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Marketing Campaign Increases Online Enrollments

With increasing competition in the Texas online education market from large national online institutions, and with large numbers of 100-percent online students graduating each year (735 such students in 2019, for example), SHSU Online began to take action to increase online student enrollments last summer. In consultation with other university leaders, Dr. Bill Angrove, associate vice president for distance learning, decided that funding a marketing campaign would help position Sam Houston State University as a strong choice for students seeking to attain their education online. To achieve the campaign's objectives, SHSU Online, in collaboration with SHSU's Departments of Marketing and Communications and Enrollment Management, developed a strategy to reach and target prospective adult online learners. The strategy involved consideration of current research about online learners’ demands and preferences, US census data on educational attainment, ESRI Tapestry Segmentation, and our own student data. Dr. Angrove and Dr. Ruth Chisum, executive director for SHSU Online Operations, initiated the research process by identifying these sources.

marketing imageClinefelter and Aslanian Market Research conducts an annual survey of online college students by surveying 1,500 prospective, current, and recently graduated fully online students. Their findings provided SHSU Online with a national perspective on demographics such as age, gender, marital status, number of children, household income, employment status, race/ethnicity, and first-generation status. The study also provided us with behavioral and psychographic information about online students, such as influential factors, motivations, and methods in which they consume media and communicate.

Examining data about the 100 percent online student population at SHSU, SHSU Online determined that the demographics of our population similarly aligned with data presented by Clinefelter and Aslanian. Thus, we adopted behavioral findings and psychographics from their study as part of our strategy. We were also able to create maps that provided us with geographic insight about where we have had success recruiting students in the past. In addition to SHSU Online's student maps, we also considered historical website interest from Google Analytics to aid in narrowing the geographic focus.

campaign1With this knowledge about our student population, national trends, and previous website interest, SHSU Online narrowed potential targets down to zip codes within major metropolitan areas for advertisement placement. To do this, we identified areas where educational attainment was primarily “some college but no degree,” weighed them by number of historical SHSU 100 percent online enrollments, then gathered and compared ESRI Tapestry market segmentation data to demographics and psychographics from our initial research.

Given Clinefelter and Aslanian's findings that television, radio, digital, and social media channels align with how most online students consume and communicate, SHSU Online sought out and worked with media advertisers to plan placements on those channels. Recent technological advancements in the broadcast advertisement industry afforded us the ability to collaborate with advertisers to focus on the identified areas with targeted household delivery of ads to those indicated as “seeking higher education.”

SHSU's Departments of Marketing and Communications and Enrollment Management were instrumental in helping SHSU Online make the “Your Time. Your Future” campaign a success by contributing additional resources. Marketing and Communications helped SHSU Online refine and align campaign messaging with the SHSU brand by workshopping scripts with our team. They also placed print advertisements in the Houston Chronicle and Community Impact. Enrollment Management helped ensure that we directed potential students to the correct landing pages and inquiry forms, leading them down the path toward application to the university. Enrollment Management also ran adult learner advertisements on digital and out-of-house channels.

Between our cross-divisional campaign efforts, we saw a net increase of 194 100-percent online students--from 3,480 100-percent online students in Fall 2018 to 3,674 100-percent online students in Fall 2019. The campaign generated over 20 million impressions, driving over 45,000 unique pageviews to the campaign landing page from June 1 to August 1. This success would not have been possible without support from university leadership and our collaborative colleagues in Marketing and Communications and Enrollment Management. 

SHSU Online is applying the knowledge and skills obtained during the Summer 2019 kickoff of this marketing campaign to continue in these efforts, hoping to build on our initial success and ensure healthy growth of online enrollments in the months and years to come.