Higher education is desperate to lure more of Gen Z. How will they succeed?

In our next few blog posts, we’ll explore a score of challenges faced by colleges and universities across the U.S. and how marketing is part of the solution. Our goal is to gain some inspiration and insight that’s applicable to any business with seemingly unsurmountable changes looming in their marketing sphere.


While industries that require higher education are growing rapidly (think healthcare and technology) it’s ironic that colleges are suffering from a steady decline in enrollment. Experts point to many factors including a strong job market that’s luring people away from higher education. Then there’s the larger issue of a declining birthrate which means fewer high school graduates from which to recruit today and in the years ahead.


So, what are colleges doing about it?


In order to recruit more of Gen Z, which encompasses the next 14 years of high school graduates, savvy college marketing departments are capitalizing on tactics that can squeeze the most ROI out of their budgets.


Leveraging Artificial Intelligence:

Gen Z grew up online so there’s no shortage of data on their digital habits. With programmatic ad targeting, AI can maximize an ad budget by predicting the best time of day to serve an ad to someone, the best placements for engagement, and the probability of conversion.


Chatbots, are another example where AI is a perfect fit. They are becoming less artificial and more helpful by the minute. More importantly, they allow colleges to efficiently serve an audience that’s accustomed to 100% digital communication and expects instantaneous answers.


Focusing on the potential of the Latino population:

According to Pew Research, young Latinos make up one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations. In California where 47% of people age 18-24 are Latino, boosting college attendance and graduation for this demographic is key. It’s no wonder that a rising number of colleges are seeking to enroll enough Latinos (25% of full-time students) to be listed as Hispanic Serving Institutions by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and Excelencia in Education.


Harnessing the power of social influencers:

It’s widely understood that Gen Z values communication from their peers on social media more so than anywhere else. That doesn’t mean colleges have to pay high-priced influencers with huge audiences to hype the value of a degree. The most influential social media posts occur organically through the students of an institution. Think of it like user-generated content on steroids. Every time a student posts about their school’s sports teams, academics, or anything involving college life, it has an effect on their followers.


Colleges smartly boost influencer marketing through student ambassador programs, clever hashtags, and social media contests. Princeton takes the prize for motivating students to engage on social media. In fact, Princeton’s Office of Communications has a wonderful blog devoted to their social media that’s full of learnings, tips and best practices: https://princetonsocialmedia.tumblr.com/


We can also take lessons from the University of Michigan’s social media team: https://socialmedia.umich.edu/blog/


As marketers, we tend to be more focused on the past and the present. How can we beat last year’s campaigns? What’s new in our marketing landscape this year? That’s all important but we should also be thinking about the next generation of consumers. Keep an eye on higher education and you’ll be more prepared to connect with Gen Z when they enter your market.


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