3.Must be flexible with policies and processes: Students surveyed noted that these policies and processes should include “shorter academic terms (five to eight weeks); generous credit transfer policies; informative websites; and speedy response times on admission decisions, transfer credit reviews and financial aid packaging.” These online student-friendly practices are becoming minimum requirements for institutions that want to thrive in this arena, says the report. For example, the amount of transfer credit accepted has consistently been ranked one of the top 10 factors in selecting an institution these surveys, and one-quarter of students reported receiving that information prior to submitting their application.


4.Must provide local sources of information: The survey revealed that half of online students surveyed live within 50 miles of their campus, and 65 percent live within 100 miles. Even though these students rarely, if ever, visit the campus, it is nearby. Thirty-four percent of respondents reported that the recommendation of friends, colleagues and relatives was an important factor in deciding if a college had a good reputation. Online students were asked, “After identifying institutions of interest, what were your primary methods of gathering detailed information?” 24 percent reported attending an open house, 31 percent had conversations with friends and family, and 21 percent had conversations with their employers or colleagues. Online students were also found to “pre-select” their preferred institution of study, as one-third contacted only one institution when deciding to pursue their online education. “It is critical that institutions have a strong local brand so that they are at the top of their students’ minds when they begin to search for a program of study,” stresses the report.


5.Must have a great website: (Read: “Your .edu site for 2016 looks like this.”) 16 percent of respondents reported having no contact with personnel at the institution prior to applying; yet, almost 50 percent reported turning directly to the college website when they were asked, “What were your primary methods of gathering detailed information?” Similarly, 43 percent of students reported using the website to request more information about their program of interest. Almost 30 percent sent an email for more information, and 28 percent called the institution.


6.Must be affordable: 45 percent of respondents to the 2015 survey reported that they selected the most inexpensive institution. In 2014, 30 percent reported selecting the most inexpensive institution. Among 23 potential marketing messages, the most appealing were “Affordable tuition” and “Free textbooks.”

(Next page: Must-have’s 7-10)