Last April, Katie Blot wrote a blog post called Teaming Up with the U of Arkansas, which announced that Blackboard had been tapped by the University to collaborate on a project related to Online Learning. My team was assigned to this effort, and we set out to establish an important partnership with the folks in Fayetteville.

This partnership has been one of the most rewarding of my consulting career and next week, I will have the pleasure of presenting our joint story along side our client, Dr. Javier Reyes, at the UPCEA Summit for Online Leadership and Strategy. Dr. Reyes oversees the university’s online division – the U of A Online. Together, we defined a plan that would increase the visibility of online programs, with the ultimate effort of increasing enrollments, using a thoughtful, strategic online marketing approach.  SONY DSC

At the start, Dr. Reyes mapped out his expectations. He needed our collective teams to increase enrollments in online programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level by expanding to new audiences. And, because budgets were limited, we needed to prioritize the programs most viable for growth both from an internal and an external perspective. Our steps included:

  • Picking the right programs for investment
  • Understanding our target audience
  • Determining why students will choose U of A

Picking the Right Programs

We used the fundamentals of Supply and Demand to understand the right programs for growth. We evaluated the competitive availability of each program within the region. And, we researched demand for those programs among prospective students and employers. Next, we layered on institutional inputs. We visited campus and joined Dr. Reyes in meeting Program Deans to review our research and discuss the overall trajectory for each degree. These inputs influenced our final choices in a profound way.

senior-walk3Understanding Our Audience

With our top programs selected, our next step was to better understand our most successful prospective students. By looking at the attributes of students who have chosen online learning thus far, we were able to make strong assumptions about our prospects. We took both demographics and psychographics into account to ensure that our messaging would resonate with people apt to choose online in the future.

Differentiators (Why Students Choose U of A)

Keeping in mind what we knew about our target audience, we also validated the top reasons why students were choosing or would choose U of A for their online degree. A survey helped, along with an in-depth competitive analysis on five key competitors. We also conducted a phone survey to 20 regional employers to learn about their perceptions and needs.

Taking our strategy to market

We experienced a wonderful luxury in completing this project. We had the time and resources to carefully plan our approach prior to launching a campaign. This is not always the case. Many times, institutions want results as fast a possible and immediate action is needed. Here, organic enrollments were already coming to U of A Online. To boost this natural growth, we launched our digital media in October 2014. Fresh new messaging, a media microsite, and display ads supported this campaign.

Christina Fleming
Christina Fleming is responsible for leading the marketing and enrollment team within Blackboard Student Lifecycle Services. Christina works closely with Higher Education clients of all sizes to deliver strategic marketing and enrollment plans, execute on media and creative, and bring programs to market that are based upon market research and quantifiable insights.

Step-by-step approach to student recruitment

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  • brooke henderson

    Reading this I have learned the benefits of learning online. Although, it may not be the best for everyone. Not everyone has the resources in order to do so. It is a good idea for certain people with higher levels of education, but some may struggle in the long run. U of A did do a lot of research while conducting these results that show learning online is beneficial. They did surveys and talked to people on the phone as well. As for myself I am a more hands on learner, saying this would not be the right learning for me. I cannot stare at a computer screen all day in order to learn. These results would only be accurate for certain individuals, previously stated it is not the best idea for everyone.

  • Benjamin K Merrell

    Psychographics? There is enough data collected about students to know their psychological profiles in addition to demographics? How is this data acquired and how much do you actually know? What data is considered to be relevant to the context of online enrollment?