The Class of 2018: Profile of a Student Seeking a Christian-Based Education

In a changing world, what do my next generation of students look like and where do I find them?

By Gil Rogers

With competition for “traditional” undergraduate students becoming tougher every year (National Student Clearinghouse reports a 1-2% national decrease in first-time, full-time enrollment annually over the past 4 years), many institutions are left wondering, “Where do we go next?” And while there are some glimmers of strength, this challenge can be especially true for faith-based institutions seeking to fulfill their missions, while maintaining the long-term viability of their institutions.

As recently as November, 2017, Inside Higher Ed reported what many had been predicting for years -the consolidation of colleges and universities (many of these being faith-based institutions) due to enrollment and long-term financial stability challenges.

There is some good news. Faith-based institutions have a few options to forge ahead. These options simply require an understanding of Eduventures’ Student Mindsets with respect to recruitment marketing and a keen eye for program innovation.

Understanding Student Mindsets

Recent research by Eduventures has identified 6 distinct Mindsets of prospective undergraduate students. These Mindsets go beyond looking at prospect pools by traditional segments like geographic or demographic data. While still important, it’s also critical to consider that within these groups, there are students that are thinking about their post-secondary education in different ways.

Based on this research, we can understand some quick takeaways with respect to the Mindsets of students interested in a Christian-based education:

  • Students interested in a faith-based education have greater interest in healthcare and school teaching (elementary) as a career.
  • High priced schools are oftentimes considered because they believe they will qualify for financial aid
  • These students are more likely to want to make an impact on the world and also want to have a meaningful life

What does this mean?  It means that when building communication plans and recruitment materials, faith-based institutions are best served to lead with the strength of their philosophy and mission over job placement statistics.

This, of course, may vary on the institution-by-institution level, so it’s important to participate in some of this research yourself.  By understanding the Mindsets of the students interested in your institution relative to the general population, the marketing and admissions department can craft recruitment materials that truly speak to the long-term aspirations of students, while effectively conveying the mission of the institution.

Embracing Program Innovation

Beyond marketing messaging, it’s also very important to understand demand for the specific program offerings of your institution. The best marketing campaign in the world may not be able to shield your campus from the fact that there may just not be that many students interested in a few of your programs. Additionally, your institution may have identified some great new program opportunities, yet it’s almost certain your competitors are coming to similar conclusions.

Program innovation starts with research for the demand and need for certain offerings in your primary market, while also identifying programs that will help you stand out from the crowd. But, it doesn’t stop there.

Introducing new programs also requires keen self-awareness of the competencies and expertise of your institution to provide a new program offering. This can impact how long it can take to build, and ultimately fill, a new program on campus (or online, or a hybrid approach).  There are many steps between a program idea and an effective launch and this article can help you get started (also see the free Program Innovation webinar referenced in the footer).

Looking Ahead

Christian-based institutions are in an unenviable position in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace. The institutions that will weather the storm and achieve long-term success will do so based on their administration’s ability to build and launch meaningful academic programs that fill market needs while continuing to differentiate their marketing messaging with a message that breaks through the clutter.