Rating academic programs for potential students… the Concordia University, Nebraska story

Individual academic program ratings by students, alumni at Concordia website

Concordia University Elementary EducationEarlier this year at a conference in Spain for higher education professionals my colleague Gerry McGovern asked this question: “Where are the authentic student reviews on university websites?”

At the time, I only knew of one example, at Western Governors University. That became a Link of the Week selection. That prompted a reply from Seth Meranda, director of marketing and communication at Concordia University, Nebraska to tell me about a Concordia program with even more potential marketing strength: reviews from alumni and students of individual academic programs. The Concordia example became another Link of the Week. And Seth agreed to answer the questions you see here about the program.

Why is the Concordia program stronger than that at WGU? It focuses on individual programs. Learning about individual academic programs at colleges and universities is a top task for nearly all potential students. Individual program ratings are of more interest than an aggregate of the total. The Concordia system is also more detailed, with ratings in 11 categories. The Elementary Education example is here.

Three questions and answers are here. Four others listed below will follow next week.

With the proverbial “no further ado,” here are my questions and Seth’s answers.

How did the idea to add student reviews of your academic programs start?

“This came from an extensive analysis on developing our next web-focused strategy. Through our research we found multiple trends that lead us in this direction: 1) Students continue to rely on search engines to find schools with their academic programs of choice; 2) Generation Z (and millennials) value transparency from brands; 3) product reviews, thanks to Amazon, have become second-nature in evaluating purchase behavior and; 4) research and web transactions are increasingly done on mobile devices—representing a shift to content structured to allow for quick evaluation and representation.

“All of these items combined allowed us to hone in on this review tactic. In addition, we had data that went back a few years. While the data gathering wasn’t intentionally designed for this outcome, it provided us with 80% of what we needed to get going. From here, it simply became a matter of how to technically implement.”

What was the faculty reaction? Any advice on how to get faculty support for this?

“We started our discussions early on with our Provost. The general concept was shared with her as well as our goals and hypothesis. She was on board from the get-go, and she was excited to see how it goes. Therefore, we knew that with her support, the faculty would be supportive as well. Fortunately, our faculty have come to appreciate how our website is our most valuable recruitment asset. They see the reviews as an extension of this and, for the most part, are appreciative of the fact that we’re doing something innovative—it shows how we’re using their programs as part of the recruitment strategy.”

Are you making any special effort to use these in student recruitment?

Concordia University MBA“Yes. Outside of the website (which we value as our most strategic recruitment tool), we’re using the reviews in recruitment emails and digital ads. In emails, we’re currently A/B testing approaches to utilizing the reviews as the primary email content. Items we’re testing include images, subject lines and headlines. On the digital ad side, we’ve used the reviews as part of our retargeting strategy. For example, we recently finished the first sprint of our MBA retargeting ads which used the visuals of the 4 out of 5 stars. While these ads had our lowest CTR, they had our highest ever application conversion rate (when compared to our previous retargeting efforts).”

Next week… 4 additional questions

  • You’ve said this is a “continually evolving project.” Where do you see it going in the next year or two?
  • How have SEO results for individual academic programs improved?
  • You worked with an external agency on this project. How important was that resource to getting this up and running?
  • Any advice to other colleges/universities planning to do this?

That’s All for Now

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