Any organisation looking to attract new customers must first put themselves into the mindset of the types of people they are trying to reach. They need an in-depth understanding of what motivates them, what makes them tick, their aspirations and the challenges they need to overcome. Only then can they begin to create an offering and messaging that is tailored to attracting those people.
This is as relevant in the FE sector as it is in the world of business, with colleges becoming more commercially-focused in order to attract students, employers and funding. Student recruitment into FE is challenging, in particular in the apprenticeship arena – where matching students to courses and employers is testing to manage. Not to mention the general consensus by many parents and students that A-Levels naturally progress onto a degree course at a university campus.
In addition to this, students in general are more knowledgeable than ever before around college statistics, the courses available and feedback from past students – because it is all available to them at their fingertips on their mobile devices. So how can FE colleges leverage all of this to their advantage to attract greater numbers of students – or should we call them customers?
1. Communicate effectively
Moving onto college can be a daunting experience for many school leavers, so making the process easy for them to understand is really important. Review and update all your communications to students. It only takes one unclear document to put them off signing up with you.
2. Promote a good reputation
If your college has a good reputation, this is something you should be promoting heavily all year round, on social media, on your website, in e-newsletters and also in the local press where possible. This will put your college front of mind and ensure you are on a student’s list of potential options when making their decisions on where to go.
3. Create case studies
You are sure to have many good success stories, where you may have helped to turn a student’s life around, or where an ex-student of yours now has a successful job or is really making a difference in the community. Create case studies about them and post them onto your website. You can use snippets of these for social media purposes, print them out to handout at events, and position them prominently in your reception area.
4. Improve processes and technology
Sometimes great technology will impress students but most of the time it is just expected to be a ‘given’. Ensure your enrolment or funding application systems are all up to scratch. If not, students will just get frustrated and give up, possibly going on to apply elsewhere, where the technology works!
5. Gather statistics
Tracking and promoting positive feedback through the Government’s ‘FE Choices Learner Satisfaction Survey’ or your own internal surveys should not be forgotten. This content is valuable for gathering customer insight, feedback and potential PR material. Aylesbury College has recently promoted the following short but impactful news article following positive survey results. These are certain to be attractive to prospective students:
“Aylesbury College is one of the ten colleges that topped this year's National Student Survey for satisfaction among higher education learners. The annual survey published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) was completed by more than 300,000 higher education students. It measures student satisfaction of the quality of courses taught at universities, colleges and alternative higher education providers. Aylesbury College achieved full marks, with their higher education students scoring 100 per cent for course satisfaction.”
6. Promote employer calibre
If you have good relationships with employers make sure you promote this on your website if they are happy for you to do so. It’s often challenging for students to visualise their career path – from school to college – and then where? If you can promote the partnerships you have in place with employers, this will provide food for thought for students, and a greater incentive to choose you.
7. Market your mix of courses
It goes without saying that a student’s choice of college is mainly determined by the type of course they want to take, so ensure you are effectively promoting the courses you run on your website and in your literature. Don’t forget to update these every time you add or remove a new course. The apprenticeship reform – for example – has shifted the landscape with higher level courses and new types of courses available to apprentices.
Maybe your college already has all, or some of the above in place? By identifying what students want and need before they sign up with you, and adapting to meet these needs, you can improve the service you provide to reduce attrition and supercharge student recruitment.
Many FE colleges are now adjusting their mind-sets to do this, and thinking and acting more commercially; implementing the above to attract increased footfall, the funding and the success that goes with it.