Niche-based digital marketing attracts nontraditional students

Targeted digital marketing has proven effective in attracting nontraditional students to Mount Olive College.

To improve enrollment, officials at Mount Olive College in Mount Olive, N.C., knew they needed to understand their own student population better, and identify the types of students they should target in the future.

To do this, the college enlisted the help of ed-tech company Hobsons.

“We really have not done any digital marketing before [using] Hobsons,” said Jennifer Ricks Merritt, director of marketing at Mount Olive College. “We started in January 2012. We saw that we needed to begin growing our inquiries and moving into the online area, [and] we liked Hobsons because they had had success in adult programming marketing, [which is] not something that every college is doing.”

Mount Olive has several one-night-a-week programs that offer the flexibility its many nontraditional students crave. These programs include the Heritage Associate’s Degree, and bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration, Criminal Justice and Criminology, Management of Information Systems, Early Childhood Education, Health Care Management, and Religion.

“We know that the adult student is trying to work through very busy schedules, so we’ve developed [an] innovative approach so that people can attend a class one night a week at a variety of different locations in Mount Olive College, so it fits into their busy schedule,” said Philip P. Kerstetter, president of Mount Olive College.

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(Next page: How Mount Olive determined which types of students to target in particular)

Establishing ‘niche’ factors

Hobsons employed a behavioral targeting approach to attract prospective students to the college. Merritt explained that Hobsons examined the current student population in order to establish marketing campaigns focused on specialized “niche” areas.

Service men and women are one such niche area, as two of Mount Olive’s campuses are located near Marine bases.  As a result, personalized advertisements have been created to target this unique population.

“We really don’t take the one-size-fits-all approach here at Mount Olive College, because we know that each student has his or her own special needs, and our whole concept is transformational education [that] really says, ‘we want to provide services to the needs of that individual student,’” said Kerstetter.

A recently launched mobile campaign has garnered success for the college. If a student types “colleges in Wilmington, NC,” into the Google search engine, a Mount Olive College advertisement will pop up in the search results. If students click on the link, they are directed to Mount Olive’s microsite, which succinctly lists the advantages of a Mount Olive education, provides links to explain available degree programs further, and lists the college’s six locations. If students want to learn more, a brief contact form is included in a sidebar.

Since the launch of the microsite, Mount Olive reports a 5.6-percent conversion rate of inquiries to enrolled students.

“We have a four-step admissions process,” said Lisa Nuesell, dean of extended education. “A student can contact the college in a number of different ways, [and] our representatives typically get back to them within 24 hours. [Then] the student comes and has an on-campus informational meeting [to] go over their goals and outline the programs, [and later] they come back to do an orientation visit.”

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Recognizing the need

Mount Olive aims to simplify its processes as much as possible to attract nontraditional students. While deciding whether to invest in a one-night-a-week program, college administrators conducted research to determine local interest levels.

“We did some focus meetings with people in eastern North Carolina, [and] we hired someone to go and talk with employers throughout the state,” said Barbara Kornegay, vice president of enrollment. “We knew that [employers] would recommend [the programs] to their [employees] if they thought it would satisfy a need.”

Mount Olive purchased another college’s format and curriculum for its first one-night-a-week program in Business Administration, and as a result of student interest, the programs have grown tremendously since then.

“These programs began back in the ’90s and were very successful because they appealed to working adults who, at the time, had very few options to attend classes one night a week,” said Kornegay.

(Next page: Success stories)

Multiple one-night-a-week program success stories are listed on Mount Olive’s microsite. Many program graduates believed they had missed their opportunity to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.

“As a wife and mother of three, the chance of obtaining a four-year degree to become a teacher seemed almost impossible until a friend told me about the Early Childhood Education program at Mount Olive College,” said Christine Brewington. “I was able to speak with a counselor that same day and began my journey to becoming a teacher.”

Brewington touted Mount Olive’s helpful faculty as a key to her success in the Early Childhood Education program.

“The instructors were encouraging, and I graduated Summa Cum Laude,” she said. “I currently teach first grade. I will always be thankful for Mount Olive College and highly recommend it to everyone.”

Ed Labajetta hoped to improve his chances of upward mobility in his health care job.

“As a successful manager in a large, demanding radiology department, it became obvious that I would need to finish my degree in order to stay competitive,” said Labajetta. “However, with a demanding career and young family, doing so seemed nearly impossible. I found that one-night-a-week programs at Mount Olive College perfect for my busy lifestyle, and they enabled me to attain my goals and transform my life!”

Labajetta is confident that his bachelor’s degree will serve him well into the future.

“By earning my degree, I am now better positioned in the market to continue building on my success and to be a more competitive candidate for future promotions,” he said.

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