Content marketing for colleges—To gate or not to gate your content


Previous posts on higher education content marketing:

1) Using content marketing to support online marketing campaigns
2) Paid interactive marketing for colleges
3) Six steps for effectively packaging content you already have
4) Content marketing: The psychology of the click


Gating content allows campuses to capture information from prospective college students and measure the success of their campaigns.

Gating content allows campuses to capture information from prospective college students.

In my prior blog post on using content marketing approaches as a tactic in higher education online marketing campaigns, I discussed a question I often get during consultations with campus partners I’m working with: “Why not just put the e-deliverable PDF download link or even the content within the e-brochure offer on the landing page, instead of making it available only following a form submission?”

In the prior post, I shared my main reason for gating an e-brochure: to only allow access to the offer once someone has submitted the contact form on your landing page. In this post, we’ll talk about the possible reasons higher ed marketers might consider delivering “ungated” content to test if that approach yields better outcomes.

Lower the barriers to generating student leads from landing page forms

When we broach the idea of “better outcomes,” we first need to define some terms so we have agreement on what our goals are. For the examples I’ve covered in this content marketing blog series, I’ve been making the assumption that inquiry or “lead generation” is the primary goal of the campaigns. If lead generation is the goal, there are two ways we can define a conversion to become a lead.

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Plan ahead for second-year college student retention and completion



Do second-year students get the attention they need and deserve on your campus? When your next cohort of second-year students begins its second year, will your advisors and student services staff be ready to retain them with focused interventions to keep them moving toward graduation?  How will these interventions be prioritized?

I have three nieces who right now are all completing their first-year of college: one in North Carolina, one in Texas, and one in Virginia.  They all began their studies with clear majors in mind: chemical engineering, nursing, and aerospace engineering.  They have all been reasonably successful in their first-year courses, although each of them also admits that they underestimated how much more they would have to study in college than they ever did in high school (and these women worked very, very hard in high school).

With spring break over now, they returned to their campuses for the last blitz of their spring semesters—only eight weeks remain in their first years of college. What were they all talking about during their spring breaks?  Their SOPHOMORE years! In many ways, they have already turned the page and are looking ahead to next fall—registering for their courses, signing leases to live off campus, and sorting through the various components of their social lives.

At the same time I was talking with them over their spring breaks, I received 2014 data from the Second-Year Student Assessment (SYSA) which reports the “motivational status”—non-cognitive motivational variables, prioritized—of more than  5,000 sophomores from 55 institutions across the country.  As I looked at these data and tried to understand the national perspective of what seems to be going on with sophomores across the country, I couldn’t help but wonder about my “rising sophomores” and what transitions lie ahead for them as they move from their first to second years of college.

Top 10 needs  of second-year college students

In what ways do second-year students need assistance to remain motivated? Here are the “top 10” requests made by second-year college students among 25 requests that were measured in the 2014 data:

Data taken from the Second-Year Student Assessment for college sophomores.


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Three initial considerations for planning and evaluating first-year college student retention programs



Are you new to your role as a leader of first-year programming? Do you know what your incoming students require to be successful and what resources to recommend? Have you studied the specific needs of diverse student populations within the larger cohort? Do you know how effective your existing programs have been?

If these questions relate to your situation, you’re not alone. While attending the 2015 National Conference on the First-Year Experience last month in Dallas, I talked with colleagues from hundreds of campuses across the country.  What was top-of-mind for most was how to be more proactive in planning for incoming students and more timely in responding to students’ needs and requests.

Here are three recommendations that can help you with these tasks:

1) Use data to develop and inform your program goals and outcomes.

  • What is your fall-to-spring persistence rate? What is fall-to-fall retention for your freshmen? What goal would you like to reach (for example, a 2-5 percent increase in persistence or retention)?
  • Compare your persistence and retention data with those from similar institutions. Utilize data from our 2015 Student Retention Indicators Benchmark Report.
  • How much revenue could your campus gain for each student you retain? Knowing this can make a powerful argument for getting retention to the top of the agenda. Try using a retention revenue estimator to determine that figure.

2) Determine the ‘profile’ of your incoming cohort of students.

  • What strengths are your students bringing with them to college? What are the barriers to your students’ success? For example, can you identify the students who have strong family support or have higher levels of financial concerns? Many campuses use motivational assessments such as the College Student Inventory to assess the strengths of incoming students and identify which students are most at risk.
  • Who are your targeted populations? Do you serve a large number of first-generation students, veterans, or adult learners? How do the needs of these students differ from others? What programming will need to be offered that is unique to these populations and what do they have in common with other students?

3) Create a plan of action.

  • Based on your students’ needs, who can you partner with on campus (specifically, which campus departments) to provide relevant resources to meet your intended goals and outcomes for student success? Many first-year student programs have benefited from strengthening collaborations between academic and student affairs, a process that often requires the involvement of senior leadership.  Partnering with Institutional Research can also be very beneficial in documenting needs and outcomes.
  • Based on students’ needs, goals, and outcomes, what strategic programming initiatives can you and your partners put in place to take your first-year experience program to the next level? Answering this question may require stepping back to get a better perspective, perhaps through a planning retreat or a series of meetings. It can also be helpful to study models that are in use on other campuses by attending conferences and webinars.
  • If you are looking for more specific information on improving your first-year program, consider attending the “Retention for Rookies” session and other retention sessions available at this summer’s 2015 National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in Boston.

Have a question right now about first-year programs? Feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned from working with campuses across the country here at Ruffalo Noel Levitz as we’ve worked together on projects for retention research and assessment. You can reach me by phone at 1-800-876-1117, ext. 8394, or by email.

Are adult students satisfied? A look at undergraduate and graduate data



Since 2000, adult learners (students age 25 and older) have become one of the fastest growing college student populations.  Between 2000 and 2011, their enrollment increased by 41 percent, and it is expected to grow another 14 percent through 2021. Adult students now comprise nearly 40 percent of the total student population.

But how satisfied are adult students with their educational experience? Do they feel the education they receive is valuable? Do they receive enough support from their institutions?

Recent blogs and research reports released by Noel-Levitz have taken a look at the satisfaction levels of traditional students and online learners.  Now we have new data to share about the satisfaction and priorities of graduate and undergraduate adult students.

This year’s National Adult Student Priorities Report includes data from more than 88,000 students at 150 institutions who completed the Adult Student Priorities Survey between fall of 2011 and spring of 2014.  The table below shows the overall satisfaction scores for all adult students along with satisfaction levels of adults in undergraduate programs and with graduate-level students.  The likelihood to re-enroll measurement shows how many would re-enroll at their institution if they had redo their education all over again.

In general, both undergraduate and graduate adult students are relatively satisfied with their educational experiences and would re-enroll.


These percentages are higher than the scores for traditional-age students, where the average satisfaction scores at four-year public and private institutions were 56 percent and 58 percent respectively.  However, I like to say that if adult students are not satisfied, they may not be enrolled at all, because they are less likely to invest their limited time with programs they find dissatisfying.
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Engaging students of color during the recruitment process



How can you tailor your recruitment strategies and communications to enroll a more diverse college student class?

As we approach 2017, there will be a dramatic shift in the ethnic composition of high school graduates. Enrollment is projected to increase 5 percent for Caucasian students, 39 percent for Hispanic students, 26 percent for African American students, and 26 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students.

Have you adapted your college student recruitment efforts to this demographic shift?

Through our annual Student Perceptions Report, we ask high school students what they think about the communications they receive from colleges and universities. With this intelligence, institutions can assess and adjust their communications and recruitment plans to best serve their prospective students. Below are some key findings from the 2014 report:

  • Preferred communication channels: Caucasian students were most likely to prefer direct mail; Asian and Hispanic students were most likely to prefer email; Hispanic and African American students were most likely to prefer the telephone.
  • Initiating contact with a college: African American and Caucasian students were more likely to initiate contact.
  • Social media behaviors: Asian and Caucasian students were the most likely to have used social media in their college search, while African American students were the least likely to have done so.
  • Application completion: Asian and Caucasian students were more likely than African American and Hispanic students to have submitted all the applications they started.
  • Parental involvement: Caucasian and African American students were more likely to report their parents as “very involved” in their college search. Asian and Hispanic students were more likely to report their parents as “not involved at all.”
  • Online videos: Students of color were more likely to view online videos than Caucasian students, especially African American and Hispanic students.

Students of color are more likely to initiate first contact at the application stage during the college recruitment process

Beyond student perceptions, we can assess the actual behaviors of prospective college students from the point of search through matriculation. For the cohort that entered in fall 2014, we can analyze trends based upon the consolidated data of 3.5 million student records.
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Content marketing for higher education: The psychology of the click



Previous posts on higher education content marketing:

1) Using content marketing to support higher education online marketing campaigns
2) Paid interactive marketing—a tactical example of content marketing for colleges
3) Six steps for effectively packaging content you already have 

Prospective college students who request e-brochures have—without expressly realizing it—increased their emotional commitment to your campus.

In my prior blog posts, I’ve discussed using an e-deliverable (e.g., a PDF e-brochure that can be emailed or downloaded) as a content marketing “carrot” in online marketing campaigns, something a prospective student receives in exchange for submitting their contact information on a landing-page form. When discussing these approaches on campus, I often get the question: “Why not just put the e-deliverable PDF link or the content within the e-brochure on the landing page, instead of making it available only following a form submission?”

This is a great question, and in this post I’ll offer two answers to it.

First, you want to ask your respondents to take an action to demonstrate their interest in your institution. This approach is rooted in the marketing psychology that the prospective students who request e-brochures have—without expressly realizing it—increased their emotional commitment to the school. By accepting your offer and completing the form’s required fields, they have entered into somewhat of a “social contract” with your campus.

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Content marketing for higher education: Six steps for effectively packaging content you already have



Content marketing is a great tactic for engaging students and prompting them to offer their contact information in exchange for valuable content from your campus.

My prior blog post on content marketing and paid interactive marketing focused on two different approaches to using e-brochures as a content marketing “carrot” to prompt prospective students to share their contact information in order to download the brochures. In this post, we will examine some “guerrilla” approaches you can use to create an effective e-brochure and share some tips on finding good content that your campus already has available.

Before we start, note that these tips are appropriate for campuses where resources to assemble high quality, professionally-produced e-brochures are not readily available. Of course, it’s great to have the capability to have professionally produced e-brochures, and for those who do have such access, I suggest you count yourselves fortunate and begin building your content marketing production partnerships right away. But, as is often the case in higher education environments, you don’t always have access to robust budgets and skilled publications staff who can craft an expensive publication.

Even if you don’t have access to professional design and production, the good news is that campuses often have the appropriate content they need to create effective e-brochures. It’s just a matter of tracking that content down, assembling and perhaps updating the content slightly, and then repackaging in a electronically-deliverable form (often a PDF can be easy and effective).

So how do you create a compelling e-brochure that students will want to download, even if you’re operating on a modest budget and don’t have a ton of resources to devote to it? These six steps can help you repurpose existing content you already have available into an effective e-brochure.

Step 1: Go on a scavenger hunt for content across your website and in your marketing, admissions, and academic departments.

Look and ask for anything and everything that was created to market or simply inform students about a given program. Targets for your hunt can include print materials, e-communications, recruiting event invitations, program brochures, program one-sheets, admissions requirements, student videos, and so on.

Step 2: Think about what your marketing campaign will be seeking to achieve (likely this will be inquiry/lead generation) and the informational expectations of the audience you’ll be targeting.

Discuss with your campus colleagues the most frequent issues or pain points prospective students cite during their early discussions in the recruitment process. Are they concerned about program quality? Do they want more detail on the classes they will take or about their instructors? Is it something driven by emotion or fear, such as “Can I get into this program?” or “Can I afford it?”

Step 3: Make a prioritized list of all of the pain points and then do an audit of the items you found in your scavenger hunt from step one.
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Predicting student retention at community colleges



Enrollment at community colleges has been a hot topic lately, especially following President Obama’s announced plan to provide tuition-free classes for students at two-year institutions. In a recent blog, my colleague Mari Normyle shared some reactions based on assumptions about community college students and the quality of their educational experience. The data she shared may counteract some common assumptions people have about community college students (especially their commitment to academics), which illustrates why it is important to study and analyze the data about college student attitudes and behaviors.

One assumption many have is that when college students are satisfied, they are more likely to persist and complete their educations. Noel-Levitz has investigated this topic in recent years. We published a study by Dr. Laurie Schreiner called Linking Student Satisfaction and Retention, which found a significant link between satisfaction and persistence at four-year institutions. In another study last year, The Relationship of Student Satisfaction to Key Indicators for Colleges and Universities, my colleague Scott Bodfish and I reviewed institutional graduation rates, including those at community colleges, and found that colleges with higher graduation rates were also more likely to have higher student satisfaction scores.

However, while many community colleges have long had a commitment to assessing student satisfaction, there has been little definitive evidence that satisfaction with the experience was linked to individual student persistence at two-year institutions, until now.

Dr. Karen Miller, vice president for access and completion at Cuyahoga Community College (OH), in cooperation with Noel-Levitz, recently completed a national study of 22 institutions and more than 22,000 student records to examine student satisfaction and spring-to-spring persistence. The study, Predicting Student Retention at Community Colleges, is the first study of its kind with a national scope. Dr. Miller looked at student satisfaction and importance data from the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) as well as additional institutional and student demographic variables to see how they predict student retention at community colleges.
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P + P = R is the basic formula for student retention



Many of you have heard me recommend a basic formula for student retention which combines the leading indicators of retention with the actual retention outcome. That formula is P + P = R or persistence plus progression equals retention. While most colleges and universities have policies that allow students to persist from their first term to their second term, those same students may not have progressed, i.e., successfully completed their courses in the first term. I have had conversations with many student success professionals about the above formula and many of us believe that progression indicators are probably more predictive of first year retention than is the persistence indicator.

Let’s take a closer look at progression. Once grades for the first term are posted, many of you may begin to think about the progression indicator of GPA, which may have placed many first year students on warning or probation or suspension, depending upon your policy. At this point, you may ask yourself: Are our probation rates and our students’ credit hours attempted-to-earned ratios “normal” as compared to similar schools?  To find out, Noel-Levitz conducts a poll of leading persistence, progression, and retention indicators every other year. Many of you may have participated in the past or in the latest study. See the latest benchmark report to compare your rates with other schools who participated. Once you have compared your first term outcomes, you may want to consider more intensive academic recovery strategies to try to improve progression rates among your students, which, in turn, affects your retention rate.

One must-do intervention for progression

To improve progression rates, I recommend that effective programs which require students to participate in the development of their own academic recovery should be implemented at the end of term one and/or the beginning of term two. These programs can come in the form of courses, individual counseling, academic support, TRIO programs, or a combination of these services. If a student isn’t earning the required GPA or hours that are expected at the end of term one, immediate participation in such academic recovery programs must be expected.

Examples from campuses

I encourage you to discuss the following progression models with your retention committee or task force:

  • My friends at High Point University in North Carolina use an extensive review process (what one might call a 360-degree review), of each student’s first term and the student’s improvement plan for term two. The plan is developed with a success coach, referrals are made, and progress is monitored.
  • Academic recovery at Montana State University Billings comes in the form of a workshop in which all students must participate. Group and individual meetings are held with follow-up and monitoring by success coaches.
  • Albion College requires a course taught by counseling staff which has in-depth assessments, appropriate referrals, and ongoing monitoring as its key elements. To learn more about this model, join us at the Noel-Levitz National Conference (NCSRMR) this July in Boston, where Dr. Barry Wolf will deliver his very engaging workshop describing just how Albion manages academic recovery.

No matter what form your academic recovery strategy takes, please try to be timely in your delivery. Many of you might be on break when or shortly after grades are posted in December. This is the critical time to begin to assess and respond to the progression indicators.

Share your ideas and strategies
I would love to hear from you to learn more about your academic recovery strategies. Please post your ideas so that others might learn from you. Your ideas never to cease to amaze us, and we’re all about helping one another strategize.

If you have questions about P + P = R, or if you’d like to discuss your strategies with me, please e-mail or contact me at 1-800-876-1117, ext. 5602.


Paid interactive marketing—a tactical example of content marketing for colleges



Content marketing allows campuses to cast a wide net and attract the interest of students who may not yet be specifically interested in that school.

In a prior blog post on content marketing for higher education, I focused on defining what content marketing approaches for prospective college student lead generation look like from a macro perspective. With this post, we’ll dive into the details to explore some specific and ac­­tionable approaches you might try on your campus.

As a reminder, and to frame this post for those who may have missed the previous blog, here’s the working definition for content marketing I shared in that post: “Using brochures or other media to provide those viewing online ads with value-added information that we send them in exchange for sharing their contact information.”

With a content marketing ad approach, we use a value-added information resource—an e-brochure, a video, or infographic—as a “carrot” offered in exchange for a prospective student’s sharing their contact information with us via a form embedded in the campaign’s landing page.

As a specific example, assume a school is using a Google AdWords search engine advertising campaign for marketing a master’s level education program. A click on an ad could lead a prospective student who is searching for education programs to visit a landing page where they can request a free brochure, “10 Keys to Advancing Your Career as an Educator.” All the visitor has to do is provide a few bits of information (name, email, maybe a qualifying question or two) and submit the form. Once they submit the form, they then see a “thank you” confirmation page where they can download the brochure and, ideally, an email message to their provided address will immediately land in their inbox with a link to that same brochure.

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Michael Lofstead