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A Tactical Guide to Graduate Student Recruitment

Graduate student enrollment may be on the decline. Boost your enrollment management strategies with these three tips.

One of the major questions facing administrators at graduate institutions today is whether graduate enrollments will begin to reflect the same declining numbers as undergraduate enrollments. Previously, evidence of graduate student enrollment on the decline was limited. However, recent reports cite as much as a 5% decline in U.S graduate student enrollment. Many factors may contribute to this decline such as lower undergraduate enrollments, lower wages, student loan repayments, and hectic lifestyles. To combat negative enrollment trends, many graduate institutions are ramping up recruitment efforts. Here are three tactical tips we at Hanover suggest for more effective graduate student recruitment. 

Graduate Recruitment Tip #1: Communicate a Clear Value Proposition  

A solid brand presence can give a college or university an edge over its peer institutions. However, to be effective, institutions must ensure their brand value is not only compelling but aligned with current market and student needs, while still reflecting the essential character of the institution.  

Under the weight of economic pressures, graduate students may exercise more discretion when determining the value of potential graduate programs, especially those who are employed full-time, are caregivers and/or carry undergraduate student debt. In other words, institutions need to work even harder to differentiate their programs from competitors and articulate why their graduate programs are worth the cost and time.  

Measuring and Sustaining a Healthy Brand in Higher Education

Rather than a one-time activity, developing successful branded messaging requires tracking your institution’s brand health over time and regularly evaluating and adjusting strategy, especially during difficult times. Consider the following ways to strengthen your institution’s value proposition for graduate student recruitment season:  

  • Ensure academic, marketing, and recruitment teams collaborate to clarify the value proposition and messaging for graduate-level programs. Many institutions base recruitment for graduate programs within academic departments, but cohesive and aligned branding, messaging, and enrollment plans are only achieved when key institutional offices work together. 
  • Investigate key brand health questions to assess how audiences perceive your graduate programs, such as: 
    • Who has heard of us? Where did they find out about us? 
    • What do our target audiences think about us? 
    • Are we a preferred institution for prospective and admitted students? 
    • Who are our brand advocates?  

 When conducting brand awareness or brand perception surveys, make sure to include many different institutional community members, such prospective students, current students, staff, donors, and alumni for the most comprehensive look at the state of your brand. Additionally, allocate resources for survey research and peer/competitive benchmarking to understand how people view your programs and how peer institutions position theirs. And finally, keep surveys brief and accessible to boost participation.  

Creating a culture of belonging is key to making your institution stand out. Check out our insights blog to learn more about building inclusive messaging to promote student belonging.  

Recruitment Tip #2: Target the Right Audiences  

Although every higher education institution serves many audiences, enrollment marketing efforts must prioritize the needs of prospective students and the information they value most highly. However, as the impending undergraduate enrollment cliff nears and graduate enrollments decline, higher education leaders across the nation are inevitably asking: How can we best reach audiences with enrollment intent, despite the shrinking numbers?  

To keep up, institutions must know where their most promising potential applicants are located, and those insights must be accounted for in any marketing and advertising strategy. Get ahead of the enrollment cliff with these insights:  

  • Stay up to date with the latest demographic trends by closely monitoring graduate-level recruitment, enrollment, and retention data and looking for demographic and location patterns.  
  • Develop personas for prospective graduate students and revisit them regularly to ensure they reflect student needs and demographics.  
  • Lead with the following questions when allocating resources for geomarketing initiatives.  
    • What are promising new markets for our institution?  
    • What geographic markets have the most favorable recruitment conditions?  
    • What are the ongoing demographic trends and patterns likely to impact our institution? 
Help potential graduate students in various locations find opportunities at your institution with our geomarketing research. 

Recruitment Tip #3: Be Intentional About Data Collection  

The goal of graduate student recruitment planning is not simply to have one “good year,” but rather to create a positive trend of sustainable growth in cohort size and offerings. Building a solid strategic framework of data collection and analysis is key to achieving this success. Institutions may have multiple departments that track metrics across admissions/enrollment, marketing, and academic affairs, but should ideally be able to integrate this information into a holistic approach to growing and managing a successful graduate student population. 

Simply having access to data may not be very effective, if it cannot be applied to a long-term enrollment management plan. Choosing the correct key performance indicators (KPIs) is key to maximizing your admissions and recruitment efforts in the long run. Consider the following KPIs and tips when collecting data for your long-term graduate enrollment plan:  

  • Enrollment growth among underrepresented students: Understand your institution’s performance in attracting graduate students that reflects state and national demographics.  
  • Number of graduates in fastest-growing undergraduate majors: For institutions with both undergraduate and graduate programs, this metric is crucial for identifying new opportunities in the enrollment pipelines.  
  • Percentage of graduate degrees awarded within programs of strategic emphasis: Develop and track enrollment targets in areas that meet local labor market demands. This metric is particularly helpful in meeting overall enrollment goals given the diversity of graduate programs.  

Overall, it may be discouraging to read that fewer Americans are attending graduate school. The good news is that there’s still time to adjust course and mitigate the negative effects of graduate enrollment barriers. The key to success lies in carefully calibrating your value proposition, audience targeting, and data collection efforts to bring compelling messaging to receptive audiences at the right time. 

Get the most out of your graduate marketing initiatives with our guide, 4 Ways to Measure Marketing Effectiveness in Higher Education .

Revive your graduate student recruitment strategy with these tips.

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