Leveraging FAST as a Marketing Tool

Millennium Computer Systems, Ltd.
April 8, 2022

For several years, I presented at Academic Impression’s annual conference on Strategies for Scaling and Growing Online Programs. The annual event drew schools of all sizes, both public and private, with varying degrees of established online programming. One of the sessions I delivered focused on conducting market research when only limited resources are available. Of all the sessions I presented, this one was always the most popular among attendees.

The session focused on the more do-it-yourself approach to marketing and recruitment (outside of the normal work of the Admissions Office) with a primary goal of increasing online enrollment. Many attendees hailed from schools in the initial stages of offering distance education. Those attending my session were often their school’s champions for distance education, hoping to gain a few low-risk and low-cost tactics to bring home. Many of these champions worked for schools with leadership and faculty who expressed fears about losing on-campus enrollment to online classes, inability to control course quality, plagiarism concerns, lack of funds for marketing and technology, and concerns about student identity verification are often identified as key factors for reluctance to expand online offerings.

Therefore, my sessions on low-risk and low-cost marketing were often packed with the online champions from schools with reluctant stakeholders. They often knew they’d have to prove something before their leadership would invest further, and they were looking for ways to do that without asking for added resources. At the time, I was the Dean of Online Education, and I was a FAST front end user. Many of my slides featured the ways I used FAST Student to help grow online enrollment, and I’ve outlined several of these for you below. While this blog is focused on using FAST to make marketing and recruitment decisions for online education, really, these same approaches can be applied to any subset of your institutional enrollment.

Develop a Prospective Student Profile and Target Market

Before starting any successful marketing project, it is important to identify a target audience using the available data your institution has available. When it comes to recruiting students, this really means you need to develop an understanding of your ideal prospective student. While there are many ways of approaching this, one of the best ways is to look at the students who are already enrolled at your institution. This is where FAST comes in.

Using FAST Student, you can run one of the enrollment registration reports to identify all students who enrolled in at least one online class at your institution during the last five years. From the data derived from FAST Student, you can develop an ideal student profile based on demographics, location, and degree. Once you have your data, the fun can begin as you start to identify enrollment trends. Questions I ask when looking at student data include:

  • Location Data

    Do the students who live further away from campus take the most distance education courses? What are those zip codes?

  • Preferred Modality

    Do students between 30-45 tend to take online classes more than traditional undergraduate students?

  • Course Preferences

    Are some online courses more popular than others?

  • Surprising Findings

    Are there any surprises in this data that I wasn’t expecting?

Once you have developed an ideal profile for the type of students you would like to recruit, there are a few inexpensive options to test campaign viability for your college or university. I have outlined a few of these tactics below.

Printed Mailers

There is debate on print collateral among many in the enrollment world. It can be costly to print and mail thousands of postcards to prospective students, but in my experience, we always enrolled quite a few students based on our mailings, making them an important investment in our marketing portfolio. There are three key steps to print mail:

1. Purchase lists from a reliable source with an excellent reputation so that you can identify prospective students that are most likely to choose your school over any other institution. Most reputable databases allow you to search for students to send mail to based on extremely specific information. This is where you can use the information derived from FAST Student—age, locations, programs of interest, etc. The level of granularity is nearly infinite, so come ready to search with knowledge of your ideal student profile!

2. Hire a graphic designer who knows what they are doing. Sometimes this can be a bit costly, but it is just as important as obtaining prospective student addresses. If you have a sub-par design that does not reflect your institution’s identity, you are less likely to see a positive return on investment.

3. Find the right printing company. Make sure they can handle quick turnaround times and can mange postage as well as printing. As for references if you haven’t worked with a company before.

Social Media Advertising

I will never cease to be surprised how many people use social media to search for a college or university to attend, but networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are popular resources for students considering which school to attend. When using paid advertising on social media, you are supplied the opportunity to identify your target audience—again, your audience consists of your prospective students using the data derived from FAST. It is easy to plug in the right search criteria to identify the exact type of student that is the best fit for your institution.

Make a Case for Increased Revenue

If your institution’s leadership is weary of engaging in a new venture into distance education, you can use FAST Student’s Enrollment Forecasting and Planning (EFP) tool to project possible revenue and enrollment scenarios. Once you show the possibility of a revenue and enrollment generating possibility, leadership is more likely to pay attention and supply investment support.

With just a small amount of investment, a bit of strategy, and a lot of data, it is possible for any school struggling to get started with marketing and recruitment for a new program or modality.