We are marketing to a generation of students who are accustomed to paying for only what they use or don’t pay for anything at all. They’ve grown up in a digital a la cart culture, completely at ease letting advertisers fund the platforms they play upon. Music, games, and movies have never been more than thumb away and are algorithmically refined to their liking.
And yet here we are in higher ed, the product having shifted very little. Delivery mechanisms and modalities have changed with the boon of MOOCs and online platforms. The on-campus student experience has evolved with high end student housing, dining halls concepted by amazing chefs, and entrepreneurial incubators. Even with all of that, the product – a degree – and the path to it has remained rigid and gotten more expensive. And we haven’t even really touched on the increase in non-traditional education.
There are some new models out there. Those offering free tuition or an expedited degree completion. So I’ll admit to painting with a broad brush. But broad brush strokes often times drive perception. And if we balance these strokes with the perceived value of a college degree on the decline and skyrocketing prices, things don’t jive. Sometimes saying things out loud helps. Let’s give it a try.
“We are selling a rigid path to a four year degree at a really high price (mainly because we tweaked out our dorms)…
… to a population that is more frugal than maybe any other before it…
…who also questions the value of said degree more than any other before it…
…and who has also grown up having access to anything they like exactly how they prefer to consume it…
…annnnnd oh by the way they don’t ever have to pay for any of that cool stuff.”
Well, shit. Like all 4 P’s of Marketing are wrong.
You aren’t going to change a tuition structure or the requirements for a degree or certificate tomorrow. But you can begin building new experiences that are much more akin to what today’s generation of students expects and enjoys.
Let’s take a quick walk off campus and look to industry for something complex…say health insurance. After all, we hear some people are finding it pretty complicated. What if someone could make buying health insurance simple? Oscar is doing just that.
Here are a couple of takeaways you can put to use.
- If you think your school has a lot of unwanted content, take a look at your emplyee benefits package. Oscar give you only the basics until you absolutely need more. So cut your content in half. And then cut it in half again.
- First, the autofill form and the way it builds is beautiful. It’s intuitive and keeps you moving. The speed at which this gets you personalized information is amazing.
- Make the questions conversational and not confrontational. Write like a human talking to a human.
Ok, back to campus.
What could something similar look like at your school. Here’s a couple of ideas we’ve built or are in the process of building at the University of Kentucky.
The first is a majors and degree finder that helped UK cut the number of undeclared students by almost 20% in the first 9 months after launch. I think the most important take away isn’t the end product, but where it started. We did out best to think about what a prospective student may dream about. What did they want to be and why. It helped us design a really personalized experience that was extremely simple (after all, there’s only 3 templates).
And now for something financial aid officers will hate.
While just a prototype, we did this in about 18 hours. The great part about an exercise like that is you have to cut everything unnecessary. Like the degree finder, we started with the user in mind. This time more with a problem than a dream though. Kentucky fed us with information, including the level of unmet need (their out of pocket cost) that proves to be a student retention risk factor.
So we set out to build an experience where students could find financial aid easily, understand what scholarship were actually relevant to them (because the Betsy and Jim Quatlebaum Family Fund is always easy to unpack for a student), and then start to store opportunities that were a good fit.
So, how can you move forward tomorrow.
Here are a few of the key things we learned from those projects.
- Start with a dream or a problem.
- Set a goals and objectives for your content.
- Do not surprise stakeholders. Build in a lot of check ins.
- Be ok with the big idea not getting executed exactly as you planned.