Online students: Who are they and how can you win more of them?

The most influential marketing activity when it comes to school selection for online students was in-person events, such as campus tours and class audits.

Thirty percent of all students enrolled in higher education in 2021 were enrolled online, according to the National Center of Higher Education Statistics. That’s nearly six million students. With the pandemic normalizing online education, this cohort may grow.

It’s good to know that most online students are predominantly working women who rely on schools’ web pages to make their enrollment decisions, according to the Online College Students Report 2023.

Education Dynamics’ report aims to assist colleges and universities in adapting to the changing student landscape by recognizing who online students are to “best attract, serve, and retain online college students today.”

More from UB: ‘Difficult to justify under any circumstances’: Are legacy admissions coming to an end?

Fully digital schooling attracts female full-time students

Not only did 80% of online students report being employed, but more than half reported being employed full-time (59%), while 21% reported working part-time. Nearly three-quarters said they have three or more years of work experience.

Given those figures, the workload online students face may explain the high stop-out rates of undergrads. For example, almost 40% of these students did not complete their last program of study. The best time frame to reenroll stopped-out students is within one year.

Additionally, female students make up a majority of online students—61%, to be precise—at the undergraduate and graduate levels, with only 4% describing themselves as non-conforming and 1% preferring not to answer. Secondly, white and Black students comprise 93% of both the undergraduate and graduate student-level courses.

Your website is your best weapon to win their favor

Students want your school to pop up as soon as they search it online. About 70% of online college students indicated they began their school selection process by visiting the school’s website, and 70% looked it up using a search engine. Throughout the process, almost 90% of undergrad and graduate students visited a school website when considering enrolling at an institution.

However, colleges and institutions can still improve students’ access to school information: Although students were primarily interested in finding out the cost of tuition, only 29% found it very easy to access that information on the website. Less than a quarter of students reported accessing student career outcomes easily.

Competitive SEO practices and a robust website interface may be the modern way to nudge a potential student toward your school’s favor. Still, some classic marketing strategies are proving timeless. For example, the most-influential marketing activity for students in school selection was in-person events, such as campus tours or class audits. However, email strategy is hard to judge. Nearly half of all students reported email as their preferred contact point, yet 11% of respondents found it influential in their enrollment decisions.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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