How to Increase Higher Education Student Engagement with Marketing

Planning your higher education marketing strategies is about working around two things: the rising cost of tuition and the growing number of students applying to post-secondary institutions. Not to mention, students have a lot of options to choose from.

To compete, you need to create digital marketing campaigns that:

  • appeal to peoples’ emotions
  • create a sense of urgency.

But why exactly is this the case?

Consumers attach the same personality characteristics to brands that they do to people.

Yet, this is about a lot more than creating a sense of belonging. Because your students need responsive and relevant support.

Here are some steps that you can take to improve the student experience.

Bonus resource:

Want to learn how to enroll international higher ed students? Then get our newest guide and learn about the 10 most-effective ways that’ll help you improve your enrollment campaigns in 2019.

1. Personalize your emails through making them timely

Is your newsletter not getting the results you hoped for? The issue might be a lack of personalization. It plays an important role in your students’ experience with your brand. Not to mention the fact, that it’s one of the key email marketing best practices in general, that delivers the highest results.

But what’s so important about personalization that makes it so effective?

It’s about reaching the right person with the right message at the right time.

With your students, you can do this by making them feel special…

One way you can do this is by showing your appreciation for the time and money they invested in your courses. This approach works no matter how long it has been since your students enrolled in your courses.

A great example of this is the George Brown College Continuing Education Newsletter. Since I’m one of their former students, I receive their emails on a regular basis.

A week before the holidays, they sent me a message, which showed their appreciation:

Email newsletter sent to students of the George Brown University before the holiday break.

The one thing that made it effective was its timing. The email also reminded me that now is the best time to sign up for new courses if I want to enroll in the winter semester:

Email alert about upcoming university courses from George Brown University.

George Brown’s message showed up in my inbox a week before the holiday season. So, I had a head full of ideas for the new year. As a result, I asked myself “why not take another course?”

What should you do if your former students are still on your email list?

When a new semester is around the corner, remind them of your registration deadlines. But you’re likely wondering what makes former students such an asset. Cost is a major contribution; a great example of this is the emphasis colleges and universities put on international student recruitment.

To work around factors such as decreasing birth rates and shifting demographics…

The amount colleges spend on international students is increasing. Because this is happening in so many different countries, attracting international students is becoming a competitive process.

Prioritizing healthy relationships with current students and alumni will help bring down recruitment costs.

Although that seems like a lot of work, you can simplify the process. This involves setting up automation triggers, which add former students to your GetResponse Marketing Automation workflow.

Every time a student completes a course, send them an invitation to join an email list. This email list is a great way to notify students about the following:

• Registration deadlines
• And course/special event news and updates.

2. Provide incentives tempting enough to turn prospective students into current students

One of the best business models I’ve come across in the higher education sector is Brainstation.

Brainstation is a company that offers courses in the following disciplines:

  • tech
  • design
  • digital marketing

Their students are working adults who want to upgrade their skills.

On a regular basis, they host panel discussions and events that cost as much as a cafe lunch.

So, what makes their approach so effective?

A lot of their event attendees have such a great time at their events that they register for courses. An important side note about their programs: they’re not exactly cheap. I looked up the costs, and full-time rates are $14,000 for full-time programs. Yet, they offer a scholarship program to accommodate students who can’t afford their tuition costs.

Not to mention:

  • Their application process is as much work as applying for a job.
  • And their courses are a huge time commitment. Students spend an average of ten to twelve months in their courses and certification programs.

So, everything I mentioned are hesitations that the organization has to work around.

The folks at Brainstation work around that by rewarding events with a high number of guests. Sometimes, they add event attendees to an email list and thank them for their time. This often involves offering a time-sensitive discount:

Brainstation congratulations email.

According to a RetailMeNot survey:

Four out of five (80 percent) consumers said they feel encouraged to make a first-time purchase with a brand that is new to them if they found an offer or discount.

Discounts will help you work around the biggest flaw of using events to attract students. They’re likely not ready to buy your courses right away. This is exactly where discounts can make a big difference.

Limited-time discounts encourage your students to stop procrastinating during the enrolment process.

But creating urgency isn’t always about charging less. Sometimes all people need to hear is a subtle reminder that they only have a limited amount of time to apply.

A great example of this is LinkedIn and how they sell their courses to LinkedIn users. This involves encouraging users to sign up for a 30-day trial of LinkedIn Learning:

LinkedIn learning message.

This allows people to test drive the platform for free. It also allows them to decide if the monthly subscription fees are worth paying for.

There are also other ways to increase student enrollment. Here are some tips on how you can use PPC campaigns and email marketing for higher student enrollment.

3. Send emails that create accountability and fight against shiny object syndrome

One company that does this in an effective way is the Boss Project. Because their courses are online-based and aren’t time sensitive, they have to work around shiny object syndrome.

No idea what shiny object syndrome actually is? Here’s a quick definition from Entrepreneur contributor, Jayson DeMeyers:

It’s the entrepreneurial equivalent of a small child chasing after shiny objects. Once they get there and see what the object is, they lose interest and start chasing the next thing. This may be business objectives, marketing strategies, clients or even other business ventures.

Founders Abigail and Emily tackle this by sending emails that encourage student accountability. When students enroll, they receive an automated email that congratulates them on their enrolment. This email also provides a few bonus resources and instructions:

The Boss project email notification.

Two weeks later, students receive an email that shows them how to leave a review of the course:

Automated email updated two weeks from signup.

So, how do you make your students feel accountable enough to:

  • finish your course?
  • and not switch to another course, with enticing benefits?

You need to remind them of the benefits:

Using benefits in email communication.

An email, like the above example, will remind current students of the value of your online courses. Because it focuses on missed opportunities of not completing your courses.

The good news is that a lot of this can be automated. Once you’ve chosen the conditions and set up a workflow, your messages can be sent automatically.

Here are some examples of how you can do this with email automation.

4. Create student ambassadors who will provide honest responses to student questions

Enrolling in courses at the adult education level can be frustrating. Because answers to questions about everything from:

  • course prerequisites and registration
  • to learning what being a student is like, before paying tuition fees

can feel like a cold and uncertain process. A great example of that is this tweet in response to a student question:

York University generic tweet.

Rather than providing a personalized answer…

They responded with a link to an FAQ page and hoped for the best.

Yet, managing social media as a higher education professional can be challenging.

According to Hootsuite:

The biggest challenge facing institutions is streamlining their social efforts campus-wide.

One of the many options available are student ambassador programs. Student ambassador programs include future students in a current student’s journey.

The job of the ambassadors is to use social media to capture the student experience. Because they’re students themselves, they point of view their point of view matters. But why is that the case?

Here’s an example of how an interaction with a student ambassador often “feels”:

De Montfort Uni DMU tweet.

Campaigns like these set you apart from your competition. Because they create two simple options:

  1. Attend the university, because it aligns with your values
  2. Don’t attend the university, because it doesn’t align with your values.

The feeling of campus life is especially important for international students. Because they are likely moving far away from home to enroll in your courses.

Encourage your ambassadors to produce content on everything from:

  • Information on key factors such as housing, food, and the people you’ll meet
  • To the experience of going to classes, writing tests, etc.

And when students have questions, encourage them to interact with ambassadors:

  • in person
  • over email
  • and during social live stream Q&A events

Strategies like these are essential. Because social media is the first point of contact between students and universities. So, it’s important to create a first impression that counts.

But above all else…

Students are often investing a great deal of time and money. So, it’s important to focus on making transparent information accessible to:

  • current students
  • future students
  • and alumni

Otherwise, they’ll change their mind and dedicate their time and money to something else.


Rosemary RichingsRosemary Richings is a specialist in blog content promotion and audience outreach strategy, who offers straight up content creation for websites and blogs. Since 2014, she has worked with diverse clients in the lifestyle and ecommerce industry. The clients that she has worked with include large organizations, such as E-bay and Yellowpages Canada, and startups/ small businesses such as Lokafy and BeFunky. She has also been published on sites such as Buffer, Search Engine Journal, the Weebly Inspiration Center, and more. Check out Rosemary’s latest in her ebook, Blog on, a blogging starter kit for entrepreneurs. Feel free to connect with Rosemary on Twitter @rosiemay_r for recommended reading material, along with news about her latest projects and content.

How to Increase Higher Education Student Engagement with Marketing

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