Enrollment strategy mistake… 5 notes on running away from $$$ information for potential students

Potential students want to know the cost of attending your college…

Some elements in higher education enrollment practices linger long past their “do not use” date.

One of those is a reluctance, even a fear, of providing cost information to potential students early in a recruitment cycle. That came home to me again when one of the planet’s most persistent secret shoppers (Jens Larson, associate vice president for enrollment management at Eastern Washingon University) posted this on Twitter:

  • “Today… a secret shopper persona received a viewbook from a college and that viewbook didn’t have any information about tuition, costs, or financial aid.”

In 2020 that’s a remarkable discovery. Or it should be remarkable. And rare. But given the difficulty of finding this same information on so many college and university websites, we really shouldn’t be surprised.  Here’s my 5-point reaction to Jen’s post:

  1. “viewbook didn’t have any information about tuition, costs, or financial aid” is an indicator of an poor marketing decision. Learning this info when first beginning a college search is a top task for many potential students. Don’t make it difficult to do.
  2. In ancient times (the 1990s, for instance) the mantra for many was “lure them with marketing magic until they want to enroll here, then reveal cost info.” That wasn’t good marketing practice back then. It hasn’t become good marketing practice since then.
  3. That’s one reason why “early FAFSA” a couple of years ago scared so many enrollment folk. If people turned in a FAFSA they were going to expect early response re their ability to lower sticker price cost and arrive at a net cost. The horror of it.
  4. It was also the reason that “required” net price calculators were buried on most websites & were complicated to complete. Many colleges didn’t want people completing them early in a recruitment cycle. The “requirement” to put them on a website didn’t say anything about whether or not students should be able to find them and easily complete them. 
  5. Smart marketers today will get financial info to potential students as early as possible. Get people for whom cost is too high out of a recruitment system early. Focus resources on higher yield from those who remain. That’s smart marketing.

4 practices to consider…


Eastern Washington UniversitySign up for MyInTuition… a genuinely “Quick College Cost Estimator.” Less than 10 steps required to get a net cost estimate. Still primarily used by private sectors colleges and universites, there’s no reason why it can’t also be adopted at public sector schools. When you visit the home page, note that 4 University of Massachussets campuses use it. Sample the form at one of the participating schools. Compare completion time with your net price calculator.

Compare your sticker price with your competitors. This may seem to work best for schools with a lower sticker price but don’t run from a comparison if you have the highest tuition. This is a perfect place to link potential students to your net cost information. Use it to create an applicant pool that’s willing to pay more. Cost does not always determine a final decision.

Connect new inquiries with net cost. In your communication plan with new inquiries, be sure to link people to your online net cost information at the start of the recruitment cycle. Do this in one of the first three contacts you make. If you’re afraid to do this, change your content.

Check your competitors. For sure you don’t want to be in a situation where your competitors have net cost information that’s easier to find and easier to use. If you do find your self at a competitive disadvantage this can be useful in making content change a priority at your school. Many potential students will be looking for that content on their first visit to your website. Disappoint them at your peril.

A related pespective…

Mongoose ResearchFor another view on the importance of early net cost information, read “Does your college website pass the 10-minute tuition search challenge?” from my friends at Mongoose Research.

Special note: don’t think that 10 minutes is an acceptable “find time.” It is not.

Keep this in mind: you don’t just want potential students to find your sticker prices. Get them to net price info from any sticker price page. If you don’t do that, don’t complain that too many students turn away from your school without realizing how few people actually pay full price. Tell them, right on the sticker price page, how few pay that amount.

That’s All for Now

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