education industry.

Why Are Dropout Rates Increasing?

Simply put, dropout rates are increasing because there is a larger pool of students in higher education than in years prior.

More people are convinced that they need a degree to be capable of living a middle-class lifestyle. More jobs are demanding Bachelor’s degrees as part of their application process. Therefore, a larger pool of students is going to colleges or universities with less direction or fewer plans.

In addition to this aimless sense of urgency to get a degree, the typical college student has changed. Many students work part or full-time jobs while studying. They do not have a lifestyle that can promote a full day’s worth of studying and have other responsibilities. They need to juggle education, work, and familial necessities.

There are many factors that lead to a student’s feeling overwhelmed and deciding to quit:

  • People constantly feel the need to better themselves.
  • They see going (back) to school as a good New Year’s Resolution. Like many NYRs, however, they may not get their desired results quickly enough. The students feel disheartened and don’t follow through with the education and drop out shortly after.
  • Students drop out because of poor grades.
  • They do not receive the singular attention that they need to grasp the material. They feel defeated and do not continue with their studies.
  • The students cannot afford the education.
  • Many are putting themselves through college and the strain becomes too much.
  • The students get a promotion offer at their part-time job that can help their lifestyle, but cuts into their education.
  • In some technical schools, students get some hands-on information and drop out to get an entry-level position before finishing their classes.

No matter the reason the students drop out, it shows a disconnect between the higher ed institution and their student body. Dropout rates can be decreased. Let’s look at how to achieve it.

How a Holistic Approach to Digital Marketing Can Help

Many schools have efforts in place to try to increase retention rates or otherwise market to their student bodies. They have orientation programs to help students acclimate to their new environment. The administration will send out e-mails to get any type of vital or enticing information to their students.

Some try to shorten class times or size to increase student retention. However, you need to know most of these efforts are useless when you don’t know your target audience.

This is where digital marketing comes in. By combining online techniques with traditional marketing, your school can find the right student body for your institution.

Like others have said, the first thing to do is perform research. Specifically, you need to look into who your ideal student body is, otherwise called your personas. What digital marketing does is help you decipher this demographic and their general trends and behaviors.

This way you tailor your classes and approaches to your students. Your e-mails go out at times that they will receive them and respond to them. Your policies and approaches will increase engagement, student interest, and ultimately lower the dropout rate of your school.

Most importantly, you engage your student by speaking to them in the media, frequency, and manner in which they prefer to hear your message. You work on their schedule as opposed to your own.

With a decreased dropout rate, your school can focus more on improving quality to improve the students’ education further instead of scrambling to keep who you have. Additionally, you can leverage this research to better craft the front end marketing to attract better student prospects.

This reduces the concern around retention in the first place. On the other hand, the existing student body finds a stronger connection to your institution and is more invested in it, further increasing retention.

Not only does digital marketing help you discover your true target audience, but the efforts can also guide you in how best to reach them. With the fully-integrated, holistic approach of research, SEO, PPC, and Social Media, you can reach your preferred audience even if they have not heard of you before. People find your school on searches, friend referrals, or just from the brand awareness that comes from a strong student body.

Ultimately, digital marketing furthers your endeavors and help lead your higher educational institution to be a front runner in your industry.

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