Digital efforts yield enrollment boost: A success story

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Each year, community college marketing and admissions teams ask themselves the same question: What can we do differently this year to increase enrollment?

At North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC), digital marketing has been a vital key.

Because it’s such a significant approach of the marketing mix, the NIACC marketing team chose to tackle specific digital tactics one at a time. Last year, for example, the team redesigned the college’s application. As Staples likes to say, the marketing team created an “easy” button for students to apply to the college instead of making students scroll and read, then scroll some more and read even before getting to the application.

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

This first step was wildly successful, resulting in nearly a 13% increase in completed applications alone and turning around the downward trajectory of full-time students.

This year, the marketing team chose to tackle the next big digital tactic: targeted digital ads for specific educational programs. The chosen diploma and degree programs included medical assistant, agriculture, criminal justice, tool and die, and information technology.

Using targeted digital ads, four of the five programs saw enrollment increases, with an overall year-over-year increase of 23.3%.

How NIACC got its results

Targeted digital ads certainly made an impact on these successful results. However, it wasn’t only about the digital ads. NICACC used a multi-faceted approach, as marketing requires and the target audience expects.

The college enhanced the web pages for the chosen degree and diploma programs, including new images and fresh content, which allowed for a more engaging online experience for students. Additionally, the college streamlined the calls to action and information requests on each page.

Sample of digital ad for NIACC’s criminal justice program used on social media.

NIACC also designed rack cards using the fresh, lively look of the web pages. Some might consider rack cards outdated, but admissions, instructors and counselors still find a use for these. These cards also included a QR code that drove students to the newly redesigned web pages.

Now, the pièce de résistance: Targeted. Digital. Ads. These used the same website and rack card graphics, providing consistency in messaging and driving home the key program information and calls to action.

The marketing team focused on potential students ages 18 to 34 who live in NIACC’s nine-county area. The team placed social media advertisements on Facebook, Instagram and Twitch. The results were unexpected: Those between ages 25 and 34 had the highest number of interactions or clicks, with ages 18 to 24 coming in second.

The team also tried an additional digital component for the agriculture program, which is popular at the Iowa school. It geo-fenced agriculture digital ads within one mile of each county fair for the duration of each fair throughout the summer fair season.

Testing out efforts

Even though the marketing team felt as if it knew the exact target audience for these programs from previous campaign data, digital ads required some testing. The team created more than one visual component and more than one call to action, setting up A/B tests and monitoring advertisement impact with each variation.

Ultimately, this was successful for four of the five programs that were part of this effort. With a total cost of $14,500, the digital program marketing advertisements accounted for more than 2.64 million impressions and 26,700 clicks, with an average cost per click of .55 cent.

Just one program did not perform well: the information technology advertisements did not result in an enrollment increase. As a result, the marketing team will try additional tactics next year, using fresh assets and possibly new platforms to better reach this specific market.

Because assessing — and reassessing — will always be part of a marketer’s job.

About the Author

Kara Trettin
Kara Trettin is the promotions manager at North Iowa Area Community College. She is also a member of the 2023-24 cohort of NCMPR’s Leadership Institute.