Seven Habits of Highly Effective For-Profit Colleges: What Traditional Colleges Can Learn from For-Profits

By Noaman, Abu | University Business, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Seven Habits of Highly Effective For-Profit Colleges: What Traditional Colleges Can Learn from For-Profits


Noaman, Abu, University Business


FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES HAVE been under congressional scrutiny because they appear to be under-performing in enrollment, academic quality, and college loan repayment. I lead a company at the forefront of marketing traditional colleges, and our team believes that--regardless of the outcome of these investigations--traditional colleges and universities can learn some powerful lessons from the meteoric rise of their for-profit brethren. Here are seven of those lessons.

1. Embrace online channels

If you have searched lately for academic programs on Google, Yahoo!, or Bing, you are probably amazed at the dominant presence of University of Phoenix, Kaplan, Walden University and other for-profit colleges. For-profit colleges, with the intent of following their potential students, have moved the lion's share of their marketing investments away from traditional channels toward online channels.

For instance, according to the June 9, 2008 issue of Advertising Age, University of Phoenix's 2007 marketing budget was a whopping $222 million, with the largest share devoted to online marketing.

In contrast, many traditional colleges are still hanging on to ways of doing things that once worked, but certainly don't anymore. Expensive direct-mail campaigns, television ads, billboards and viewbooks continue to be the staples of traditional college marketing. But all respectable polls from Pew, Harris, and Noel-Levitz clearly indicate prospective students are using the internet to make their college choices, and are largely ignoring old-style marketing.

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We recommend traditional colleges, just like their for-profit counterparts, begin investing large portions of marketing budgets in interactive touchpoints, including web, search engine marketing, social media marketing, and relationship marketing. It will certainly yield a better return on investment.

2. Respond to mega-trends

There are two trends for-profits have embraced but traditional colleges are still struggling to accept.

First, demographics clearly indicate the conventional 18- to 22-year-old, four-year college student makes up only a small portion--less than 25 percent--of total college-bound students. More than 70 percent of new students are nontraditional or adult students.

The rapid rise of for-profit colleges is a direct result of traditional colleges' failure to meet the special needs of nontraditional students. If traditional colleges decide to take care of this segment's special needs--such as flexibility, service, and mature cohorts--they stand a good chance of deriving benefit from the sheer number of adult students.

Second, new students entering college are quite comfortable with online learning paradigms. They are exposed to it as early as preschool and interact with online learning at home, school, work, and in the military. For-profit colleges have accepted that hybrid learning is here to stay, and routinely deliver their curricula in online and hybrid formats. It's time traditional colleges embrace online and hybrid learning.

3. Invest in technology infrastructure Colleges must invest more in technology infrastructure if they wish to deliver what new students are demanding: online and hybrid learning.

For-profit colleges understandably spend more than 10 percent of their operating budget on technology infrastructure; in contrast, a traditional college spends less than 3 percent. …

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