While a large portion of our posts have been about the many ways to engaging the prospective student, including mobile apps and social media involvement, there’s a big piece of the admissions marketing pie that we haven’t forgotten – and we want to make sure you haven’t, either.
Namely, the parents of your prospective students.
Parents today are seeking involvement in their child’s college experience far beyond signing a tuition check and cosigning loans. Having spent every waking moment of the last 18 or so years wholly guiding their children towards this moment, they absolutely aren’t going anywhere when the time comes for their child to pick a university. So, how can admissions teams effectively communicate with parents to make sure their school is at the top of their list?
Recognize parental concerns: Don’t try to hide it – there has been plenty of media buzz lately questioning whether or not college is still worth it in today’s rough economy and job market, and parents are well aware. So, a major step is to have parents convinced that the price tag on your college is worth it. Has your school been recently ranked as a top school for ROI (return on investment), or noted for generous scholarships and grants? What programs and opportunities are in place for your students to ensure promising career outlook upon graduation? While these statistics may be time-consuming to accrue, Spectrum clients who are able to advertise clear outcomes, especially on a department- or program-segmented level, see much greater involvement at the parental level and meet deposit goals earlier. Consider the ‘at-a-glance’ value of seeing “96% job placement rate” versus “high job placement rate”—providing concrete statistics is an obvious advantage, especially on a program-by-program basis.
Give parents what they want to know: According to a study done in July by Rasmussen Reports, an independent firm, more than half of parents view a college’s financial aid office as the best resource for choosing what kind of loans to take out for their kids (source:(http://chronicle.com/blogs/headcount/despite-financial-concerns-most-parents-still-value-college/36133). So, why not put that information out there for them to easily find? Parents want to trust you and see you as resourceful – and they will, if you are proactive about seeking out their concerns and tending to their needs. Particularly, families may be unaware of special ‘conditional’ scholarships and grants – those predicated on academic performance, state of residency, religious service, or even siblings in higher ed can make an important difference. Money that a family doesn’t know it can take advantage of is doing nothing to reduce the bottom line for them, and that could be all that it takes to land you in the discard pile. Best of all, if you give them the information clearly up front, you can reduce the amount of personal follow-up through email and phone calls required to make the same points.
Reach out to parents on multiple platforms. Your admissions marketing strategy should always involve parent-targeted email and print. College selection is now a family-wide decision, to be sure to send eye-catching print pieces addressed “to the family of (student name)” to ensure that the parents know it’s for them. Remember, parents of prospective students tend to have other friends whose kids are also at or approaching the college search stage – quality, informational print pieces can aid parents along in recruiting each other. Capturing parent email can be a liability on your initial formfill—students drop off for every extra question they are asked and requesting parental email from a student who has yet to develop a meaningful relationship with your school may seem invasive. We recommend collecting parent email information during campus visits or through secondary formfills. We have found that parent’s often opt-in for text messaging when given the option, as well.
Incorporate parents into open house and campus visit events: It’s no doubt that prospective students and their parents can have conflicting interests when visiting your campus, so why not split them up for part of the day? Student groups can have tours of more student life-oriented aspects of campus, such as extracurriculars and hang out spots, while the parents can talk logistics and tour the facilities. Students will get the chance to ask questions they may not have wanted to ask around their parents, and parents will be free to voice their concerns without worrying about eye-rolling teenagers at their side. Separate offerings for parents at these events show that your college values their role in the college selection process – a crucial part of your parent nurture campaign.
One important consideration that we’ve observed is that there is a defined role for parents in every stage of enrollment cycle – and, just like their children, they benefit from direct, actionable calls to action. Your emotional appeals to gain a student’s attention will only be so effective without parental consent in most cases, and if you can’t provide a satisfactory experience for all parties involved with the enrollment decision, you’re risking the loss of prospects at that weak link in your communication chain.
When you begin your 2015 communication plan, make sure that prospect parents are an integral part of your equation.