Online education is continuing to grow. A recent Babson study showed enrollment growth for 14 straight years in most kinds of online higher education programs. “The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless. They have gone up when the economy was expanding, when the economy was shrinking, when overall enrollments were growing, and now when overall enrollments are shrinking,” said study co-author Julia E. Seaman, research director of the Babson Survey Research Group.
Within the rapid growth of online education, business degrees and diplomas in particular, are flourishing. Of the prospective students requesting more information about business degrees from January to June in 2018, 63.5% were interested in online programs, according to the Digital Media Solutions 2018 Report on the State of Business Education Demand. In response to growing interest and enrollment, some business programs are implementing agile curricula that adjust to meet the changes of the global business world. Leveraging the innovation, scalability and robustness of evolved online business programs, optimized marketing strategies with niche campaigns are helping fill seats and create greater brand awareness worldwide for colleges and universities.
Online Business Programs Are Creating Brand Awareness Through Differentiation
A master of business administration (MBA) is the gold standard for many business professionals. Whether to increase salary, move to another job or improve their positions, the MBA remains an important asset for many business professionals in the corporate world. The growth of available online MBA programs, and interest in business schools generally, emphasizes the importance of differentiation between programs. Online business programs best able to clearly define their competitive advantages should be able to generate interest from prospective students and increase brand awareness.
Online Business Programs Can Create Nimble Curricula Adjustments to Differentiate Offerings
Employers are becoming more comfortable hiring graduates of online degree programs. However, one of the hurdles those with online MBAs may encounter is the absence of collaborative experiences that come from on-campus education. Tweaks to curriculum can solve some of the anxiety around this possible deficit. North Carolina State University’s Jenkins Professional Online MBA program offers students a chance to work hands-on with corporations. This provides students with the group dynamics they might have otherwise missed with an online degree program, and the experience positions students well for careers after graduation. Virtual reality (VR) and other technologies are also increasing the amount of time students spend together or in collaborative situations, even if they aren’t in the same room. “With advances in virtual reality, we will soon be able to place students in a professor’s office for a one-to-one tutorial, in a lecture theatre to listen to a guest speaker or in a boardroom to ‘take part’ in senior management discussions. This is a truly immersive learning experience," says Ray Irving, Director of Teaching and Learning support at Warwick Business School. This kind of agility and adaptation makes online programs more appealing to students and helps higher education marketers evolve campaigns, promoting substantive program changes to the school’s brand.
Degree Specializations Appeal to Niche Audiences
Common specializations within business programs include marketing, finance and accounting, but some schools are offering even more niche offerings that can help increase brand awareness. For instance, Capella University offers a healthcare management MBA, which allows students further specialization in their chosen healthcare careers.
A rise in entrepreneurship, correlated to the rise in start-ups, has made MBAs in entrepreneurship more attractive. University of Florida (UF) offers one of the oldest online MBAs in entrepreneurship programs in the country, and the program’s quality and notoriety has made the creation of this niche, specialty program a brand awareness win for UF.
Optimized marketing strategies for healthcare business majors, entrepreneurs and other niche audiences, geared at scaling admissions, can be an effective way to reach students.
Local Online Programs Use Geotargeting to Yield Higher Conversions
Geotargeting can be a popular strategy for regional colleges and universities. As of 2016, 56.1% of students enrolled in online college classes resided in the same states as their chosen colleges. Local and regional universities need to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and may choose to aim their targeted campaigns at specific geographic areas with the highest likelihood of a conversion. Even though the audience target is smaller when geotargeting tightly, media efficiency and higher conversion rates are likely to result in lower costs per enrollment and higher enrollment volumes over time. Variables including distance, population density and demographic factors may impact performance.
Competitive Online Programs Increase Admissions Across the Brand
Similar to the new, fully online bachelor’s degree recently unveiled by the University of Pennsylvania, some business schools are creating competitive, innovative, elite programs that appeal to a wide variety of students. The online MBA program at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business is taught by the same teachers and offers the same curriculum as the on-campus program. Quality online programs that mimic their brick and mortar versions benefit students interested in online programs and can lead to increased brand awareness across all programs. This strategy can be effective for the top business schools who are looking for their online programs to “protect, scale, and monetize their existing global brands.”
How Can Marketers Maximize the Growth in Enrollment for Online Business Degrees?
Growth can present opportunities for optimizing marketing campaigns, whether to highlight a change, like a new curriculum feature, or reinforce a pre-existing idea, like the strength of a well-regarded educational institution. Sometimes both opportunities are possible, as is the case with many top-tier universities now offering online options for business degrees, diplomas and certifications. As schools move away from just touting their physical campuses, and as technologies and offerings continue to change, marketing campaigns must evolve as well.
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