Direct Marketing in Student Recruitment: How far from the Buffalo-Rochester area?

Recruiting Students Far From Your Location: Most students stay close to home

Consistent research reinforces the same widely-known knowledge: most high school students do not travel far from home to attend college.

Students who do travel further than most usually are at higher academic ability levels, at least as measured by test score results. Higher income and parental education level also are factors. The profile of the 2017 high school graduate contacted by our list of 206 schools meets those criteria. Check it here in the first post in this series.

For the most part, schools that can enroll students far from their location have high brand recognition in general (Harvard, Yale, Stanford) or are well known for specializing in a narrow area of study (Berklee College of Music). People who receive a contact from one of these schools are likely to at least recognize the name of the college or university. Without initial name recognition, the risk of an immediate dump into the trash is high no matter the quality of the email or print contact made.

Even for students with high test scores, the average distance traveled from home is a bit over 500 miles. You can see more on distance traveled from home as well as a list of 25 schools that draw people from 800 to 1300 miles in this report on 2014 high school graduates.

In that same report, you’ll find the percent of students who leave their home state. New York was a high exporter at about 30 percent of high school graduates. Most of those enrolled at schools in Northeastern or Mid-Atlantic states.

The impact of this information on direct marketing plans for high school student recruitment?

If you buy the names of students to contact who live more than 500 miles from your campus, you should at least expect a very low inquiry yield from that effort. That in turn means a lower application and enrollment yield. The lower your brand recognition at the start, the lower your expectations should be. That does not make “distance marketing” always a bad idea. But it does suggest that it is a good idea for only a few of the schools who engage in it.

Geographic distribution of our 206 schools in 41 states

Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul University was kind enough to work his data wizardry to make an easy-to-read map of the U.S. that shows how many of the 206 schools are located in each of the 41 states. He also included data on how many undergraduate students from New York state are enrolled at each of the 206 schools. Jon’s profile is here. He’s not adding any analysis.

Most contacts, as we should expect, were made from schools in Pennsylvania (34) and New York (31). New England is represented by 23 schools and New Jersey by 6 colleges and universities. The only other state with a double-digit count is Ohio at 14. Of our 206 schools, the highest number of New York students is enrolled at University of Delaware (639).

We’ll leave the nearby states for later review. Today we want to note the 13 most distant of the distant schools attempting to recruit our student: those from California, Oregon, and Washington.




How realistic is the West Coast search effort?

An interesting mix, yes? All but one are in the private sector. Of the 13 schools, 5 identify themselves as “Christian” colleges or universities. Another 3 schools are “Catholic” schools reaching out to a person who checked that religion when registering for the SAT.

The match between our student’s SAT scores (1240 and 1370 in two attempts) and the average SAT is close if a bit lower in most cases and not close in two others (Notre Dame de Namure at 990 and Hope International at 960). Only Reed College at a 1380 average was higher.

Two of these schools (USF at 17 and Reed at 16) have a small cluster of New York students enrolled. If the “reach to the East” is carefully targeted in their case to keep the name purchase relatively small, this is a reasonable direct marketing effort. University of Redlands might also fit that category at 8 students. For the other 10, this is more of a stretch. Each of the others now has fewer than 5 New York students enrolled.

We don’t know, of course, if any of these are reaching out in an initial attempt to broaden the geographic base of their enrollment. The migration stats noted earlier tell us that the chances of success are not high. The probability of weak brand recognition “back East” enhances the challenge.

How can you break through brand blindness? 

If you are making first contact with a potential student who is not likely to recognize your name, what’s the best way to do that? Not by writing “Your Adventure Begins Here” (Boise State University) or “It’s All About U” (Bowling Green State University) on the outside of an envelope.

Send something focused on the student’s area of academic interest. Preferably that will be a specific major. If not a major, at least the area of study related to the major. Very few schools do that, so you gain a competitive advantage. In the next post, I’ll review the communication contacts of one of the few that did, Case Western Reserve University, and compare that effort with what arrived from the West Coast schools.

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