Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

Recently in Higher Education Tuition and Costs Category

Detailed Transylvania "Affordability" Page Combats Sticker Price Shock

Higher education analysts often decry the "sticker price shock" that many people have when they start their college selection journey and compare degree costs at public and private universities. Why don't people understand that at private colleges and universities the "sticker price" is not what most people pay?

One reason is that few colleges and universities directly attack the sticker price problem on their websites with detailed "affordability" content. Today's Link of the Week selection is a rare exception.

The "Affordability" page link receives prime placement on the home page, directly under the opening image with a large "Quality + Affordability" heading. Follow that path and you'll arrive at a page that gets right to the point: potential students likely are "worried about paying for college."

Easy-to-scan graphics

The content directly attacks the sticker price problem with a series of graphics that include:
  • The family incomes of people attending.
  • The sticker cost compared to other "top 100" liberal arts schools.
  • The progressive cutting of that sticker price with merit awards, grants, and loans.
  • A lower-than-average debt load of about $27,000 at graduation.
  • A low loan default rate of just 2.4 percent.
  • A much higher 4-year graduation rate than at public universities,
If the page is successful in reducing cost fears for people who make this their first stop from the home page, there are links to either complete an application or review available academic programs at the end of the page.

On Mobile

Alas, the page does not fare well on mobile, where a lower than usual 39/100 for Speed combines with a 91/100 "User Experience" rating from Google PageSpeed Insights after the page loads.

Follow the Link of the Week

Start your review of how one private-sector university is making a serious effort to fight sticker shock when you visit the Transylvania University "Affordability" page from the home page link.

Original Link of the Week Page
Regular readers will notice that we are again posting a Link of the Week selection within the blog. I've decided to continue posting new Link selections here. Each week's description is available to future visitors and the blog, unlike the website, is searchable.

To review earlier selections for 2016 and previous years, visit the this Link of the Week page.

Skipping the "Reset" Euphemism, A College Announces a "Tuition Reduction"

Throughout the United States over the past few years a small number of private-sector colleges and universities have decided to withdraw from the tuition discount race to lower actual net cost to students in favor of a substantial reduction in the tuition list price.

Most schools doing this have been reluctant, perhaps even afraid, of describing this move in public as "cutting" or "reducing" tuition. Often the change is called a "reset" to a lower level.

Today's Link of the Week selection caught my attention because of the big and bold announcement of the change on the home page as "We're Reducing Tuition" with a link you cannot miss to a page that explains the details, including a video from the president of the college and an ad featuring students.

The college does make clear that enrollment is not a problem, with full-time enrollment as high as it has ever been. I have not had a chance to seek out the tuition discount rate before the change and that is not mentioned on the website.

Many higher education professionals complain that too many people do not understand that the official sticker price is not what they will have to pay at most private colleges and universities. Too many of those same schools fail to provide strong "affordability" content that lets potential students know just what the net price might be.

In that context, lowering tuition makes great good sense for many schools. The College of Saint Mary deserves special praise for describing the change as clear as possible right from the start... "We're Reducing Tuition".

On Mobile

Alas, the College of Saint Mary home page scores a low 43/100 for Speed on Google PageSpeed Insight and a lower than normal 90/100 for User Experience. 

Once the home page does download, the tuition reduction message is prominent but not as bold as when viewed from a large screen device.

Follow the Link of the Week

To see how one college announces a tuition reduction, start at the College of St. Mary home page.

Original Link of the Week Page

Regular readers will notice that we are again posting a Link of the Week selection within the blog. I've decided to continue posting new Link selections here. Each week's description is available to future visitors and the blog, unlike the website, is searchable.

To review earlier selections for 2016 and previous years, visit the this Link of the Week page

An October hello to everyone. Happy to see that here in Michigan summer is gone and fall is arriving. We can deal with winter a few months from now. 

Reply to this email and ask me for an invitation to the group on LinkedIn if you work at a college or university. Better yet, if you are already on LinkedIn, just request a membership invitation at 

To date, 221 people have joined from the U.S. and at least 9 other countries.

New to "top tasks" strategy that will increase the marketing strength of your website? My workshop presentation from the eduWeb Digital Summit in August, Top Task Content & Design: A Strategy for Website Marketing Success, is at 
Conference Workshop in December

December 4-7, Orlando: Digital Marketing Strategy: Surviving and Prospering in a Changing World, pre-conference Tutorial E at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. The tutorial description is at Early registration discount is open until November.

Join 7,300+ followers on Twitter at for daily marketing updates.

And now here are your October marketing news and notes.
Cartoon of the Month: Do you really know where people are on the customer journey? 

Mapping the customer journey is popular. But how accurately can we do that? Or are we just playing a "Where's Waldo?" game that will irritate people when we contact them with marketing messages?

Tom Fishburne's take on the challenges we face in journey mapping is at 
More College Rankings: The Wall Street Journal Joins the Crowd

With a heavy weight to college financial resources (30 percent) and outcomes after graduation (40 percent), the WSJ has issued a new ranking system that puts 10 private-sector schools on top starting with Stanford University. Six others are Ivy-league schools.

The first public university, University of Michigan, is ranked 24th.

You have to subscribe to the WSJ to get complete results, including why the WSJ thinks the survey stands out from others. Start at 
Hugging the New WSJ Rankings: Strong Graphic Opens a Press Release

Some foolish survey recently reported that college presidents do not put much value in college rankings. Maybe it just depends on where your college lands in the results.

To see how one college has embraced the WSJ ranking results in addition to online advertising, check the powerful graphic that opens the Centre College press release at 
Net Price Calculator Alternative: MyIntuition at 3 Schools

Most people do not enjoy completing the FAFSA. And that's why most people, if they can find them, do not enjoy completing Net Price Calculators that replicate the FAFSA.

At least 3 colleges and universities give potential students and their parents a much easier route to completing the top task of estimating likely college costs by using the quick and simple (less than 10 questions) MyIntuition format created by a Wellesley College professor.

In addition to Wellesley, MyIntuition is used at the University of Virginia and at Williams College. Check the Williams version at 
Web Design: Are You Planning for Voice Search?

If you like to stay ahead of the crowd, start thinking about how your website will take people to their top tasks when they use words to search for the content they want. 

That's the message coming from Microsoft and supported by new tech projects at Google, Amazon, and Apple. Today, people search by voice about 5 to 10 percent of the time. Expect that to increase significantly over the next 5 years. 

One marketing key: You will need to know the words that potential students visiting your website will use to find what they want. Abandon jargon unknown to the public. 

More on the advent of voice search in the AdAge article at 
Admissions Directors Survey: 66 Percent Expect Earlier Financial Aid Awards

Inside Higher Education is out with a report on what college admissions directors think about any number of things, from the Coalition Admissions application, to debt levels, and race, and the new SAT and more.

One item of note where you will not want to fall behind your competition: 66 percent of the directors expect to see earlier financial aid award letters as a result of earlier FAFSA filing. 

Download complete survey results at 
Content Marketing: Advice from 15 Experts

From the Content Marketing Institute comes advice from 15 people who reveal the "Number 1 Thing You Should Do in Content Marketing." As you might guess, the experts offer many different "Number 1" things to do.

Forced to select just one I would go with Andy Crestodina and his advice on correct presentation format. Fail at that and people will bounce from your web page no matter how well you follow the other 14 admonitions.

See what might help your content marketing results at 
Admission Officer Salaries: News from NACAC

Considerable consternation was reported at NACAC over a new Federal mandate that will require overtime pay for many admission counselors, thus increasing recruitment costs.

Average salary of an admissions officer is about $38,000 or well below the overtime pay threshold. Average salary of an annual fund officer is $63,000. For an alumni relations officer, the number is $49,000. 

The real problem? High turnover and weak training for people who have a major impact on the financial well-being of most colleges and universities. Pay level and working conditions contribute to that. 

See Eric Hoover on "Who's Got the Time to Train Admissions Offices" at 
New Book from Gerry McGovern: Transform: A Rebel's Guide to Digital Transformation

If you are exploring the challenges of the digital era at your college or university, this new book by Gerry McGovern might help light the way. Decide for yourself after you read the first chapter for free at 
Advertising Online: Review of Social Media Options and More

Adweek asked a bevy of online advertising agency people for their comments on the strengths and weaknesses of online advertising options, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google, and more.

Anyone interested in online advertising for student recruitment or brand awareness will want to review the article. Start reading here.   
Blog Posts: The Best Length is 1,500 to 2,000 Words

The Wordtracker article itself does not specific a precise length but overall makes the point that blog posts of less than 1,500 words are not likely to contain enough value, content, and SEO keywords to attract the attention that well done longer articles will capture. And on the proverbial other hand, articles of more than 3,000 words will have to be superb indeed to hold reader interest.

More on why 1,500 to 2,000 words is a likely sweet spot in blog writing at 
Colgate University: Vice President for Communications

Colgate University is searching for a Vice President for Communications.

The usual details of position responsibilities and candidate qualifications are at 
Most Popular Topic in September Newsletter: Questioning the Value of Campus Visits

Yes, we all know that campus visits are the single most important conversion event in a student recruitment plan for traditional students. Right?

Take a moment to read about unreal and ineffective campus tours in the Washington Post article at 
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

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

Increase your marketing success with one or more of these 5 services. Contact me for details at 

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MyIntuition: Quick & Easy Cost Estimate at a Public University

In February 2014 I picked a "MyIntuition" cost calculator at Wellesley College as a quick and easy alternative to Net Price Calculators that most often were needlessly FAFSA-like in the number of questions asked and time required to get a price estimate. 

The Wellesley College MyIntuition alternative asked just 7 questions and could be completed in not many more minutes. Today's Link of the Week features a rare example of a public university that has adopted the same name and a similar format borrowed from Wellesley.

Gain a Marketing Advantage

Even with early FAFSA filing, it is reasonable to think that many families will value a quick and easy estimate of their likely expenses early in the college selection process. Colleges that provide quick and easy estimates will gain a marketing advantage over their rivals. Very few do that.

The UVA form asked just a few basic financial questions: family income, home value, savings, investments other than those in retirement plans, and the number of children in college. UVA also wants to know whether or not the person completing the form is a Virginia resident.

At the end UVA gives a range of 3 "Your Estimated Cost" possibilities: 
  • Low Estimate at $12,000
  • Best Estimate at $17,600
  • High Estimate at $24,000 
Each of those was far lower than the "sticker price" for an out-of-state student.

Mobile Ratings: Speed Slow, Experience High

On mobile, Google PageSpeed Insights gives the UVA version a relatively slow 67/100 and a high 96/100 for User Experience when the page opens. That last number seems odd to me as the page on my iPhone requires sideways scrolling to view. Not all of the MyIntuition heading is visible. (At Wellesley, the Speed rating is a very low 44 but once downloaded the entire page is visible.)

Follow the Link of the Week

To see how a public university has adopted the MyIntuition approach to countering tuition price sticker shock, visit the University of Virginia "Affording UVA" page and scroll down until you arrive at "How much will UVA cost me?"

Original Link of the Week Page

Regular readers will notice that we are again posting a Link of the Week selection within the blog. I've decided to continue posting new Link selections here. Each week's description is available to future visitors and the blog, unlike the website, is searchable.

To review earlier selections for 2016 and previous years, visit the this Link of the Week page.

Prompting Students to File an Early FAFSA: 5 Seconds or Less

Reaction from colleges and universities to the Federal Government's creation of an early FAFSA filing date has been, to be kind, mixed. 

Relatively few colleges and universities have made changes on their "financial aid and scholarship" web pages to seriously promote use of the early (October 1) filing opportunity.

And so San Diego State University deserves special credit for featuring the new filing date in a prominent spot on the "Financial Aid & Scholarships" page that you can't miss when the page opens. It easily passes the 5-second rule for immediate engagement.

Just under the calendar date is a link to a NACAC video that also promotes early FAFSA filing. That video needs help with links from from other colleges and universities, Since it was added to YouTube on August 16 only 3,952 people had visited it as I typed this.

Mobile Experience: Unusually Low Score

On mobile, the SDSU site is not yet responsive. The result is an unusually low User Experience score from Google PageSpeed Insights of 66/100. The Speed rating also is low at 59/100 but that's in the range of most higher education sites, responsively designed or not. 

Follow the Link of the Week

For an example of how more colleges and universities might create higher awareness of the October 1 early FAFSA opportunity, visit the San Diego State University "Financial Aid & Scholarships" site.

Original Link of the Week Page

Regular readers will notice that we are again posting a Link of the Week selection within the blog. I've decided to continue posting new Link selections here. Each week's description is available to future visitors and the blog, unlike the website, is searchable.

To review earlier selections for 2016 and previous years, visit the this Link of the Week page.

Bob Johnson
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