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Business Schools Vie for Recruits the Way Companies Do

Colleges tap social media, other tech tools to attract students


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When business booms, business schools often don’t.

“Low unemployment is not really conducive to graduate education,” says Andrew Glockner, executive director of communications and marketing for Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. “People simply have jobs, and they don’t need to leave their jobs to improve the path they’re on.”

And a good economy isn’t the only headwind for business school recruitment at the state’s colleges and universities. They also face increased competition from expanded MBA, EMBA and undergraduate business programs.

But when student recruitment gets tough, the people in the trenches get creative. Institutions are increasingly adapting their marketing efforts to include digital communications, social media and data analytics. 

At Daniels, much of the recruiting effort has been digital, such as search engine optimization, paid search advertising and email campaigns. The college also partners with a firm to provide data analytics to see which parts of the strategy work, such as whether potential applicants are clicking through the emails to arrive at the Daniels landing page.

“There is a multiplier effect,” Glockner says. “The whole thing falls down if you have one hole, and with data analytics you can source where that hole is.”

Another key tactic is pay-per-click, which has seen rising costs on Google and Bing. “The cost for MBA keywords can be up to  $60 per click,” says Cate Clark, associate dean of admissions at Regis University. “In 2014 the average was $40.” She adds that, according to the online advertising software provider WordStream, “MBA” has become the eighth most expensive ad search word.

Still, she says, search engine optimization is critical, as is making sure a website is mobile friendly. Retargeting, or having a small ad follow the online visitor after they leave the website, is also part of the mix.

While digital marketing is a must these days, the high-touch approach is still crucial. Colorado State University College of Business purchased a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to manage how it communicates with leads. “We are able to document our conversations, log our emails, and follow the journey with the student,” says Nicole Olsen, director of recruiting and admissions. “That allows us to make personal connections.”

CSU College of Business uses digital media to find students where they spend the most time, which is online, mostly on their smartphones. Social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and soon, Instagram, are part of the mix, as are phone calls and visits. “It takes longer to build trust if you use strictly digital tactics,” Olsen says. “But without digital you won’t be able make headway in new markets beyond your current geographical target.”

Third-party digital firms are playing a role. “Partners who can help navigate the ever-changing landscape, make data actionable, and respond real-time to tactical efforts are critical, and highly effective in Leeds’ digital recruiting efforts,” says Sharon Matusik, dean of the Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder.

Leeds uses search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click, the website experience, and a robust CRM strategy. Still, the most important tool is an in-person conversation.

“Anytime we can get a student on the phone or to campus, we have a chance to bring our graduate student experience to life,” Matusik says.

Social media is the primary tool for finding prospects, says Chittibabu (Chitti) Govindarajulu, Ph.D., associate dean, College of Business at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “The advantage of social media is it fits all kinds of budgets,” he says. It also finds people who do not have undergraduate degrees in business. About half of the students at MSU Denver’s MBA program, which launched in spring 2017, have bachelor’s degrees in something other than business.

Another tool, Govindarajulu says, is to make the website user-friendly. “With other websites, they want to know your name and they want to collect data before they give you something,” he says. “Being a state school, we don’t want to be that restrictive.”

CU Denver Business School, University of Colorado Denver, uses a mix of paid search, digital ads, search engine optimization and social media. The recruitment efforts reflect 
a larger trend.

“The education market has to compete more like companies do,” says William Kubie, MBA, director of marketing for CU Denver Business School. “You have to show the benefits you will bring to their lives. You 
have to find the message that resonates 
with your audience.” 

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Nora Caley

Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics.

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