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For-profits are changing traditional admissions and recruitment: Is it good or bad? #admissions #highered

January 18, 2012

For a whole host of reasons I have been thinking a lot lately about the impact of for-profit colleges on recruitment and recruitment methods.

Here are a couple of things on my mind:

First, I think it would be very hard to argue against the idea that their methods and resources have not changed the way others (non-profits) approach recruitment. Their emergence and increasing presence in traditional markets has changed the way we do things. Their aggressive approach and emphasis on numbers has appealed to many and I think traditional admissions and recruitment has responded by adopting a more metric-driven approach often models and practiced by for-profit recruiters. I withhold judgment about whether this is good or bad, but I am not sure it would have occurred or been as acceptable if it weren’t for increased presence of for-profit colleges.

For-profit colleges have improved considerably. Many for-profit providers exhibit the best characteristics of learning organizations and entrepreneurial efforts.   For-profit colleges are now acceptable and reasonable places. Those who continue to mock or dismiss the learning that occurs at for-profit colleges are living with their heads in the sand. While they don’t get everything this right, it is increasingly clear that their results have improved and that they are credible, not to mention popular, education providers. They are an important part of our educational system today.

Finally, it would be hard to argue against the idea that the investment for-profit colleges make in marketing and outreach have not made am enormous difference in the public’s perception of what they do and what they have to offer.  Many for-profits (think Kaplan, University of Phoenix, DeVry) have demonstrated considerable skill in managing their reputation. And, they’ve committed the resources to build, cultivate and nurture their reputation in ways that most not-for-profit colleges could never afford to do.  Their investment in marketing and reputation enhancement has proven to be successful and there’s probably something the not-for-profit could learn from them.

From where I sit, I think the for-profit sector of higher education is a serious threat to traditional admissions and recruitment and the not-for-profit world needs to wake up.

Here are two examples that make me nervous and reinforce the idea that we (at non-for-profits) need to wake up and respond.

Below is a recruitment message to a prospect from a for-profit provider. (This was provided to me by the uncle of the somewhat listless 30-year old young man who received it).

“Becoming a graphic designer takes a lot of work and natural talent. You need to have an artistic sense of detail and be able to capture your audience (and potential employees) with what you create. Although it’s a very competitive market, don’t get your hopes down because employment is growing at a rapid rate. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment is going to jump from 192,240 in 2008 to 323,100 in 2018.”

“If you have the ambition to become a graphic designer and the job market has made you afraid to begin your education, now may be the time to put those fears aside and start your career journey with XXXX College today. Your new job could be waiting.”

This particular college also links to this great info graphic about graphic design and graphic designers.

Their approach is aggressive (and admirable) and I certainly understand why it’s appealing. They have focused their message on the student, not the institution.  This is an example of how the for-profits have figured out that education is really about what the students does, rather than what the college does. It’s their customer service orientation coming through clearly.

Another example is the DeVry commercial called “Let Nothing Stand in Your Way” .” You know this one because you can’t go a day watching commercial TV without seeing it. (I refer to it as “The 5 a.m. scholar commercial”). This commercial is fabulous at making DeVry come across as a place that is all about you and helping you achieve your goals. As you watch this commercial, perhaps you’ll feel the same way I do, which is helpless. How does a not-for-profit keep up? How can I tell the story of Augustana in a similar way? How can I compete with the resources DeVry is investing in marketing?

All of the subtle, powerful, empowering messages this commercial sends are hard to compete with and pose a real threat to those who keep their heads in the sand and don’t recognize the need to invest in reputation enhancement.

Is the threat I feel real or imagined?

Does anyone share similar observations and concerns?

Are for-profits an even greater risk because of shifting demographics?

Can and will for-profits continue to invest heavily in slick marketing, etc?

Please let me know your thoughts and how the emergence of for-profits and their recruitment efforts have impacted your work.

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 18, 2012 8:56 pm

    The threat is very real and I think it goes even deeper than just for-profits making an impact on how non-profit schools need to personalize communication to better market. We’re in an age of technology, where huge impersonal companies (like Amazon) can make a pretty good guess on the music we like, or the books we might want to purchase. We’re getting accustomed to businesses of all shapes and sizes knowing more about us, what we like, when we last did business together or what we may have discussed, and we’re expecting that same level of personalized communication from every company (or school) we do business with. So, without having the resources of Amazon (or these for-profit universities), schools need to find efficient and cost effective ways to personalize communication. One simple strategy I’ve learned is to learn about candidate interests early in the admissions process, and use simple mass emails to market to those interests. For example, send a bulk email to the 500 people interested in soccer inviting them to visit campus on a day when there’s a game. Even though it’s a bulk email, it feels like it’s written for them because it’s based on their interests. It would be interesting to brainstorm other “personal” yet cost effective marketing strategies non-profits could use to enhance recruitment.

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