Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

December 2011 Archives

Pell Grants and Student Recruitment: The $5,550 offer campaign continues

Pell Grant enticement as a recruitment tool was the topic of my blog post last Friday. I had received three notices that I was pre-qualified for one of a limited number of $5,550 Pell Grants in just a few days. Lead generators were hot about their business.

Since then I've received two more notices (dates as included in the email):
  • December 21... similar to the first three.
  • December 23... a "Second Notice" reminder from one of the original senders about "Your $5,550 Pell Grant."
Here's the "second notice effort" (and yes, this is the original font size and spacing):

Re: 2nd Prequalification Notice

Attention Yahoo!Mail User:


The US Government gives out MILLIONS of DOLLARS worth of $5,550 

Pell Grants

 each year. The Best Part: You NEVER have to pay them back!

This is an AMAZING opportunity to change your life! Please apply immediately 

as there is a limited number of these $5,550 Grants given out each year.

Easier to Cancel Future Emails

The earlier emails had "unsubscribe" information in small type toward the end of the email. This one did a better job, with a visible link to unsubscribe just after the email message.

Do You Know Where Your Lead Generator is Today?

A thought comes to mind. Do the colleges that use services like this to generate and screen initial responses before sending them on to their clients know about these campaigns in advance?

New Department of Education regulations just might make colleges and universities liable for advertising activities done on their behalf by third party companies. More on that later. For now, see the review of the regulation provided to members by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities in October in PDF format, "The Misrepresentation Rule and Third-Party Vendors."

That's all for now.

Email to generate leads with Pell Grant money

When concern about the cost of a college degree is high and growing, what better way to generate enrollment leads than a series of emails to let people know that they "prequalify" for a $5,550 Pell Grant.

And why worry in advance about whether or not a person's income or level of degree interest makes them likely candidates for a Pell Grant? The important thing? Get a response to the email. Sort the details later.

If at first you don't succeed, send the email again

In the past few days I have received three nearly identical emails from CompareTopSchools with these subject lines:
  • "Deadline Soon: Get a $5,550 Pell Grant. You Prequalify!" (December 14)
  • "Your $5,550 Pell Grant. You Prequalify!" (December 16)
  • "Your $5,550 Pell Grant. You Prequalify!" (December 19)
Two of these were retrieved from the Yahoo spam bucket. One made it to my regular email.

Here is the content in the first email opened:

Dear Yahoo! Mail Usēr:

The US Governmënt gives out MILLIÒNS of Dȯllars worth ǒf $5,550 Pell Grants 

each year. The Ɓest Part: You never have to pay them back!


Don't mĭss out on this AMAZING opportunity to ĩmprove your way of life! 

You are urgȩd to apply TOĐAY as there are a limited numbér 

of $5,550 Ğrants giύen out each ȳear.

Follow the link "to apply" and you'll see the names of six schools participating in this lead gen effort:

    • American Intercontinental University
    • Westwood College
    • Colorado Christian University
    • Liberty University
    • ITT Technical Institute
    • Virginia College
10 questions about my plans

What follows are 10 questions (but nothing about income level re probable Pell Grant eligibility) to learn more about me:
    • zip code (49068)
    • academic program interest area (marketing & communications)
    • age (26)
    • year of high school graduation or GED receipt (2006)
    • highest level of education (bachelor's)
    • degree level desired (master's degree)
    • were any of the credits earned outside the U.S. (no)
    • how many months from now do I plan to enroll (4 to 6)
    • am I a U.S. citizen (yes)
    • am I "affiliated" with the U.S. military (no)
    • name, mailing and email addresses, preferred phone number(s)
Having answered those questions, I can now see the promised four institutions that might be good for me:
  • California InterContinental University (Top Ranked for Best Value)
  • Lasell College (Top Ranked for Best Academics)
  • Baker College Online
  • St. Leo University Online
Along with the four school choices comes a can't miss notice that the "editors" recommend California InterContinental as my "best choice."

Is this a legitimate recruiting technique?

Legit lead generation strategy? Well, it isn't illegal. But note that after the initial Pell Grant exhortation to "apply today" for the "limited number" available, that topic vanishes. Will the schools know that I'm interested in that $5,550 of free Pell Grant money to help pay for my master's degree? Are they ready to offer an alternative source of aid?

Very few people get a Pell Grant to study for a master's degree. Nobody gets them if they are not a current undergrad student applying for a master's that leads to teaching as the Student Grants website explains. Details, details. 

That's all for now.

December greetings to everyone and early wishes for a fine holiday season as you celebrate with friends and family. 

Special thanks to everyone who became a Twitter follower in 2011. If you have not done that yet, scan the short professional notes at and decide if want to join us. 

This is the month when 2012 conferences begin to search for paper presenters. If you have something to share with professional colleagues, check the paper calls for the ACT Enrollment Planners Conference at, and J.Boye Philadelphia2012 Web & Intranet Conference at 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for December.
Cappex Parents Survey: Mobile, Email and More

If you plan to work on mobile marketing in 2012, do not miss these survey results. You will learn, for instance, that 79 percent of parents prefer mobile websites to mobile apps. And note that 83 percent say using email is the best way to get a response from them. Phone calls to mobile or home phones do not do well at all.

Overall, this is a good guide to adding marketing strength to your communication program for parents. You do have one of those, yes?

The survey details are at
Focus Group Results: Parents and High School Students

Focus groups both fascinate and scare me. 

The fascination comes from listening to the way people talk about important marketing topics, often in ways that marketers never do themselves. The scare comes when people jump to strategy or resource decisions based only on focus group conversations.

If you're as fascinated as I am, you'll want to read the transcripts of focus group sessions held last Friday by my colleagues at Zone 5 in Albany, N.Y. About 10 students and parents were in each 60-minutes discussion.

One comment got my special attention: agreement from several students with a person who was searching for the "cheapest" college that met her requirements. Do we undersell the marketing value of being the "cheapest" in a competitive set? Are we too reluctant to use that word for fear it clashes with images that people have of a quality institution?

For a copy of the focus group transcripts, email Ray Witkowski at
New SUNY Oswego Mobile Site

For insight into the process of creating a new mobile website, read about the path followed at SUNY Oswego outlined at

Alas, there is one not so small problem with the execution. Google SUNY Oswego from your iPhone and the home page that opens is for the regular website, not the mobile site. To make the best mobile-friendly first impression, redirect visitors automatically to the mobile site if they search for your site from a smartphone.
Best Web Content: Not From Marketers

As I wrote in a new blog post last week, it pains me to note that marketers can be enemies of effective websites that score high with visitors.

Why? Visitors come to websites to complete top tasks. Reading overt marketing content is seldom a top task. More on that in the blog post at

But marketing can still have a place. University of Leicester, for instance, uses a home page that features top tasks for potential students in the prime upper left position, while still effectively using a third-party "Elite without being Elitist" brand statement on the home page that does not block visibility of the top task links. See an innovative approach to home page design at 
Chicago Tribune Promotes Degree Completion Rates in Selecting a College

The headline in this story is about a handful of schools that will give students who cannot complete a degree through no fault of their own a fifth year of tuition. Most are relatively small and in the private sector.

Perhaps more marketing impact will come from the suggestion that people visit a site where they can compare relative degree completion rates for similar institutions. The paper did that forCarnegie Mellon University and Duke University and found a 68 percent four year rate at the former and an 89 percent rate at Duke.

See how the topic is presented and visit the comparative degree completion site after you 
NSSE Report for 2011

The National Survey of Student Engagement report for 2011 was released last month, with immediate media interest in the details of how much time students majoring in various academic areas spent studying.

There is much more to NSSE than hours studied of course. This year 751 school in the U.S. and Canada took part in the undergraduate research study, with more than 500,000 students responding. If you're not sure if your school uses NSSE, a search box on the NSSE home page will tell you about present and past use. Start your NSSE exploration this year

To see how one university uses NSSE results to build a better brand impression, check theElon University effort that starts on the university website at 
Dave Evans: Time to Drop Social from Media in Marketing

Way back in 2007 Dave Evans wrote a useful book on social media marketing, with an emphasis on how to move forward by investing just "an hour a day."

Whether or not you ever read that book, take a few minutes to read his recent ClickZ column asking if it might not be time to drop the word "Social" itself. His main point: social media was once considered one of several tools in the marketing mix. Today, it is the center of every important decision made in arenas as varied as consumer and corporate purchase decisions and political choice.

Intrusive marketing messages delivered by the old tools recede in value as social media exploration expands. Read more about the impact of that for higher education marketing efforts in the column at 
QR Codes: 79 Percent of College Students Do Not Use Them

A survey of college students reports that 79 percent are not using them now and most are not likely to be using them next year either. So you do not have to rush to be an early adopter. A summary of the research is at

A caveat: if you do use QR codes, make sure they take people to a mobile-friendly page and not to one of your regular website pages. If the end point is a special landing page, make sure the key points are visible as soon as it opens, without finger-flicking to enlarge the content.
Beloit College Replaces Capital Campaigns

Fund raisers know that it is easier get people to give to specific projects they support than to general institutional well-being. Beloit College is taking that knowledge to a logical conclusion with a decision to replace a traditional capital campaign with a series of very specific, project based efforts. The result: donors will see faster results from their giving than is the case in campaigns that run for several years.

The first success: raising $3.7 million to renovate track and field facilities and introduce a lacrosse team to expand student recruitment potential among high income families. Time to raise the money: 10 months.

For more on the thinking behind the changed approach, read the report at 
Maryland Reduces Varsity Sports

While multi-million dollar compensation packages for top football coaches are not in jeopardy, the new economic reality will continue to force a closer examination of higher education sports activities in general. The result: sports that do not produce revenue and do not have strong public and alumni backing are in danger.

Case in point: University of Maryland plans to eliminate eight varsity sports by next July, while increasing fund-raising efforts in support of the remaining athletic program to offset a serious decline in revenue earned by the football and men's basketball programs.

For a glimpse at the future that might soon arrive at similar universities as well as links to athletic expenditure databases, read the InsideHigherEducation report at
Best Blog Post Length: Is Size Important?

As you might expect, the answer Heidi Cohen gives to this question is what you might expect: it depends. She divides blog length into small (350 to 500 words), medium (550 to 1,000 words) and long (over 1,000 words) and notes that some of her most successful posts are her longest.
For success at any length, she offers 7 guidelines. You might know each of these, but I found it a good exercise to read them all together at the same time. 

If you blog or know students or staff who do, have them read the column at 
My Last Webinars in 2011!

Attend an upcoming conference in 2012 to share questions and answers with people who are building a competitive advantage in higher education marketing. Join me at ACT Enrollment Planners Conference, eduWeb2012, J.BoyePhilly2012 or another. Look for a first listing for 2012 in the January newsletter.

Thanks again to everyone who attended a presentation this year and enlivened things with your questions and comments.

December 6, 8: Academic Impressions Webinars: "Writing Right for the Web: Social, Mobile, and Traditional Websites." Register at 

Improve your online marketing. Expand the writing, editing, and search marketing skills of people on your campus. Host a campus workshop on online marketing.

Contact me at
That's All for Now 

Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. ( 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

Increase your online marketing success with these 6 services. 
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