Today, higher education institutions face new challenges with enrollment. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Projection of Education Statistics, the increase in enrollment is projected to shrink by 31% by 2022. We live in a time where education prices are skyrocketing and young adults are starting to think of alternatives to the traditional 4-year university.

Sound familiar?

A current trend among the younger generation is “Why spend upwards of $150,000 on a degree when I can get a job right out of high school and get a head start on the career I want?” Although in theory this sounds like an admirable route, at the end of the day knowledge is power and few have forgotten about the power of a solid 4-year bachelor’s degree.

Higher education needs help with recruitment, enrollment, and retention.

The question now is how can universities get the upper hand and recruit students most effectively in the current status of national enrollment trends? With the plethora of traditional advertisements thrown around by universities it is hard to sift out which school is a good fit.

Be disruptive

A disruptive marketing trend that is impacting higher ed recruitment is brand advocacy. Within the brand advocacy category, referrals to your organization are the highest value action that a donor, alumni, board member, partner, student or employee can do for your school.  Whether the referral is a donor referring your schools funding program into their network or an alumnus referring you to a prospective student and their family, referrals are a key to drive donations and student acquisition. Just like anything, we trust our friends and family for guidance on matters as large as choosing which university to attend. People are 400% more likely to buy a product or service recommended by a family member or friend (Nielson) and 68% of students choose their school of choice because their family or friends.

Two key things need to happen in order for higher education institutions to capture referrals and leverage the incredible opportunity that referral advocacy brings.  The first is that universities need to place a very high level of focus on student recruitment and enrollment.  They will need to learn to develop new tactics and ways to engage students where they are at and as they do this retention will be more important then ever.  Secondly, universities are going to need to invest in new disruptive forms of marketing technology that will allow them to develop, deploy leverage and track the power of referrals at their institutions.


Co-written by:

Andy McKeever is a Strategic Account Executive at Amplifinity, the leaders in referral automation software for enterprise companies. With over 17 years of experience of connecting people with solutions, Andy thrives in showing the lifetime value of a referral strategy in higher education. When he is not working, he can most likely be found playing with the three most important people in his life his wife and two kids!

Conor O’Leary is a college student who is passionate about life and has many interests ranging from classical music to technology. When not working diligently in the Sales and Marketing Department at Amplifinity, he is earning two degrees from Indiana University in Bloomington, one from the Jacobs School of Music in Classical Guitar Performance and another from the Kelley School of Business in Financial Literacy. Conor values his family and friends and looks forward to graduating and starting a career.

What is brand advocacy?