Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

March 2015 Archives

Affordability and Higher Education Marketing

If you work in higher education marketing today you can't miss the increased public concern over rising costs in both private and public sector colleges and universities. And yet despite that increased concern, marketing strategies seldom extend to developing content that focuses specifically on "affordability." 

To help people compare schools, the U.S. Department of Education has an interactive College Affordability and Transparency Center.

Price is still an issue that many if not most schools like to avoid discussing in detail until as late in the student recruitment cycle as possible. Given the high level of interest in cost, that's a marketing mistake.

But there are exceptions to the avoidance syndrome. Today we note 5 examples of how a few schools have elected to deal directly with affordability on their websites. I'd expect to see more like these in the future and possible some combining the best of the different features you'll find here.

5 Affordability Marketing Content Examples

American University

In a series of strong graphic presentations, American highlights reduced tuition increases over the past 10 years (from 6.5 percent in 2005 to 2.9 percent in 20013 and 2014) as well as a strong shift from merit aid to need-based awards, low default rates and more. 

The message in the graphics is strong enough that you don't really have to read the text below them. And that's a boon for impatient web visitors. See College Affordability: AU and Your Educational Goals.

Wellesley College

While every school is required to have a net cost calculator on the website, legions of potential students and their parents fail to complete them because most are to close to the equivalent of completing the FAFSA form itself. 

Wellesley takes a different approach with a "Quick College Cost Estimator" that requires just 7 steps to receive an estimate of how much a family might have to pay to send a child to Wellesley. See the basic info required at My inTuition: Wellesley's Quick College Cost Estimator.

Calvin College

You don't have to search far to find complaints among higher ed professionals that too many people only pay attention to a schools "sticker" price without realizing that very few people pay that price. 

Calvin attacks that problem directly as their page opens with a large "Cutting the Price Tag" heading. Everything that follows (down to outcomes results and low loan default rates) is on a single page that combines easy-to-read graphics with clear language that is remarkably free of higher ed jargon. See a strong example of "Writing Right for the Web" at Calvin's Cutting the Price Tag page.

University of Findlay

At Findlay the goal is to directly attack 5 "affordability myths" that start with the average cost difference between a student attending Findlay ($21,500) and one attending "state schools" ($19,600) or "other private schools in the region" ($23,200). 

The myths also include indebtedness at graduation and high loan default rates with graphs that show a default rate for Findlay grads, for instance, of less than 5 percent with comparisons to much higher Ohio and national rates. Review the other myths attacked at Findlay's Affordability Myths page.

When you visit, be sure to follow the link to the "Total Degree Cost Calculator" for an estimate of four-year degree costs that's included with the first myth.

Ball State University

Despite lower costs compared to private sector schools public universities are not immune to affordability concerns. Reductions in state funding often have meant increases in tuition and other charges. More than a few people feel that public universities have not done enough to reduce operating costs before resorting to tuition increases.

Ball State tackles the PR challenge with content to demonstrate "fiscal stewardship" that has let it lower tuition while maintaining quality education. That's rather a "man bites dog" assertion compared to more prevalent positions that fewer resources create quality declines. For more see "Ensuring Affordability, Now."

That's all for now.

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Hello to old and new readers. 

With application deadlines passed for many and financial aid award letters soon to be sent the recruitment season for high school students here in the U.S. is heading toward the final stages and attention to yield is increasing. One large university expects to enroll the same number of new freshmen this year as last despite a 40 percent application drop. See the Drexel story below.

"Improving Your Strategic Recruitment Communication Plan" is a new Academic Impressions conference set for Houston June 1-3. Details at 

The fifth "Writing Write for the Web" conference with Academic Impressions takes place in San Diego July 13-14. Check the agenda at 

The eduWeb Digital Summit happens in Chicago July 27-30. Conference website is

Invite a friend or colleague to subscribe to this newsletter. Send them to 

And now here are your marketing news and notes for March. 
College Rankings Mash-UP Machine: From Prestige to Party Scene

Thanks to your friends at The Chronicle of Higher Education you can now see the top 15 U.S. colleges and universities in 7 ratings areas on a single interactive chart: Prestige, Global Influence, Fat Paychecks, Value Added, Social Impact, Return on Investment, and Party Scene.

Even more fun: mix and match the ratings categories. The top Fat Paycheck award, for instance, goes to Harvey Mudd College. Combine Fat Paycheck and Party Scene and the winner is Lehigh University.

See "Make Your Own College Rankings" at 
New Freshmen "Backgrounds and Beliefs": An Interactive Guide to UCLA Data

While the info on these charts dates back to the 1970s marketers will want to pay special attention to changes over the last 5 to 10 years in this easy-to-use display from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Interest in making "more money" and getting a "better job" are stronger now and reinforce the need for more attention to outcomes information. Data confirms the growing increase in multiple applications. More students are not attending their first or second choice schools. While you will see an increase in students enrolling more than 500 miles from their homes the percent was still only 16.3 percent in 2014.

Check your favorites among the 17 possibilities at 
Email Marketing Benchmarks: Open Rate and Click Rate

This HubSpot report shows a relationship between the frequency of email campaigns and their success as measured by open rates and click rates. 

In business to consumer email campaigns, the highest open rate (35 percent) went to those sending 6 to 15 emails a month. The highest click rates (just under 6 percent) went to those sending 16 to 30 emails each month. Weakest click rate results fell to those sending just one to 5 emails per month.

Comparing these results with my secret shopping activity tells me that most colleges have room to spare in increasing contact frequency, particularly immediately after receiving an inquiry. Visit the HubSpot benchmark report at 
Logo Design: 10 Design Trends for 2015

If you are a logo fan you will not want to review these 10 trend examples. See if you can find a favorite at 
Drexel University: Deliberately Reducing Freshman Applications by 40 Percent

Drexel University has deliberately reduced 47,000 applications received for the 2014 entering class to 27,000. And no, they are not trying to reduce the number of new students enrolled.

The new strategy puts emphasis on recruiting new students from a smaller applicant pool with a higher level of interest in Drexel. Key to the change was dropping a "fast app" program in place for several years that made it especially easy for students to apply. Other changes include more need-based aid, an application fee, and admissions criteria that differ by academic programs.

More on the Drexel change at 
Landing Page Copy: 4 "Expert Tips" for Increased ROI

Landing pages are critical to successful online advertising. 

You do not want to spend time and money on creative and careful audience selection only to send people to a poor landing page. Most especially you do not ever want to drop people into a regular page on your website unrelated to your advertisement.

To improve the ROI of your online advertising, check your present landing pages against the recommendations in this article by Amanda Durepos. My favorite tip: "Skip the superlatives" that will kill your credibility.

Read more on superlatives and 3 other expert tips at 
Financial Aid Award Policy: Details from 25 High Endowment Schools

Compare your financial aid award policy with the practices of the 25 best endowed colleges and universities on this interactive chart, again from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Pay special attention to the variations in loan packaging to meet financial need, from none at all to different family income cut-off points.

Visit "The Financial-Aid Fine Print" at 
Gerry McGovern on FAQs: Dinosaurs of Web Navigation

FAQs date from a time when people did not know how to create decent web navigation to help visitors find what they wanted to find on a website. Today they often continue because they are a convenient dumping place for content creators. Sometimes they are simply used for what Gerry refers to as "propaganda." I am always amused when an FAQ section starts with "What is your mission?"

If you need help to reduce reliance on FAQs on your website, circulate Gerry's New Thinking column at 

For another view on why FAQs represent navigation failure see the column by Sarah Richards at 
Creating a Value Proposition: Guidelines from HubSpot

Liberal arts colleges are often told to improve their competitive positions by promoting a "value proposition" that will convince people to enroll. But good examples of that are few and far between.

Whether you already have value proposition content on your website or are planning for the future, spend time to review and discuss the points in this HubSpot infographic. Note especially the admonition that a value proposition is not a positioning statement. Note also that a value proposition should speak directly to the benefits of buying something from your school as opposed to your competitors. 

Done right, a value proposition brings marketing strength. Visit "How to Write a Great Value Proposition" at 
Content Marketing: 9 Lessons from Old-Style Journalism

Here is an article from the Content Marketing Institute to remind us that success in new endeavors often, perhaps always, benefits from the best of past practices.

I found the "minimize distractions" point especially interesting as it also borrows from direct marketing principles. The lesson: clean and simple always wins. Avoid excess calls to action and any other bells and whistles that might detract a person from the main point of your content and the action you want people to take. 

Review 8 more lessons, including the always vital "know your audience," at 
Cartoon of the Month: Media Planners 

Is your media planning up-to-date? 

The cartoon this month pokes fun at just how long it takes some marketers to get current with media trends. See what we can hope is a very inaccurate picture of how things work on your campus at 
Most Popular Topic in February Newsletter: 9 Top Task Higher Ed Websites

People flocked to the list of 9 colleges and universities in 3 countries that have created unusually strong task-oriented web pages (home pages, admissions, faculty, parents, study abroad and more) at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

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

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