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Tracy is the chief relationship officer at EducationDynamics. She works with an incredible team to drive enrollment growth for schools. She helps develop strategy and drive performance to ensure their college and university partners exceed enrollment goals. With over 20 years of education marketing experience, Tracy has been an integral part in the continued evolution of education marketing strategy. Tracy enjoys sharing what she has learned with the higher education community, and she is a regular speaker at higher education and marketing conferences, including conferences hosted by UPCEA, CECU, and the American Marketing Association.
Read the Transcript:
Bob Martin: Let’s start it right off, if you don’t mind, with talking about these two groups of students. What, in your mind, is a traditional student and what is a nontraditional student? Maybe if you start off with demographics and kind of work your way through it that way.
Tracy Kreikemeier: Sure. So, first of all, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. And secondly, on your question of the traditional versus the nontraditional student, it will be interesting to see how these definitions change, as the projection is that the current nontraditional post-traditional adult student population is going to be larger than the traditional student, which is typically defined as a first-time freshman—a high school student going into college for the very first time. And then the nontraditional student is either called a post-traditional or adult student. And what we’re typically referred to as just those people not entering into college for the first time for the traditional four-year college experience.
Lee Doubleday: Gotcha. Now, Tracy, you mentioned that the nontraditional student and the post-traditional student being a larger group of people than the traditional student. And I’m assuming that’s because more people are going back to school. Is that sort of what’s happening now, and that’s the shift in education? Is it people are gaining extra credentials or going back to school is more common than the high school senior leaving high school and then actually attending an institution as a freshman?
Tracy: Yes. So that is definitely a large part of it, how education continues to evolve into being a lifelong learning process. So, people are either going back to school to get an additional degree or going to be retrained into a different type of career at some point. But a large part of that marketplace are also those students who didn’t finish when they were a traditional student, so a first-time freshman, and they didn’t complete their degree at that point. And then they are either coming back to finish the degree that they started or have determined that they want to go down a different career path and are starting a new degree or a different line of study.
Lee: Right. Yeah. Would you say that’s because education is now more attainable now than before?
Tracy: I think some of it is it’s more attainable, but I think a lot of it is we don’t all know, when we are 18 years old, what we actually want to do for a career. And when we were in college for the first time, sometimes life happens and we don’t finish then, and then we start working in a different job as an adult. And then, in order to get promoted or into a management level or a new title or just to make more money or have different jobs open to us, then you need to have different degree levels—an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree in some cases—in order to be eligible for those steps.
Bob: Tracy, this is Bob again. Let me go back to, if you don’t mind, just this is more for my clarification. Lee and I keep—we’re hearing from a number of schools about this whole postponement, the student postponement or delay. In other words, a senior that is graduating saying, “I think I’m just going to take a year off. I’m just going to take a year off and see what happens, how things go.” And first of all, does this kind of delayed or postponement person, do they fall into traditional or nontraditional?
And then the second thing, do you have just any observations about if that is a good decision? In other words, historically, we would say, “Don’t put it off. Don’t put it off. Don’t put it off. Get in and get going on your education or training, your program of study. Get in there, jump in with two feet, and get going because you’re going to get out sooner and you’re going to start making money.” Any ideas where this—I call them postponement. That’s just my own definition.
Tracy: So, what’s really interesting about that is that in countries outside of here, it’s very common for there to be a gap year in between when someone graduates from high school and then goes to university. And here, it’s been, typically, a very natural just next step to go in and do that, and I think we’re starting to see more of that. It was definitely accelerated by COVID over the course of the last year, where just a lot of students didn’t want to pay for the experience—and pay for the college experience when they weren’t going to have a traditional on-campus experience and so—it’s really mixed. For some people, they can take a year off, and then just join back, and go to a—the traditional next step. And others, they start working or they start going down another path, and then it leads them to not necessarily take that step then. And, in a lot of cases, it’s helping to give them clarity on what they really want to do as a next step because going to the—when you look at traditional students, it’s typically looked at as going to the four-year college experience. And, as we well know, that’s not for everyone, and allowing them to have some more exposure into understanding what they should do and what would be best for them, in terms of career outcomes—as well as the investment they need to make in that education.
Bob: So, the kids that I’m calling postponements and mostly—what we’re hearing from is mostly schools that are dealing with COVID-19 situations where, probably with everything that’s going on, they just haven’t had a chance to really focus on—after graduation and going so they basically step back. So, I think I hear you saying that what I’m calling a postponement student is really, internationally, defined as a gap year student. Is that right? Is that right?
Bob: So really then, maybe in a funny way, COVID is pushing our United States into more of a—internationally, what they’ve been doing forever. Is that fair?
Tracy: Yeah. We definitely are seeing some of that. It will be interesting to see if it becomes more widespread and something that does continue or if it was solely just the byproduct of the pandemic.
Lee: Tracy, as you know, the education landscape is—and as we just talked about—is changing all the time. And so, that kind of brings me to my next point and what I wanted to talk to you about, which is more on the marketing side, because that’s what EducationDynamics is really all about.
We’re talking about traditional and nontraditional students. We talked a little bit about their demographic differences, but how else do these two students differ from each other, and how should colleges differentiate their marketing to these two student groups?
Tracy: Yeah, and they vary—greatly differ. When you look at a traditional student is looking more for the college experience—the campus experience—what is that all going to be like there, typically, when you live on campus? Athletics is a part of it. And the buying committee there is really important in terms of the parents being so more often than the post-traditional student, part of the process and paying for a portion of their college experience.
Whereas, if you go to the post-traditional or the adult student, they are typically working a full- or part-time job. Lots of times, they have a family already and they are trying to fit school in amongst a very busy life. And in some cases, they’re going back to complete the degree. They’re going back to advance the degree, and they’re really motivated by the output of what it will be. “Will I get a higher salary? Will I have new skills to advance in my career?” So really understanding if the cost—in terms of both dollars and time—are worth the benefit, which would be that advancement in their career or changing their career into something that is more relevant in today’s economy or something that they are just more interested in and need to transition to, whatever stage of their life.
Bob: We’re talking to Tracy Kreikemeier. She is the chief relationship manager at EducationDynamics. Let me go into—let me just follow up on what you were just saying, Tracy. Are there particular programs that you think maybe would lend themselves more to a traditional student and maybe are the trends leading towards certain programs for nontraditional students, so to speak?
Tracy: Well, I think there’s a lot more pressure on accountability for having career-oriented programs across the board now, so making sure that with whatever the degree is, that they are career ready, that employers will deem that those graduates have usable skills and that they will be able to hit the ground running when they come into the organization. So, obviously, over the course of the last few years, there’s been a lot of criticism of liberal arts education, and does it lead to grads that will have jobs and be gainfully employed? Whereas on the adult side of things, they are typically already working or have a program that they are interested in. And that is what is fueling their college search.
And, so, when you look at which programs are just most popular and growing, when you pay attention to the BLS data—the Bureau of Labor Statistics, information about where jobs are growing and where we see demand on the marketing side of things—as expected, health care continues to rank extremely high across the board, from associate degree level programs—medical assisting, things like that—all the way up to the graduate level. And then you get into med units and everything there, you’ve got the cybersecurity and information security data and analytics are obviously things that are really, really growing on the job side of things. And then alternative energy—when you look into occupations that are growing at the fastest rate. And, so, you’re seeing more and more schools roll out programs for that and just continued interest on the demand side as well, when looking at what are people searching for in going back to school.
Bob: We hear a lot about stackable programs, particularly relative to health care professions. In other words, for the—I guess this would be more nontraditional kind of students. You want to make sure they get in, they’re successful, they’re leading to a very well-defined career. And maybe you stack another additional career with a little bit more education. So, you’re going from maybe a certificate to an associate’s to a bachelor’s degree. This kind of stackable idea. And Tracy, to make sure that the student is comfortable, he or she is successful, and he or she could get back in and really do well.
Tracy: Yeah, absolutely. And that is such a good experience for the student as well, because, in theory, then, they are using that degree—an associate’s degree—and potentially have access to employer-funded education benefits as they go on and advance their career. Because, obviously, we just continue to hear so much noise about student loan debt and everything about loan forgiveness and just the cost of higher education in general. So, the stackable degrees are great because it prepares somebody for the career—they can start working and then hopefully have opportunities to have that next step supplemented by their employer.
Lee: Yeah. Okay, Tracy, without giving away the secret sauce, let’s say I’m school owner and I have an increasing number of nontraditional students that are interested in my programs. What are a few things that I should be doing to make sure that I’m effectively marketing to this group of people? What are some social media platforms that work best for this group? And would you recommend that a school do all of this marketing internally, or should they hire an outside agency for help on things like this? And I know your answer is probably biased. [laugher]
Tracy: Yes. So, my answer to that part of the question is obviously going to be a bit biased, but I will try to be as non-biased as I can be. But when you think about how should you be serving an adult student, the student experience is just so important. And taking a step back and making sure that—is your institution set up to cater toward that student? Are you available to talk when they’re free? When you look at the traditional student, a lot of that recruitment enrollment happens during the day when adults working during the day. And, so, do you have hours for them to talk to you, to come visit, have their interviews during times that are convenient for them? Are you structured in a way that, if you are going to go out and do more marketing, that you have a good speed-to-contact point?
You have to get into their consideration set of three. Once somebody decides which three schools they’re going to go look into, it’s very difficult to break into that. So, you’ve got to be able to respond quickly, to stay there and then help them through the admissions and enrollment process. And then, really, just being set up and being ready to talk to them when they’re ready to talk to you. By the time they fill out an inquiry form or live chat you, or in the rare instance that they would actually call you, they have interacted with your brand in multiple places, and so making sure that you are set up to give them information that they need.
As a school owner, thinking about my marketing plan, I would 100% of the time start with my website. Is it easy for a prospective student to get the information that they need, knowing that they’re going to care about what program they want? And how many clicks does it take for them to get to that information? Cost is always something that is extremely important. So, how much information do you have on the website about affordability and tuition assistance and different things like that, so that they can get some information on that? And then, do you have multiple ways for a prospective student to contact you? You have an inquiry form, there’s a click-to-call, there’s the chat function, and application function. And can they do all of this very easily on mobile? I think people continually are surprised at, even when you are searching to go to school, how much of the process is done from a phone and not a desktop. And so, making sure that that information is as easy to get to on the mobile version of your website as it is on your desktop version of the website. And then, after that, diving into paid search and social—Lee, like you had mentioned—optimizing your campaigns within Google, within Microsoft Bing, and then having a presence on social within Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn, utilizing all of the audience-targeting tools at your fingertips, and then understanding at what point you need to add awareness marketing in the mix. If no one knows you’re there, they can’t contact you.
And so, when do you expand into digital and terrestrial radio, OTT, local broadcast, out of home—different things like that, and making sure that you’re owning first to the market that you’re in and taking advantage of all the brand equity there? I still think that that is a miss that a lot of schools, especially on the online side, have, where they just start to expand more quickly outside of that market, where they don’t have the brand equity and recognition, and it gets more expensive to buy than making sure that they have a good market share within their own marketplace. And then, as well—do you have any questions before I answer the internal versus agency question? [laughter]
Bob: No. No. No.
Lee: No, go for it. You’re on a roll.
Tracy: Yeah. And so, for that, honestly, it really just depends on how big of a team you have yourself—what access do you have to technology resources and expertise, and how many students you’re looking to recruit. Because, at some point, you can’t—it is absolutely feasible to have all the internal resources to manage your website, to have good technical SEO to do conversion rate optimization on the site, content marketing, buying Google and paid search, and getting into paid social, having relationships with all of the different providers that you need to have in terms of expansion into awareness, if you have inquiry generation as a part of your mix. There are lots of schools that are very successfully doing that in-house with a large team, a great technology and reporting foundation, a CRM, having a good nurturing plan, having a good student experience from the point of consideration all the way through.
Where you’re wanting to look to see if an agency is right for you—and some of the things that an agency can bring—it is the access, sometimes, to technology that isn’t affordable on an individual campus basis. It’s also access to different layers and levels of expertise within some of those disciplines, as they evolve and grow and change so quickly. And then the other big thing is just access in to the various engines. With our partners, they get to have planning meetings directly with some of the big social media platforms, as well as Google and Microsoft Ads, and then Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter—and bringing that to the table so that they have more of a strategic relationship and such there. And for some schools, it’s easier to have an agency like us operate as an extension of their team, that’s when it works the best, and having a sync of our technology and their technology. And then, in some cases, they manage everything in-house and then we get to be a consultative arm and help them where they might have blind spots. So there’s no right way to do it. My preferred way is to work with us because, obviously, that is what we do. But there is absolutely no one way.
Bob: Well, our guest today has been Tracy Kreikemeier, chief relationship officer with EducationDynamics. The time just literally blew by. And I just want to thank Tracy for joining us to talk a little bit about the topics of traditional versus nontraditional students, what some of the success programs or the areas of interest may or may not be, and also what are some of the marketing tools and programs that postsecondary education institutions should be looking at. Tracy, really do appreciate your time.
For more information, I would urge you to go to the Career College Central website to get information on this podcast and ones that are going to be coming up in the future.
On behalf of my cohost, Lee Doubleday, and myself, Bob Martin, we hope you have a great day. And we very much thank you for sharing a little bit of your time with us.
Tracy: Thank you. I appreciate it.