By Randy Best
In trying to boost enrollment, large numbers of American universities are discounting tuition, many up to 50 percent, through scholarships, grants and other forms of aid. While the practice may draw more students at the outset, the flow will stop when the price-cutting inevitably ends. Deep discounting can jeopardize the long-term financial health of an institution.
At a time when colleges and universities face unprecedented competition, uncertain state funding and creeping public doubts about the net value of higher education, the most certain path for public universities is to intentionally generate enrollment growth by investing in smart marketing -- a proven strategy that has helped many universities grow and thrive, even in today’s challenging macro-environment.
Marketing alone, however, is not the only piece of the puzzle. That’s because technology has altered the playing field. According to an Economist survey of 300 higher-education practitioners, 61 percent of respondents said online and distance courses will have the greatest effect on how higher education is delivered in the next 5 years. One in four respondents expected online and hybrid courses to attract more students and bring more revenue to their colleges or universities. From the student’s viewpoint, online programs can lower their personal costs and shorten time to degree.
AP’s role in this dynamic is to help non-profit, primarily public universities deliver online degree programs that increase enrollment and sustain growth over time. Our differentiation is low operating costs, achieved through the dual application of innovative technology and integrated marketing. AP recruits students in more affordable, high demand and scalable programs. The RN-to-BSN degree is a prime example. Many public universities have been unable to achieve robust growth for RN-BSN. Meanwhile, AP recruited approximately 25 percent of all students who enrolled in online RN-to-BSN programs in 2014 at America’s public universities. To accomplish that, the company produced more than 100 million digital impressions, representing more than 70 percent of all Google searches for an online RN-BSN. Also in 2014, Academic Partnerships’ field sales team called on more than 400 community colleges as well as 870 hospitals and healthcare systems to form affiliate partnerships on behalf of partner universities.
Most service providers focus on high-tuition programs that have lower enrollments. AP works with partner universities to market programs with high quality and affordable cost, allowing the partner university to serve vastly more students than ever before. The growth stories among AP’s partner universities is evidence that affordability is where the market is going.
The winning solution is not based on discounting. Future and sustained success for most public universities will require both affordable programs and a sustained investment in sophisticated integrated marketing. It’s the best way to fulfill a mission of delivering rigorous education to as many qualified students as possible, at an affordable cost with built-in flexibility to accommodate the busy lifestyles of working adults. This formula breeds success – for the student, for the university and for our nation.