What if Your Biggest Competitor for FTIC Enrollment is…Target?

by | Jul 18, 2022 | Digital Marketing

Encoura Target
Just recently I sat down with a long-time enrollment partner and asked for an update on their challenges and priorities for the 2023 fiscal year.  None of the answers surprised me until I asked this question:

“Who do you think will be your competitor for FTIC students in FY23?”

It took me a minute to absorb their answer.  It wasn’t a university or a college I have ever heard of before.  In fact, it’s not a university or college you have ever heard of before either.

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The answer was: “Target.”

One of the biggest competitors your institution could face as you work to make your FY23 class is the big box department store paying $12 to $15 per hour.  Twenty-one states raised their minimum wage on New Year’s Day 2022 (see list below) and this changes everything for many schools. 

StatePrevious Minimum WageNew Minimum Wage as of
Jan 1, 2022
Amount of Increase
New Jersey$12.00$13.00$1.00
New Mexico$10.50$11.50$1.00
New York$12.50$13.20$0.70
Rhode Island$11.50$12.25$0.75
South Dakota$9.45$9.95$0.50

Source: Economic Policy Institute, January 6, 2022


Community colleges are most vulnerable. Enrollment for these institutions fell 19% since 2019.  Undergraduate enrollment across all 2- and 4-year schools fell 6.6% since 2019. Conversely, we have a 3.9% national unemployment rate, meaning that most people who want to work are already working. A tight employment market will continue to drive up hourly wages and hiring incentives.  Now, add our current rising interest rates and you can see why many more high school graduates are choosing to take that attractive hourly wage and defer taking on college debt. 

Your Best Defense is a Good Offense.

Your institution cannot sit quietly on the sidelines.  Community colleges should heed the call and actively educate this young workforce on the pros of earning an associates degree as a pathway to better long-term quality of life. 

Consider adding something like this to your outreach or EDU site:

The median salary for someone earning an associates degree in Medical Sonography is $68,750 per year.  At $12.50 per hour, the hourly wage earner would have to work 5,500 hours or 2.6 years to make that much.  And that work would come without benefits like paid vacation, paid medical, or an employer-matched 401K.

Colleges need to educate this crop of rising high school seniors about the value of investing in their futures now, because investing later (with a family and a mortgage) may be harder.

How Do You Get the Message Out There?

There are many solutions to get the message across. Consider these ideas that are fast, effective, and easy to get into market:

Equip your EDU site with a salary calculator.  Widgets are available from sites like Salary.com (https://www.salary.com/research/salary).  Include a link to compute the median salary for someone working in that field.  Show prospective students how this matches up to earnings at an hourly wage over time.

Address the elephant in the room.  Talk about the lifelong ROI of a college education versus a life working at an hourly wage in your text messages, your postcards, your emails, and in your social media.  Don’t be shy, but rather address this head on.

Geotarget the source.  You already geotarget your top feeder high schools and community colleges to drive enrollment.  Consider geotargeting the big retailer that is paying upwards of $12 per hour.  Any time an employee or shopper inside the walls of that store is on their mobile device with their location turned on, you can give them a new way of thinking about their future through your digital ad. 

Looking for more ideas?  Let Encoura Digital Solutions know how we can help. It is our privilege to serve higher education because we know the importance of the work you do. 

Reva Levin

Vice President, Digital Strategy at Encoura
Contact Reva | Learn More About Digital Solutions from Encoura

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