In April, when I first blogged about the impact of COVID-19 on higher education, I assumed the issue would be how colleges addressed finishing out the spring semester of 2020. Perhaps I was naïve in thinking the worst would be behind us by the time the fall semester rolled around. Now with the 2020-21 academic school year deadline upon us, there are still many obstacles and challenges ahead for higher education institutions. Meanwhile, thousands of students (and parents) are either anxiously awaiting more guidance or bracing themselves for a disruption similar to what the University of North Carolina just experienced when the school abruptly halted plans for an in-person school year amid a COVID-19 flare-up on campus.
Learning in the Age of COVID-19
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s most recent list of College Reopening Plans, 21 percent of colleges are planning “primarily in person,” 24 percent are planning “primarily online,” and 27 percent are still currently “TBD.” A very small percentage (2.5 percent) are planning “fully in person,” 2.9 percent will be “fully online – no students on campus,” 16 percent are planning on a “hybrid” approach, and less than 1 percent are planning on “fully online – some students on campus.”
All said, as of now, most colleges are leaning toward either an online approach or a hybrid option, offering some online courses and some in-person learning. And while the format of classes for the fall semester continues to be worked out, many students and (even more parents) are discovering how tuition will be affected. Harvard has come under harsh criticism after recently announcing it will still be charging full tuition as classes go online amid the coronavirus outbreak. Harvard, Smith, Tufts, Duke University, and others did say they will refund students for unused room and board on a prorated basis.
However, room and board costs, while still a considerable investment, are far less than tuition expenses; many parents may find themselves questioning the value of paying for a “top-tier” school education if classes are 100 percent online. Without a doubt, the college experience will be vastly different when learning is online versus on campus. Parents and students may instead opt for classes at a community college if they are within their first two years of their college degree. The financial savings are substantial, and with the lack of a traditional on-campus college experience, there certainly is a case to be made for saving money. Additionally, students will have more options available for online courses —and where they take them — as more and more schools expand their offerings.
So, what does all this mean for higher education from a marketing perspective? Two things: more opportunity, and more competition.
This is an opportunity for schools to promote their online offerings, whether they are new to the online learning format or a veteran in this department. Colleges who have traditionally featured online offerings may find themselves attracting a whole new demographic of students — students who might not have considered online learning before COVID-19. These students might think, “If I have to study online right now, I’m going to go where they’ve been doing it a while.”
But colleges just embarking on an online learning program may also appeal to a new demographic: students who, for reasons such as geography, might not have even considered a particular school before. With online learning, schools may suddenly become “in reach.”
Competition for online degrees is stronger than ever before, as more and more traditional on-campus programs are now entering the online space. In Google Ads, we have seen steep increases in keyword cost per click, primarily due to increased competition. To maintain an acceptable cost per lead, it is becoming even more important to leverage as many targeting options as possible within the Google Ads platform. Those options include audiences, device, location, age, income, and more. It is also essential to evaluate performance based on day of week and time of day in order to find the most efficient time to invest your advertising dollars.
While the increase in keyword CPCs might make it more difficult for smaller schools with smaller budgets to compete in paid search auctions, we’ve also seen a significant investment in Google Display Ads and social platforms as schools attempt to expand their reach. That’s because Google Display Ads and platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have much lower cost per click (or cost/impression) than traditional paid search in Google. So, for colleges with smaller marketing budgets, Google Display Ads, Facebook, and Instagram can be an effective method of reaching potential students.
Contact True Interactive
In short, great opportunity exists for higher education in the online market, but the competition is fierce. Now, more than ever, you need to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place. At True Interactive, we are well versed in the higher education vertical and are ready to help you navigate this ever-changing market. Contact us. We can help.