can your university website really lower dropout rates?

February 9, 2012 by

Yes.  Here's why.

We hear a lot of theories about why graduation rates in the United States are so low.*  Educators, journalists and politicians count poor academic preparation, financial pressures, and binge drinking as likely causes.

And for good reason.  As ACT (an American college testing company) reports, 'only one in four students who enroll in college is well prepared to be there.'

Financial pressures have a huge impact on outcomes too.  Over half of all college graduates come from high-income families**.  And the further you go down the income ladder, the lower completion rates are.

So those things are real and important.  And they're the business of policy-makers, not marketers,


the overlooked reason that 50% of university students never graduate

Bad marketing.

You heard right.  Bad marketing is partly responsible for the problem.

That's because one part of the puzzle is getting a good fit between student and institution.  Every college is different, and if it's not right, the student will suffer.  And very possibly drop out.

Effective marketing communicates who you are so that students know what they're in for.

communicate the benefits of your school

Good marketing = clear communication.  It also focuses on the benefits of what you offer.

Do your key benefits match what your prospect is looking for?

A student has a much higher chance of success if your college can play to their strengths and keep them motivated by offering the things they care about most.  It may be

  • a strong athletics program
  • high-octane academics
  • a focus on the arts
  • the ambience of a small college town

Whatever it is, you need to communicate it clearly so that you draw the right students to your university.

why university websites are so important

  1. Young people live online.  Between their laptops, tablets and smart phones, it's their main source of information for . . .  pretty much everything.  It may be obvious to you what your university is known for, but never assume that an 18-year-old is going to figure it out from your offline reputation alone.
  2. Websites are a multi-dimensional.  It's hard to beat a well-constructed website for communicating the richness of student life on your college campus.  Ordinary text still does the heavy lifting for descriptions of degree programs, financial aid and the like.  But at the next level photos, videos, interactive tools (maybe an 'Is SeriousAcademicsUniversity right for you' test?), Facebook pages, student blogs, and real-time events calendars can make a school come alive.  Even the glossiest brochure is no match for what a website can offer.
  3. Can't afford a campus visit?  Nothing can replace a campus visit for giving students a real feel for a place.  They get to meet the students, sit in on classes, check out dorm rooms, hang out in the cafes.  But only the most affluent parents can afford to send their child to their top college choices to have a look.  If you're serious about your goals to give good access to lower income groups, make sure your website gives them a full experience of your campus.
How do you target your ideal students with your website?  How well is it working?

* New Zealand rates are only marginally better at 67% .

** High income = $108,000 and above.  Chronicle of Higher Education, Alamanac Issue 2011-2012.

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