Penn’s Role in the Rise of Online College Programs

October 4, 2018 Cliff Libby

The recent announcement from University of Pennsylvania (Penn) touting the first ever Ivy League fully online bachelor’s degree has raised questions about the state of online education, and for higher education marketers, the best way to recruit and retain students as more online programs become increasingly competitive.

Penn Tweet

“The goal of this new platform is to make an Arts and Sciences education more accessible, flexible, and affordable for working adults. Penn LPS Online redefines the notion of who can get an Ivy League education by making it accessible to anyone who demonstrates the ambition and potential to earn it, without sacrificing the quality of the education offered,” says Nora Lewis, Penn’s Arts and Sciences’ Vice Dean of Professional and Liberal Education.

With an eye toward the groups drawn to smaller, local or less expensive programs —such as adult students, the economically disadvantaged and working students, and with an advisory board designed to integrate the education qualifications with professional outcomes, Penn is courting those students traditionally open to seeking educational opportunities online. Will the Penn effect erode the bias against online programs, further increasing interest in the online model, and how can education marketers help their schools stand out?

The interest in what makes a good program is becoming more central to the question of why and how people choose online programs.

Reginald Jackson is a learning engineer at Northwestern University, a position that was created to make online learning more dynamic, agile and innovative. And to take stock of what students like. He surveys students about their experiences, particularly in the classes where he was trying something new. Jackson then uses this feedback to inform future efforts.

The innovation piece is clearly happening at the instructional level, which can also function as a recruitment tool. Make better, more exciting, more sophisticated online programs, and the students will come. Or so many believe.

We know many students want an online education — online higher education programs saw continued growth in 2018, according to the Digital Media Solutions Q2 2018 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review. 

What Can Be Done to Recruit More Students to Your Online Programs?

By taking a closer look at data from the Online College Students 2018 study from Learning House, education marketers can better understand online education students, and how college marketing online educationcan fit their needs.

Students by the numbers:

  • Nearly 74% of online students are enrolled because they want a career change. With this comes a strong push for career services. “Online students reported utilizing services such as working with a career advisor (50%), resume help (48%) and job search assistance (40%).”

Takeaway: ROI. Students want to know their education is going to benefit them financially and professionally. 54% of students are employed full-time. They don’t need jobs, they want careers.

  • 86% of online students believe the value of their degrees equals or exceeds what they paid, and 85% think online learning is as good or better than attending courses on campus.

Takeaway: Current online students and graduates aren’t biased against online educations. They may be the best voices for recruitment messages.

  • Four years ago the graduate student online segment was dominated by education (22%) and business (28%). That has since changed, while computers and IT (15%), health and medicine (16%) and STEM (11%) have seen steady growth.

Takeaway: As online program rosters grow, marketing efforts must as well. 45% of students don’t know what they want to study when they begin their search, so enrollment marketers and admissions officers should be prepared to share information about all the programs available plus the student services, academic outcomes, and the quality of the learning environment their colleges offer.

  • 87% of students use their mobile phones to search for online programs, and 67% use their phones to complete coursework.

Takeaway: Every facet of the school website, marketing campaigns and online programs must be mobile friendly.

  • Students reacted to a broad range of advertising when it came to how they found information during their school searches. Digital advertisements were considered memorable, but so were TV ads and college fairs. Less successful were direct mail and radio campaigns.

Takeaway: Diversify your media and digital reach while remembering the impact of face-to-face interactions. Track the performance of that diversification. Optimize regularly to hone in on what works the best at driving enrollments.

With Biases Turning Positive, the Future of Online Programs Is Strong

As education marketers, we know online students are a group eager to learn and unfettered by old ideas about the quality of online versus on-campus education.

“Between 2012 and 2016, the total number of students studying strictly on a physical campus dropped by more than 1 million, or 6.4 percent,” according to a 2018 article in U.S. News & World Report. Meanwhile, a recent Babson survey shows online student enrollment is up for the 14th year in a row.

Peter Struck, the Professor of Classical Studies Chair, Arts and Sciences Online Faculty Committee at University of Pennsylvania believes, "The technology has advanced to a point now where new things are possible. We’re not just trying to replicate what happens in a live classroom, but to innovate a different kind of education around the unique possibilities of an online environment."

Educators and marketers alike are poised to move to the next level of online education, one that is designed for every kind of student and increasingly available at more and more higher learning institutions.

Reimagine Your Next Steps in Online Education and College Marketing

Learn more about DMS Education where we have developed a fully diversified, multi-channel marketing strategy focused on education, offering scalable, reliable solutions for student enrollment.

Contact DMS today to learn more about what DMS Education can do for you.

About the Author

Cliff Libby

Cliff Libby is the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Education for Digital Media Solutions, LLC (DMS), an industry leader in the world of customer acquisition and retention that helps clients maximize their digital marketing to beat the competition and accelerate growth. In this role, Cliff oversees all lead generation websites, sales operations, affiliate marketing programs and call center activities surrounding the DMS education division. DMS currently owns and operates domains in the higher education space such as degreesearch.org and collegeatlas.org, which connect with more than a million prospective students each month. Since its inception, DMS has evolved into an award-winning, full-service performance marketing company demonstrating incredible year-over-year growth which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. An accomplished leader in higher education marketing, Libby comes to DMS with incredible experience in entrepreneurial and high-growth environments. Prior to joining DMS, Libby held management roles at CourseAdvisor – which was later rebranded to Avenue 100 Media – during its pivotal time as a Washington Post subsidiary. Libby started his career in admissions at Wheaton College Massachusetts and has since held executive leadership roles in a variety of software and technology service companies focused exclusively in higher education. Cliff graduated with a BA in American Studies from Wheaton College Massachusetts, and earned his MBA from Boston University Questrom School of Business. He resides in the Boston, MA area with his wife and children.

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