• Optimize site conversion rates to increase inquiries and enrollments

    by Heather Clarke

    Two people are looking at a screen; one is pointing to something on the screen.

    A Q&A with Heather Clarke, Associate Director of CRO, Pearson Online Learning Services  

    Institutions are seeking more inquiries and enrollments from their online learning program websites. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) can help them achieve this goal. To explore how, we spoke with Heather Clarke, Associate Director of CRO, Pearson Online Learning Services. 

    Q: What is CRO (sometimes called website optimization)? How does it relate to marketing online learning programs?

    A: CRO is the scientific process of testing for improvements on site elements and a user’s movement towards a purchase decision, with the goal of improving on-site conversions.

    I emphasize the word “scientific.” We use the scientific method to collect performance data and user feedback, to form hypotheses, and to test them. Based on data, we create a test variation that we hypothesize will improve performance. By testing with a control, or testing one change at a time, we can attribute any measurable shift in performance to our change.

    CRO helps mitigate risks and save time and money. By testing and evaluating (vs. blindly implementing changes), we let learners — through their actions — tell us what works for them and what doesn't.

    CRO is continuous. Sites are never 100% optimized. The digital landscape evolves every day. Learners' needs and environments evolve, too. To serve them well, we must keep a pulse on all these changes, and quickly evolve alongside them.

    Q: Who should a university leader of an online learning program talk to about CRO, and what questions should they ask?

    A: Talk to your marketing team — and first ask if they have a conversion rate optimization team monitoring day-to-day site performance. Then, you’ll want to know:

    • What does my online learning audience look like? Who are we targeting?
    • What is the data telling us? What pages get the most traffic and prospective students? Why/why not?
    • What elements on the site get the most engagement?
    • What content is the online learner looking for to decide? Do they need more or less of it? Are they finding it easily?
    • Are the pages actionable? Are the calls-to-action (the next steps you want the visitor to take) clear?
    • Does our content accurately reflect our online learning program and institution?

    Q. How do I judge the conversion rates we’re achieving?

    A: Good and bad conversion rates are relative, so there’s no definitive answer. We track baselines and trends to measure success. Our advice: establish a baseline for your site, and constantly strive to improve it.

    Once you’ve determined your site’s typical performance (which can vary seasonally), dig into your data, learner behavior, and learner feedback. That's how you identify opportunities to improve.

    Q: How can CRO improve performance?

    A: CRO’s goal is to find variations of your site that provide a statistically significant improvement in conversion. When you’re regularly making the right content available in a friendlier format, site performance should improve incrementally. More interaction with your forms = more prospective students.

    On-site performance is key, but that’s not all that matters. As you get the right decision-making content onto your pages, deliver more relevant information, and help visitors act on it, search engines notice. Your rankings improve. That helps you acquire more learners and decrease acquisition costs.

    Q: What tips would you offer to improve conversions?

    A: These 6 tips can help you improve significantly:

    1. Listen to your site's visitors. Do this by drilling down into your data, tracking chat topics and search queries, and surveying/user testing your audience. People will tell you their pain points if you listen. Which leads to...
    2. Implement the right tracking. The full story is more complicated than just clicks and conversion. To optimize your site’s layout, you need to know how people move through it. What interactive and non-interactive elements are they interacting with? Where in their journey do these interactions happen? In what order do they click on elements? How far do they scroll?
    3. Simplify, don’t clutter. Focus again on your site’s goal and what learners are telling you. What information do they need before moving forward, and what is your call-to-action? Make it easy for them to get that information. Don’t overload their senses when your page loads.
    4. Create experiences that reflect your knowledge of the learner's journey. You don’t have to do 1:1 personalization, but if you know someone has visited you before, they may need different information to move forward. If they've clicked from a specific campaign, what they see should relate to it. Mobile and desktop users are different, and may need different information. Beyond this, while it’s challenging to link on-site behavior with offsite data via a larger Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database, doing so can take your on-site targeting to the next level.
    5. Don’t make people dig! Your most important content should be higher on the page. Check out your site’s “scroll depth”: how far down the page typical visitors scroll. Anything people need to make a decision should appear above that line. Similarly:
    6. Content should be quickly digestible. What's the average time on site (or page) for site visitors? If your content takes longer than that to skim, you may lose people. They’re in a hurry — just like you.

    CRO is constantly evolving. As Heather Clarke’s team tracks the changing web environment, they continually identify new ways to improve performance. In the meantime, the lessons offered here may well help improve your web page conversions.

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  • The 2 biggest considerations for going online

    by Pearson

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    COVID-19 has put online learning in the spotlight. As more students need to turn to virtual settings to stay on track with their education, institutions pivoted to provide their courses online.

    So how should your institution prepare beyond the moment to launch and grow online? Ask yourself the following questions about investment money and strategic opportunities.

    How should you fund your online learning strategy?

    As you prepare to launch your college’s online offerings, you’ll need to find a source of funding. Tuition streams will only gradually grow to contribute, so where can you acquire these funds? Institutions have several options:

    1. Tap internal resources — If you have discretionary funds to use to establish online learning programs, this may be a great way to go. Much of the online program investment is needed upfront.
    2. Leverage fundraising — Some institutions have received generous donations from forward-thinking alumni to expand favored online programs.
    3. Borrow funds — Many institutions have pursued this path, but in today’s market securing financing may be more difficult than before.
    4. Use partner investments — Investments from an outside educational provider like an online program management (OPM) company may fund your launch. They can work with you in multiple ways to help you meet your online goals.

    Launching a meaningful online presence can require significant start-up capital and ongoing investments as you evolve and scale.

    How to assess the market for your online learning programs?

    Once you make the decision to launch online and find the money to do so, the next consideration becomes making sure there’s a viable market for your “product.”

    46.9% of distance students now attend 5% of institutions.

    You’ll want to be strategic in how you assess your opportunities and set up your programs. Here’s how:

    1. Conduct market research — Professional market research can objectively assess student demand and shifting labor markets.
    2. Evaluate your brand — Does your brand stand out in the market? You’ll want a solid understanding of your differentiators, strengths, reputation, culture, and ability to deliver.
    3. Name and price your program — This attention to detail will help you establish yourself in the market and leap ahead of the competition.

    To grow online you’ll want to identify niches, clarify and extend your differentiators, and invest more heavily in branding and outreach beyond traditional markets.

    Explore our resources for more insights to help build your online program.

     

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  • Leading students through a changing career landscape

    by Pearson

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  • Harnessing change in higher education

    by Pearson

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    From test optional to online learning, the whole college search, application, and enrollment process has changed for applicants and schools in 2020.

    In fact, by harnessing these changes, we may open doors for new ways that:

    • colleges can assess applicants
    • applicants can evaluate their choices
    • adult learners can gain new job skills

    Learn how from Joe Morgan by watching the video below.

     

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  • Maryville University - Now the 2nd fastest-growing university in the nation

    by James Montalto

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    There is no doubt that back-to-school plans have been hotly debated as the higher-education world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions have whipsawed between resuming on-campus classes or opting for a virtual approach to learning. Students themselves are carefully considering where, when, and how to pursue their college degrees. There are no straightforward answers or “one size fits all” solutions. Despite all the uncertainties and hurdles that have impacted the education industry as a whole, Pearson partner Maryville University has experienced remarkable growth.

    Congratulations to Maryville University for making The Chronicle of Higher Education’s fastest-growing colleges list again after record enrollments for the 16th consecutive year. Maryville anticipates this growth trend will continue into the Fall 2020. The proof is in the numbers. Maryville projects overall enrollment increases of 10 percent across traditional on-campus undergraduate students and online undergraduate and graduate students this year. Maryville is welcoming more than 925 new students to campus, including more than 750 incoming Freshmen students enrolled in on-campus classes this fall – representing a 7 percent increase in on campus enrollment. Online class enrollment has grown by more than 17 percent, with more than 7,200 students engaging with Maryville online.

    “Students across the country choose Maryville because we offer market relevant, high quality, online programs that provide the flexibility they need to fit education into their busy lives,” said Katherine Louthan, dean of the School of Adult and Online Education. “We are one of the few universities committed to the continual innovation and evolution of the digital learning experience.”

    Maryville has long embraced digital learning as the future of higher education and understands the vital role it will play as an element of our “new normal.” Maryville’s decades-long focus on developing robust online programs and providing support for its faculty to deliver high-quality curriculum across all learning environments enabled Maryville to quickly pivot between in-person and virtual learning in response to COVID-19. This flexible and active learning model makes Maryville’s program offerings especially appealing to students eager pursue higher education in the midst of their already busy lives.

    Pearson Online Learning Services has partnered with Maryville University since 2012 and we share in their excitement! #SaintStrong

    Read the full press release.

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  • Here we go again: Back to online learning in Fall 2020

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    As many colleges and universities make the decision to offer online instruction in fall 2020 due to COVID-19, we’re quickly reminded of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) episode that aired during the spring commencement season. “Congratulations Class of 2020! You will now pay full price for your college experience at a University of Phoenix Online without the tech support,” joked Kate McKinnon. She was portraying the principal at a COVID-19 graduation at St. Mary Magdalene by the Expressway High School. Unfortunately, this skit from SNL wasn’t only humorous, it also reflected the reality for some. These people have been thrust into a version of remote teaching that, while developed with the best intentions of faculty and administrators, was more emergency triage than true online learning.

    All of education quickly pivoted “online” in March due to COVID-19. There is no doubt that there were varying levels of technical abilities and required adjustments associated with the quick move online. The pandemic may have accelerated this transition, but there are already some very distinguished online programs that are comparable to traditional face-to-face programs, and some with evidence of superior outcomes. Quality online learning is already a staple in many disciplines in higher education due to its flexibility and accessibility, and it’s here to stay.

    Duquesne University School of Nursing is one of those high quality online programs. Now in partnership with Pearson, the university is applying best practices in teaching and learning and is continually updating those practices to reflect the latest learning science research. Duquesne was the first online nursing program in the United States, offering its online PhD program in 1997, and has since made the conscious decision to offer all graduate nursing programs online.

    Online education expands access to those who would otherwise be unable to further their learning. In the case of Duquesne, many students are working nurses, often juggling shift work, family responsibilities, and caregiving. Currently, even if campuses were fully open, the demands of this virus would make it nearly impossible for nurses to access on-campus programs in many parts of the country.

    Duquesne’s PhD graduates are deans, faculty, and Chief Nursing Officers — most of whom wouldn’t have been able to follow their dreams and earn their PhD in a traditional, on-campus program. This is true for me, Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow. I graduated from Duquesne with my PhD in 2002, transferring after I broke my ankle and was unable to complete my coursework on my personal timeline.

    I found the faculty to be knowledgeable, supportive, skilled teachers with their own bodies of research and much to offer students. I attended a doctoral immersion residency and achieved all the other milestones of doctoral students. After graduation, I continued to work and succeed in academe. I achieved tenure and promotion to full professor at a university with very high research activity, always feeling well-prepared and comparable in knowledge and productivity to my faculty colleagues.

    Good online learning is more than providing technology infrastructure to enable remote teaching. Online learning requires purposefully designed, and often increased, interactions with students. Professors hold one-on-one virtual office hours and many check-ins outside of regular hours. Clinical disciplines benefit from real-time virtual patient rounds, clinical case studies, and recitations. In addition, those who are new to teaching online may need to evolve how they approach assessment, technology, and time management. Duquesne and other high-quality online programs utilize research-based strategies like these to help train faculty to effectively prepare for teaching in a virtual environment.

    The pandemic isn’t the first event to influence public perceptions that quality changes when we move from a lecture hall to a virtual classroom. The introduction of large, often free, online courses created an image of an impersonal, dehumanized experience that lacked the support students need to succeed. Also, the early surge of several for-profit universities created a negative impression that has been hard to overcome. As a result, well before COVID- 19 and the global rush online, virtual learning programs were often viewed as second class citizens.

    The negative press and the poor reviews of online programs in the media are far removed from the quality and student success we’ve seen at Duquesne. Universities with quality, successful programs consider the development of students and the discovery of knowledge as integral to their mission, and that doesn’t change if education is offered online. In many instances, due to the use of various technologies, virtual simulations, virtual proctors, and other exam security measures, online learning is no less costly than face-to-face programs, as sometimes reported. The same highly qualified faculty are in the virtual classroom.

    The abrupt transition to remote teaching in March 2020 due to COVID-19 was disruptive for many students and faculty. It’s my hope that thoughtfully planned online learning isn’t mistakenly cast out alongside it. Instead, I’m optimistic that this once-in-a-lifetime wake-up call means that quality online programs will become commonplace going forward, because online learning has much to offer our society at this time of crisis and beyond.

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  • 5 keys to excellence in online learning

    by Pearson

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    This spring, thousands of institutions rushed to deliver instruction online at scale. Many were new to online learning, and no two institutions or instructors approached it exactly the same way. But most recognized that it’ll play an important role going forward, and most saw room for improvement. In this blog post, we’ll share five key considerations for your institution to deliver richer, more successful online learning experiences.

    1. Develop more compelling online courses and curricula

    Translating your faculty’s expertise online requires new techniques and mindsets. Instructional design must be integrated with user experience engineering, technology, visual design, writing, accessibility, web development, quality assurance, project management, and more.

    2. Focus on helping faculty succeed

    Support faculty all the way to success, with course development help and training that reflects their needs and respects their expertise. The right course development experts can help faculty optimize their own content and course structures for online learning environments, integrate more engaging media and learning modalities, and foreground real-world relevance. The right training ensures that technology serves faculty instead of the other way around.

    3. Improve student support to improve outcomes

    Online students require seamless support from first contact through graduation. This requires institutions to break down silos, collaborate creatively, and sometimes change culture. Consider: how do students tell you if they’re encountering serious life challenges? How do you respond? Can programs and faculty work more closely with tutors to anticipate student needs? Can each student turn to a specific individual for timely, relevant help that orchestrates all your resources?

    4. Choose resources with a track record of success

    For each online learning function, whether internal or external, expect a track record of success. Have they met their commitments? Have they built the types of programs you want? Can they do it at scale? Do they understand how technologies and students are changing? Are they agile and collaborative? Will they act as agents of change, recommend and execute on innovations, and help you deliver on your institution’s online strategy?

    5. To sustain enrollments, get the marketing right, too

    You need to get your marketing strategy right, and yesterday’s strategy may not be right anymore. Today, you’re competing with gap years and dropping out indefinitely, not just other institutions. You have to rethink how you demonstrate your value to students — and that may require objective, outside assistance.

    We can help

    Our white paper offers more insights in all five areas. And we’re available to discuss your unique online learning challenges. See how we can help you and your students succeed — no matter what comes next.

    Get the white paper

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  • Wake Forest: Extending innovation in online programs

    by Pearson

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    Getting the partnership right

    We’ve partnered with Wake Forest University for years. For example, we support its nationally respected online graduate program in counseling. It’s been a success for everyone — especially students, who are achieving strong academic and career outcomes.

    So, when Wake Forest’s School of Medicine sought to deliver two new, purpose-built degree programs, it was natural for them to talk to us. However, Wake Forest’s School of Medicine has distinct capabilities and priorities.

    Its entrepreneurial leaders asked us: How can we customize a partnership that reflects our internal resources and capabilities? How can we use our ability to provide funding to help launch these online programs?

    We offer multiple models for delivering our best-in-class services. Together, we built an innovative, co-investment agreement that gets the risk/reward balance right for both parties.

    The final contract promotes shared interests and alignment (like traditional revenue share agreements) but Wake Forest’s upfront contributions allow us to share the financial risk. That way, we created a shorter contract commitment that will allow us to make changes, if the market changes quickly.

    Meanwhile, Wake Forest benefits from the same comprehensive online program management services that are already working well for the University — from our strong national marketing expertise to one-on-one student coaching and support through graduation.

    Innovative curriculum to transform healthcare

    Launching this fall, these online programs are a perfect example of an institution that’s found an unmet opportunity to use its strengths and positively impact the lives of students and society. Let’s look at each one:

    • Wake Forest’s Master of Science in Clinical Research Management will empower professionals throughout the clinical research field to move research and development forward, advance health and save lives. Through an engaging, supportive and interdisciplinary online program environment, participants will learn how to select and apply relevant scientific knowledge, critically analyze research designs, help construct/lead clinical trials and improve patient care.
    • Wake Forest’s Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership will prepare a new generation to transform healthcare for the better. Graduates will be exceptionally qualified to lead their organization and improve patient outcomes. They’ll be ready to address everything from strategy to culture; change management to innovation.

    Online education is about helping more people thrive. That’s what Wake Forest is doing — and we’re excited to partner with them.

    To learn more about our customizable models, world-class expertise, and the resources we offer, contact us.

    Learn more about Wake Forest’s new online master’s programs in Clinical Research Management and Healthcare Leadership, and the other biomedical graduate programs offered by the Wake Forest University Graduate School of Arts and Science.

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  • Growth advice from an institutional leader

    by Pearson

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    Today, online programs make sense, but given growing competition, few institutions have the resources to launch or scale them alone. Take Duquesne University, for example.

    When Dr. Mary Ellen Glasgow arrived as dean of Duquesne University’s School of Nursing, its online programs were already delivering world-class instruction — however, online enrollments had leveled off.

    This is where Duquesne saw opportunity.

    “We’d been really good at running a solid small-to-moderate-sized online program,” Glasgow said. “But today, success is about more than just a good program: institutions have to sell it, market it, and provide strong student support. Trying to do all that on their own can distract them from educating students. We needed an infusion of fiscal and human capital to attract candidates throughout the US.”

    As part of its due diligence, the university’s leadership found that institutions that work with Online Program Management (OPM) partners average better performance than those that keep programs in-house, and in 2016, we formed a partnership.

    If your institution is considering a deeper online commitment, Glasgow has some practical advice:

    • Clearly explain a potential partnership to stakeholders. Share what it will mean, what will not change, and how you’ll safeguard academic quality.
    • Prepare carefully. Help students and faculty prepare, and make sure students understand the workload upfront.
    • Identify potential “cracks” in your system. Look for places where small communication issues can become big problems as you scale.
    • Focus on quality improvement. Optimize assignments, improve consistency between courses, and ensure that student support is always available.

    The problems are solvable and the rewards are high.

    “We all know it’s a challenging time in higher education. So, being at a school that’s growing, where people are being offered good jobs and finding new opportunities, is most gratifying,” said Glasgow.

    Learn more about Duquesne and our partnership.


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  • Emerging Fields Q&A

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    Our webinar: Emerging fields of study: How to identify key target markets to grow and compete online, certainly generated a lot of buzz — and great feedback! In our last blog, we provided an overview of five emerging degree trends. In this one, we’d like to highlight five of the questions our presenters, Brian DeKemper, Director of Business Development, and Darcy Wilson, Associate Research Director, received following the presentation. (Note the time codes in case you want to listen to the complete answer in the webinar recording.)

    Watch the webinar

    [32:20] What’s the ROI for launching undergraduate versus graduate online programs?

    Brian: In terms of ROI for undergraduate program opportunities, we find that it is important to   leverage a suite of programs to target a broad spectrum of the addressable market. The reason for this is that competitive undergraduate programs typically have very competitive tuition rates, so in order to sustain the costs behind things like student support services and transfer credit evaluation services, you need to attract enough student volume to offset the costs of those extremely important, previously mentioned resources.

    Similar to our ASU or Maryville partnership models, we’ve found that, if students are looking for an undergraduate degree program, you’ll want to have enough variety in your portfolio to capture as many students as possible.

    The most important lesson is to start out by fully understanding the economics behind these things before you start developing programs. Make sure to know how much your own “internal” costs of instruction are and how your processes work for prospective student evaluation.

    Another important detail when it comes to ROI is student acquisition costs. If you have access to low cost leads that may come from  corporate partnerships, industry associations, or referrals — and you can attract students without spending a ton of money on direct marketing and lead acquisition, you’ll also find success ROI can be possible in the undergraduate space, but it is a competitive market, and there is narrow space for opportunity based on what you have to invest into the program.

    [34:53] What is the biggest mistake/s schools make when launching a new online program?

    Brian: I’d have to say the biggest mistake is when an institution has an idea baked before spending the right amount of time looking at the industry, evaluating competitors, talking to faculty, or their target audience. If you don’t try to keep your programs designed to be as nimble as possible, it’s hard to adjust to competition if you need to add a couple of concentrations or adjust tuition to be competitive. Keep an open mind about how to build and launch the program, because after the program is launched, making changes to react can be very challenging.

    Darcy: Success with emerging degrees requires the institution to create demand for the program by educating potential students about what the degree is, why it is important, and what it can do for them. Clear communication of degree purpose and the compelling focus areas that drive the program should help this cutting-edge program increase enrollments and thrive.

    [43:14] How do you learn the brand of your clients to really get them where they need to be?

    Brian: Any good (program management or marketing) company that understands why an institution is successful will work to understand the differentiated value of what the school offers. One of the things we do in every conversation we have, is really dive into a program assessment where we’re talking to the faculty and we’re trying to understand: what is the mission of this program, what is the ideal type of student you want to look for, and where do you want it to go in the future?

    Then, everyone in the room needs to align the answers to those questions to things like: is this something that students want? Is this (prospective student) market large enough so that we can get enough students to make this venture sustainable?

    We also hold institutional-specific sessions where we work to understand the university brand and how the school wants the brand to be portrayed. These conversations are fascinating because you find that many times academic program leaders and university marketing/communication/brand leaders don’t often have the opportunity to work together in such a direct way. We want to understand how we can do this in a unique and differentiated way that makes you stand out from another institution.

    [44:45] How is the OPM landscape changing in how they are partnering with universities?

    Brian: From our standpoint, the biggest thing that’s changing is the amount of competition and the way people seek out, compare, and evaluate online programs. There are a lot of companies popping up that specialize in different capabilities maybe disaggregated services or different kinds of service models. But, at the end of the day, we have found that we’re able to offer flexible program support services and flexible financial models to support the varying types of needs of an institution.

    I think that even the idea of how people (universities) go online has come full circle. Now, after 3–4 years of different competitors coming and going and various types of service models emerging, we find that it comes back to really understanding the student audience and where the job market is going. Educational attainment is extremely important and is a philosophical pillar of our company, but we also know that we serve students.

    Students care about value, career advancement, and following their passion. Sometimes all of those things don’t directly align with the legacy mindset of what “a degree” looks like. So, a lot of the changes in the OPM industry have been around how to make sure you can maximize the potential audience, from undergraduate to graduate, degree completion, and all the way through terminal degrees, leveraging all the things our partner schools do and what prospective institutions can do as well.

    There is a significant amount of evolution, and we’re happy to say that we’re seeing evolution on our side as well with the kinds of programs, or institutions frankly, that we work with — and the different types of models we use to help them go online.

    [48:02] Faculty can be quite wedded to an idea of what the curriculum may look like for a new degree and may be suspicious of thinking about degrees from a more marketing/business perspective. What are some ways you’ve found that worked well when working with faculty?

    Brian: I rely heavily on research and an institution’s competitive set. If a program leader at a university says, “we have to do this, and we have to take it in this direction, and we really want the program to look like that,” one of the things we might say is, let’s take a look at your five biggest competitors, locally and regionally, who are doing the exact same thing. Maybe they all have really low degree conferral numbers, which would mean that there isn’t much opportunity for a program to grow or scale.

    It might be something the institution or faculty really want to do, but the prospective program might just not be a sustainable opportunity. We can say that students are simply not interested in this kind of market or program, whatever it may be, and try to let the data really tell the story.

    It’s our job to identify the data for the institution to use to find an operational and sustainable program to go online. That means that when it comes to something faculty are really looking for, we try to help them understand what the overall viability looks like based on the types of program attributes they’re trying to put together.

    Darcy: We’re also looking at metrics that they deem important for brand strength, such as their U.S. News & World Report ranking, total conferrals, total enrollments, ranked programs, and the institutions accrediting body. These are some of the key metrics to help an institution understand who its key peers are and provide a more defined recommendation when uncovering the market viability of the program.

    [50:55] What are the types of things that Pearson does to develop leads?

    Brian: One of our primary value propositions is sourcing high-quality students that fill the needs of universities and help them grow and scale. In terms of lead acquisition and generation, we don’t buy leads or source lists of contacts. Rather, through our understanding of the program and the DNA of the institution and how they want to be differentiated and go to market, and through our research and data points, we build assets and different types of content and collateral and utilize them in traditional channels. It could be a web page or digital advertising through LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google paid search, or different types of media.

    We do experimental things that are starting to take shape in terms of radio or television, like Pandora, or a conference or magazine publication — wherever the particular type of student we’re looking for might be and tailor the content accordingly, ensuring we’re using the right channel to develop a lead and gain interest.

    It might be a diversification strategy as well to say where can we get the best quality and best converting types of students for these programs. Each program has its own angle on where to go to find the right students, and we rely on our research and data to find those leads that we can convert into students who ultimately become graduates.

    We also answer the following questions in the webinar recording:

    • What would the average cost be to acquire a non-organic adult bachelor’s enrollment? [46:35]
    • Have you worked with Christian Bible colleges or universities? [42:00]
    • What has your experience shown about the appeal of full MA degrees vs. grad certificates? What is more valuable to students? [39:18] 
    • How can you project Customer Acquisition Cost? [53:24] 

    Watch the complete webinar to hear those answers.

    If you have your own questions, please contact us. We’d be happy to follow up personally: Brian DeKemper and Darcy Wilson.

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  • Five emerging fields of study

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    The question we get asked most often is “what’s next?” As new technology, business practices, laws, and changes in the global economy are happening at breakneck speed, they’re creating needs for new and evolving occupations and career specialties. To meet these demands, we’ve provided a brief overview of what’s next — five innovative emerging fields of study that your institution should consider to help you stand out in a hyper-competitive online market.

    In our evaluation, we scored fields of study based on a combination of the following key indicators of success:

    • Student demand
    • Employment opportunities
    • Competitive intensity
    • Search volume

    Data Analytics & Artificial Intelligence

    With the rise in “big data,” interest in data analytics roles have shown rapid growth. Schools that are testing how to go to market with AI offerings are increasing as well. Course work covers such topics as natural language processing, cybernetics, human factors, computing theory, computer science, cognitive psychology, and/or engineering.

    Current examples in market

    MS in Artificial Intelligence

    Graduate Certificate in Artificial Intelligence

    BS in Data Analytics

    MS in Data Analytics

    Graduate Certificate in Data Analytics

    Substance Abuse Nursing

    Every day, more than 115 people in the US die after overdosing on opioids. As the drug abuse epidemic continues, more qualified nurse practitioners are needed to tackle the problem head on. Substance Abuse Nurses must be able to monitor patient treatments, administer medications, speak with patients regarding aid programs, educate on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, or addiction, and provide support to patients.

    The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) provides Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners the opportunity to demonstrate their nursing knowledge by completing various professional certifications. Some certifications are professional differentiators for nursing professional development, while others are required by the respective state laws for practice licensure. Qualifications to take certifying examinations differs per examination.

    After becoming a credentialed nurse practitioner, one can differentiate themselves among job applicants by completing a program that offers specialized training in substance abuse, opioid treatment and/or addictions, and by working in a psychiatric, mental health, or behavioral health care center. The specialized training programs in substance abuse, opioid treatment, and addictions are offered through nursing, medical, psychology, and social science departments at colleges and universities, and can be taken online. These types of specialized programs may be at the undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate level, and are open to other professionals working to provide care to patients and clients needing assistance.

    Current examples in market

    Healthcare Innovation

    As healthcare organizations face challenges to improve quality, access, and efficiencies, reduce harm, eliminate waste, and lower costs, innovation is becoming a necessity. A healthcare innovation program teaches change theory, leadership, entrepreneurship, application technology, and system design programs to create transformative solutions to current healthcare challenges.

    Current examples in market

    MS in Healthcare Innovation

    Healthcare Innovation Courses

    Financial Technology (Fintech)

    A fintech program seeks to fill an important gap that exists today between the supply of and demand for academic knowledge in the area of digital currency. Financial analyst jobs in fintech are in great demand as startups continue to grow. Additionally, as the regulatory burden in fintech grows, there will be a need for more compliance experts, compliance officers, and compliance analysts working in these financial companies.

    Current examples in market

    MS in Fintech

    Concentration in Fintech

    Graduate Certificate in Fintech

    Human Computer Interaction (HCI)/User Experience (UX)

    User experience has emerged as one of the fastest growing specializations in today’s business world. It’s about finding that balance between what people want to do and what they haven’t even imagine yet. Interdisciplinary by definition, human computer interaction impacts nearly every area of our lives. The program reflects a broad recognition in academia and industry of the need to train researchers to meet the challenges created by today’s breakneck pace of technological progress.

    Current examples in market

    BS in UX/HCI

    MS in UX/HCI

    Concentration in UX

    Graduate certificate

    Take a deeper dive

    In the recorded webinar, Emerging fields of study: How to identify key target markets to grow and compete online, we further explore:

    • how your institution can identify key markets
    • recommended criteria for entry, risk factors, and key success indicators
    • how Maryville University and Pearson partnered to successfully expand online offerings

    Watch the webinar →


    Research and analysis used to identify emerging fields of study

    • Review of new NCES CIP codes
    • Analysis of BLS Employment Projections to identify occupations slated to grow in the next 10 years
    • Review of national and syndicated data sources, like Burning Glass and TalentNeuron
    • Utilization of Google Trends to analyze the popularity of search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages over time
    • Review of institutional websites to identify new and emerging programs
    read more
  • Getting to know today's learners through segmentation

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    This is the second blog in a two-part series about segmentation in higher education. Read part one: One size doesn’t fit all: The value of segmentation.

    Today, the needs and desires of learners are much more diverse. Students are changing, and so should the ways colleges think about serving them.

    To better tailor your offerings, your institution needs to more broadly adopt a segmentation approach.

    Where to start?

    The foundation of all market segmentation lies in data (and listening).

    Online survey tools allow you to constantly ask about students’ experiences. And thanks to the growing digitization of campuses, we know so much more about how students learn in the classroom and interact with campus services.

    What’s unique about modern segmentation is that the divisions are more tailored to the psychological and emotional characteristics of students, and go beyond the very basics such as location and gender.

    There are four types of market segmentation:

      • Geographic: This divides the market on the basis of geography. This type of market segmentation is still important, as people belonging to different regions may have different wants and needs.
      • Demographic: This is the most commonly evaluated, and considers variables like age, gender, marital status, family size, income, religion, race, occupation, nationality, etc.
      • Behavioral: Here, the market is segmented based on a learner’s behavior, usage, preferences, choices, and decision making.
      • Psychographic: This divides the segment on the basis of their personality, lifestyle, and attitude.

    Understanding student expectations in this consumer era is vital to colleges, and data collected from their students can help in this process.

    Jeffrey J. Selingo, author, The Future Learners

    Bringing segments to life

    In partnership with The Harris Poll, we conducted a survey of 2,600 people ages 14–40. Using the information gathered through the survey, the following personas were created as a snapshot of possible ways your university can segment students and provide a more strategic approach for possible pathways to serving those students.

    The Traditional Learner (25% of learners)

    These 18–24 year-olds are your prototypical students seeking a traditional, brick and mortar college experience. They are top-notch students with a passion for learning new things in a conventional environment.

    • How they want to learn: These learners enjoy in-person interactions with classmates and professors, and have a tendency to prefer reading and listening over group study and videos.
    • Motivators: They strive to get a better job.
    • Opportunities: Provide research and internships, improve face-to-face professor interactions, and added services like boot camps.

    The Hobby Learner (24% of learners)

    These are a diverse set of older learners who view education as a journey of learning about new things rather than a way to make it to the top of their professions. In fact, 6 in 10 of the learners in this segment are not enrolled in college, have never earned a degree, and don’t need one for their job.

    • How they want to learn: They prefer a hybrid method that includes digital, books, and in-person instruction. They’re self-directed learners who enjoy the engagement of a high-touch environment.
    • Motivators: They highly value education, but money is a barrier.
    • Opportunities: Provide shorter, more flexible programs, create alternative credentials, and adopt digital tools at a lower cost.

    The Career Learner (19% of learners)

    The Career Learner is quite similar to the Traditional Learner in many ways, including their love for college and ability to excel academically. While this segment is made up of multigenerational learners, the largest subgroup (60%) is in college right now.

    • How they want to learn: Even though this segment understands the need for soft skills like teamwork and collaboration, they tend to prefer learning through digital platforms.
    • Motivators: Job placement and career advancement are their goals.
    • Opportunities: Provide career services into curriculum, build co-ops, and incorporate portfolio-style learning that can translate what has been learned to potential employers.

    The Reluctant Learner (17% of learners)

    Identified as academically average, these learners have little passion for learning. They learn because they have to, not because they want to. They’re the most diverse segment in terms of enrollment trends, and include those currently in college (36%), degree holders (25%), and those without a degree (39%).

    • How they want to learn: Whether online or on a campus, this segment wants a high-touch environment and favors face-to-face when possible.
    • Motivators: They need flexibility as to when and how they learn.
    • Opportunities: Meet them where they are. Provide multiple mix-and-match options with anytime learning, at their own pace. Also, addressing pricing as an incentive for degree completion might engage these learners a bit more.

    The Skeptical Learner (15% of learners)

    These learners don’t think that school is for them. They’re somewhat older and feel like they’ve gotten by just fine without a degree. In fact, 68% (in this case) have not enrolled or never earned a degree.

    • How they want to learn: If they have to go to school, they would prefer it to be digital to minimize inconvenience.
    • Motivators: They enjoy the engagement/social aspect of education, but not the academic pursuit.
    • Opportunities: Create low-price pathway program, replicate a social setting by redesigning online learning, and offer low-residency campus options and credit for work experience.

    For a more in-depth look at these personas, check out The Future Learners: An Innovative Approach To Understanding The Higher Education Market And Building A Student-Centered University.

    Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reach more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence. Our online program management services and community can help your students thrive as you build the brand and reputation you’re striving for.

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  • One size doesn't fit all: The value of segmentation

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    This is the first blog in a two-part series about segmentation in higher education.

    The individuals in your institution’s target audience aren’t just “students”. They have unique wants, needs, and expectations for instruction, campus amenities, and technology. A mass, “one-size-fits-all approach” is no longer enough.

    Colleges need to adopt a broader segmentation approach throughout their institutions to:

    • guide and inform academic programs
    • understand which programs/services to reposition or launch
    • navigate students through the experience
    • help determine which go-to-market strategy to employ

    The more higher-education leaders understand what motivates prospective students to enroll and persist and what offerings and services meet their needs, the better offerings can be tailored for them.

    Jeffrey J. Selingo, author, The Future Learners

    What’s segmentation?

    On a basic level, segmentation is the separation of a broad, homogeneous target group (like “students”) with different needs into heterogeneous subgroups (like the “traditional learner”) with similar needs and preferences.

    While segmentation in higher ed has been used in limited, siloed functions such as admissions, fundraising, and marketing, the process must expand so institutions can better tailor and target offerings to meet each segment’s needs.

    To be effective, each segment should be:

    1. Measurable: Are your segments uniquely identifiable? You should have enough information available on specific target characteristics to be measured or categorized.
    2. Differentiable: The students in a segment should have similar needs (preferences and characteristics) that are clearly different from those of other segments.
    3. Substantial: Is your segment large enough to be profitable? Small segments without viable spending power can be a waste of time and resources.
    4. Accessible: How might each segment be accessed, and is it efficient? Your institution should be able to easily reach its segments via communication and distribution channels.
    5. Actionable: What is the segment’s practical value? Your institution should be able to design and implement effective programs for attracting and serving the segments.

    What’s the value of segmentation?

    While segmentation is not a new concept by any means, the higher ed industry has been slow to adopt it. However, attitudes and the use of segmentation are slowly beginning to change because of pressures on enrollment and tightening budgets that together require institutions to assess who they want to serve and how.

    In the short term, segmentation can guide your recruitment and marketing teams and aid in targeted efforts to ensure that you’re reaching the right students with the right messages. Long term, it can guide decision making on expanding your institution into adjacent categories or segments.

    While segmentation provides the groundwork for sound strategy, to truly unlock student-centric growth, segmentation must galvanize your institution around priority learners.

    For colleges to remain relevant in the decades ahead, it’s critical that leaders start thinking about the broad range of students they want (or need) to serve and how to appeal to their specific needs and desires.

    In our next blog, we share five examples of major learner segments your university could use to strategically market and grow your programs.

    To learn more about segmentation in higher ed, check out The Future Learners: An Innovative Approach To Understanding The Higher Education Market And Building A Student-Centered University.

    Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reach more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence. Our online program management services and community can help your students thrive as you build the brand and reputation you’re striving for.

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  • Top 4 fears (and realities) of working with an OPM partner

    by Jason Simmons, Director of Strategic Marketing, Pearson Online Learning Services

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    “Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” Dale Carnegie

    Humans don’t like change. While the unknown can be exciting, fear is always a part of our emotional mix. This is especially true when you’re dealing with new innovations at your institution.

    As you look for a partner who can help expand or take your programs online, you’re bound to experience some common fears:

    • Fear of success/failure: Will our program fail (and what happens if we succeed)?
    • Fear of losing control: Who runs the show?
    • Fear of upsetting others: Who will we need to convince?
    • Fear of the unknown: Will we become just a “diploma mill”?

    The last one here is critical — we don’t know what to expect when we don’t have enough information about the change, and this stops us from taking any action at all.

    Knowledge is power. Below you’ll find answers to some of the top fears we hear from institutions across the country — and the true realities of working with an Online Program Management (OPM) provider.

    FEAR:  Our online programs will be less rigorous and our online students will be less qualified.

    REALITY: This is the #1 block. After all, your faculty and students are your top priority. From admissions to program development, maintaining academic integrity is of the utmost importance. However, don’t be afraid, as evidence shows online can be as competitive (if not more so) than on-ground. You determine the educational experience built into each course, and the same academic policies and controls that govern on-campus programs generally apply to online learning programs.

    FEAR: If we partner with an OPM provider to deliver online programs, we’ll lose academic control.

    REALITY: This is one of the most common fears that institutions experience — the desire and need for certainty. Rest assured, similar to on-campus programs, your institution will always maintain full control over academic standards and admission decisions. Your regional and professional accrediting bodies determine the academic standards of all programs, including online programs. Faculty are responsible for creating the course curriculum, selecting materials, designing learning activities, and assessing student learning.

    FEAR: Faculty will never get on board with launching and teaching online programs.

    REALITY: Resistance to change is normal, and faculty can often be the most challenging audience to get on board when choosing to go online. Often, they feel that online programs are “watered down” versions of on-campus programs, or that they’ll require extra work on their behalf.

    OPM’s can provide a one-stop link to your institution’s critical services (marketing, recruitment, and student services), freeing faculty to focus exclusively on teaching and learning, not program and course logistics. With this direct support, we’ve found that some of the biggest faculty challengers become an institution’s greatest advocates. Also, online programs can lead to additional resources for faculty — more TAs, more tenured positions, or more time to do research.

    FEAR: OPM providers aren’t flexible and will only work with us one way.

    REALITY: I can only speak to our services, but we think you’ll find Pearson to be highly flexible. While we offer core services (marketing, recruitment, and student services), many of our other services are optional and can be customized. For example, course development is available but not required, we are technology agnostic (working with any LMS, SIS), and don’t require the use of Pearson print content.

    Access our full mythbuster list here (myths and realities of going online).

    Let’s talk about it

    There’s one more fear we haven’t mentioned yet — fear of missing out, or FOMO. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to take or expand your programs to the next level online.

    But first, ask yourself what’s standing in the way of your institution launching or expanding its online degree programs? We’d love to have a conversation with you about the realities of partnering with Pearson.

    Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reach more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence. Our online program management services and community can help your students thrive as you build the brand and reputation you’re striving for.

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  • How to identify strategic opportunities for online growth

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    Over the past decade, many leaders in higher ed have shared the same mantra as it relates to growing online: If you build it, they will come. But are “they” showing up? Or are “they” the right people you want knocking at your door?

    There’s no doubt that online enrollment keeps rising, but at the same time, institutions are finding it harder than ever to grow successful online programs and often face risks when doing so — financially, academically, and with respect to reputation . To control risks and improve performance, institutions must become far more strategic about how they build, deliver, and scale online programs.

    Four keys to building a successful strategy

    Going online isn’t a tactical approach. You need a strategy that will help you understand and react to the demands and shifts in the market. It starts with gathering market data, choosing the right program, and lining up appropriate resources.

    Understand your market

    Taking the path of least resistance by going online with the most convenient program option or providing a generic online degree is no longer the answer; you need to identify key differentiators, true demand in the market, aligned with strong program outcomes.

    • Identify or reevaluate your core target audience. Your online programs can’t serve everybody.
    • Understand and pay attention to competitors (including your own institution’s on-campus courses and programs). Many schools forget to look beyond their own region when analyzing online program competition. For a good example, perform a Google search for “online nursing degree” to see who’s advertising in your own backyard (as well as nationally).
    • Is there a market segment that is not currently being served or is not being served well?A niche strategy allows you to focus your efforts. For example, perhaps you can build a highly successful program around your faculty’s expertise in business analytics, a specific industry, or new partnerships with key regional employers. A strategy like this can lower the cost of student acquisition and allow a program to be sustainable.

    Identify a need

    Rethink segments around students’ unmet needs — the needs you’d be uniquely positioned to meet, once you innovate properly around your core assets.

    • Assess your students’/prospective students’ overall journey to discover potential opportunities. Opportunities can sometimes exist when it comes to simplifying the application process, admissions review timelines, or communication with prospects.
    • Understand what motivates them to take online courses. Is it saving time? Money? A convenient location?  Focus on programs that students “have to have” and that are tightly aligned with the career outcomes (license, credentials, certification, professional requirements, etc)
    • Take the time to listen. What do your students or prospects think of your institution? Where are there program opportunities where your school is well known, highly-ranked, or well-suited for a creative opportunity, like taking a program online?

    Invest in research

    Professional market research should objectively assess student demand and shifting labor markets, as well as your brand strength, reputation, culture, and ability to deliver.

    • What qualitative and quantitative data will you need to make the right decisions and do you have internal resources to get it, or do you need outside expertise?
          • Consider this: “on average, schools partnering with traditional end-to-end OPMs [Online Program Managers] have outperformed their peers in increasing enrollment.” Eduventures, Expanding the OPM Definition, 2017)
    • Often, the key to unlocking new opportunities for profit doesn’t require changing what you offer. It requires changing what you charge for it. Understand the ramifications of improperly pricing a program and attracting the wrong student demographic.
    • Realize the importance of your program name. This can attract radically different students.

    Create a culture to succeed

    Dig deep to understand if your university has established a culture that allows for an entrepreneurial and growth-minded atmosphere.

    • Are university tax policies and faculty incentive structures in place to make sure critical team members have what they need to take a program online, once one has been identified? All university stakeholders want to feel supported and also feel part of the conversation — be ready to ensure the right kind of support so your top talent has what they need to succeed in the venture of launching an online program. No one wants to be part of a project that feels like twice the work with no incentive or support in sight.
    • Do current university approval processes allow you to be nimble with your strategy?  Program, department, college, university, and accrediting body approval processes can take anywhere from months to years to navigate. This kind of delay allows any kind of competitive advantage to disappear. At public institutions, procurement processes may not always be accustomed to evaluating solutions like enrollment management or marketing services. Know and understand how your university is “positioned to move” in order to succeed.
    • Is there a centralized strategy to prevent conflicts between programs and colleges? Some universities will see situations where programs within the same college are actually competing against each other. Other schools can have multiple marketing vendors or enrollment partners all working within the same university — creating costly competition and conflicts for the university. Create alignment and alliances within campus leadership to prevent this costly mistake.

    If you’re struggling with scaling your institution or finding new areas of profitable growth online, you’re not alone. Learn what it takes to compete in today’s competitive market. Get our free white paper to help you answer one pivotal question — should you build or buy?


    Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reaching more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence.

    Learn more

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  • Marketing online programs: Five questions to ask yourself

    by Rob Bishop, Vice President, University Partnerships, Pearson Online Learning Services

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    In a sea of online programs (often touting the same messages of high quality, low cost, great faculty, etc.), how does your institution stand out from the crowd? As new platforms to reach prospective students arise, sticking to traditional approaches might leave you falling behind your competitors. Ask yourself these five questions to help your institution market smarter — and gain an edge over the competition.

    Are you visible?

    In this day and age, it takes more than just having a website and a few social media profiles to be visible in the marketplace. It involves actively using them and creating a dynamic digital presence with regular updates. Digital visibility strategies include creating content and ads optimized for a specific audience to appear on relevant channels such as social media, websites, and search engines. When done right, Google AdWords and other search advertising can play a key role in your marketing initiatives. Search campaigns, however, need constant attention, optimization, and creativity. Overall, the goal of online marketing is to create content specific to the ideal audience and display it where they’ll be looking. The more people who find your institution, the more interest you’ll receive.

    Are you providing a clear, consistent experience?

    If your institutional brand is going to work across all audiences and markets, it needs to be consistent. And that means your processes need to be completely focused on delivering equal experiences to students and faculty both on and off campus. An important part of delivering on a superior experience is cohesiveness in brand messaging and outreach in order to provide high-quality leads that turn into enrollments. Being consistent doesn’t mean that your institution can’t change. In fact, consistency gives you a firm foundation for evolving into offering even more options for even more students. Once you have built or refined your brand through the consistent delivery of your brand promise, you are able to evolve and expand. Every interaction a prospective student has with your marketing materials and every person they come into contact with representing your school creates a brand impression. You should think through the entire process from the prospective student’s point of view using this lens.

    Are your marketing and recruitment teams aligned?

    Aligning your recruitment and marketing teams is the best way to fuel institutional growth efficiently and effectively — and keep them from pointing fingers at each other when challenges come along. Structuring and fostering a philosophy of consistent and constant communication along with relevant data is the key. This means defining not only goals and language, but also every stage of the recruitment process. By creating open communication and shared goals backed up with shared hard data and analysis, you can improve your marketing effectiveness, increase qualified leads, and track them through the entire prospect lifecycle: from first contact through enrollment. Defining terminology, developing a plan, and setting mutual goals can help you to align your recruitment and marketing teams, improving your efficiency and enrollment growth. Remember, the purpose of marketing is to produce students, not leads or impressions (which is the smoke and mirrors agencies will try to sell you).

    Are you agile?

    We’re not talking about jumping on every new channel that pops up or addressing every hot idea. By weaving agility through your business efforts, your institution can create environments that stay focused on where the current need is within the higher ed industry, and allow for quick pivots to respond to demands. Successful agile practices require some big, but manageable, changes to implement including a mentality of collaboration and cooperation across the institution that accounts for and encourages calculated risk taking. Do this by creating a culture and system for testing and optimizing, both at the channel and asset level. Marketing leaders can be famously confident, only the market response is a fair judge of performance.

    Are you tracking your ROI?

    Do you know if your marketing is actually working? Evaluating results is a top challenge among many institutions today. Tracking and measuring your ROI allows for an in-depth, data-backed picture of where your marketing dollars are spent and how many leads and students you’ve earned as a result. Clear and up-to-date data can also help you be strategic based on the results. This information can inform your marketing budget allocation so you can reinvest in the tactics that are bringing you a return and pull back on the weaker strategies. Now that you’ve considered the hard questions, here’s one more: Is your institution willing to invest in the resources and expertise internally to address these needs? Or are you ready to consider working with an outside partner who will bring these assets and investment capital to reach your institution’s potential? Read our free white paper to learn what other issues and costs you may need to consider when growing your online programs and get insights to help you answer one pivotal question — should you build or buy?


    Today’s increasingly competitive landscape requires a strategic approach to successfully reaching more of the right students where they are. Partnering with Pearson can help you accelerate strategic change while reducing the risks associated with growing your online presence. Learn more

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