A sudden rise in attendance at community colleges has led to a reassessment of the typical student marketing strategy. More people are seeking out community-based education institutions because of their flexible schedules and dedication to providing practical knowledge.
Educational marketers are taking notice of this trend and seeking out new ways to reach their audience. Non-profit and for-profit institutions alike are shifting strategies to account for this previously underexposed demographic.
An Educational Existential Crisis
With skyrocketing tuition costs and fees, the traditional four-year university is being re-evaluated. Many students cannot afford to dedicate the time and money necessary to accrue student loan debt that has a slim chance of being repaid soon after graduating. Other students simply feel averse to jumping into a four year program straight out of high school.
These groups have begun to turn to community college as a way to get an affordable education in a more skills-oriented degree program. Additionally, other groups who would normally not seek out higher education are approaching community colleges as a reliable way to earn enough to support a family. Aside from cost, community colleges appeal to these demographics for a variety of reasons.
College Preparedness and Completion
High school and GED programs across the country are graduating students who still do not have a grasp on basic skills. When they attend college, they may be held back from taking their core classes. Many of these students end up biting into a significant chunk of their student loan allotment before they even begin taking classes in their actual program.
Schools like City University in New York have recognized this problem. To address it, they have rapid “catch up” programs that bring students up to expected levels in as little as a semester.
So far, the program has reduced failure rates for reading, writing and math assessment tests by a full 20 percent. 81 percent of students taking the program were proficient in at least two areas by the end of the program.
Initiatives like these are designed to prop up students who would normally slip through the cracks. Other methods employed by schools like City Colleges of Chicago have increased completion rates, while also lowering costs such as textbooks and lab fees.
Community college organizations have also focused more heavily upon job readiness skills. Taking a page from lean manufacturing, many schools have shed programs and courses that they feel would not directly benefit students in a career environment.
Some schools like Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland have even begun to accept prior experience as credit towards graduation. Military veterans are granted credits for completing basic training, as well as leadership training or cyber training programs. While Anne Arundel is still in the minority in this regard, a movement towards providing non-traditional students with a means to achieve a degree has begun to take hold across the country.
A Community Marketing Approach
To meet the needs of the community college demographic, educational marketers are going to have to adjust their approach. Community college students require value and practicality. They also tend to lack available time, taking courses in between hectic work and home schedules.
While they may not have the deep pockets of the average Ivy League attendee, they are willing to spend their money on solutions that improve their ability to succeed. Tapping into this utilitarian mindset is crucial for communicating the necessity of your brand in their pursuit of education.
As the US marches towards a future of simultaneous ballooning student loan debt and an increasing need for post-secondary degrees, community colleges will steadily climb closer to the norm. Ignoring this ripe and growing market will only cause your organization to lag behind over time.