Hidden Gems is the blog page for all things Diamond.
We cover topics relevant to Higher Education, Career and Proprietary Schools.
This week I launch a 3-part Blog series about Increasing Enrollment, improving Retention through engagement and earning Referrals at Career Schools. Over the last few years, certain activities and issues in the Proprietary School market dramatically changed the marketplace. Because of this, recruiting, and then successfully retaining students, has become radically more challenging.
While some of this can be addressed with technology, and I will certainly point out our options along the way, much of the solution lies in your approach to each student and in changing what you offer and how you communicate.
The Sheer Genius of Great Student Services:
Prospective students have a LOT to consider when looking into Career Schools. Addressing these concerns, then providing clear solutions, can greatly increase your enrollment. The better you can connect, serve, and support the student, the more success you’ll have with initial enrollment, increased retention, and VERY IMPORTANTLY ongoing referrals to draw even more students.
In this 3-part Blog series I provide specific ideas on how you might address all these activities. From Recruiting, to Retention, to Referral. Of course, not all these ideas will fit your particular school, but hopefully they will spark ideas that will apply to your unique circumstances!
A Very Brief Overview of this Blog Series:
• Demonstrate that your Curriculum is matched with the needs of the industry and is current with industry expectations
• Provide Student Services that assist with practical life issues, as well as academics
• Provide early intervention: Both academic and financial
• Offer a good mix of programs,
• Provide Exceptional Career Services, and
• Demonstrate great value than your competition
Student Services that Can Increase Recruiting Success and Maintain Enrollment:
Knowing that you provide a support network can be a huge selling point to prospective students, especially to career-switching adults who have been away from school for a number of years. Recruiters should include your support services and other offerings on your website, in their follow-up correspondence AND in all conversations.
Do more than just list these as a bullet points, provide REAL WORLD examples: include a video (or two) with a REAL student and share written student testimonials on why your school is an excellent choice. In an earlier Blog I mentioned that your potential students get their information from the internet – thus they are reasonably well able to discern if what you’re saying is genuine or not. Don’t just say that you provide the service, provide samples, let them know you REALLY DO, and that you REALLY CARE.
Providing these services throughout the student life-cycle promotes goodwill and engagement – powerful and important factors for improving retention and referrals.
Actual Things To Do that are Effective and Appreciated:
- Key Offices should be open and staffed whenever students are present, AND, offer early morning/evening hours.
- Yes, ALL necessary offices: Advising, Career Placement, Student Financial Aid, Bursar
- If you can’t provide ALL days to have extended hours, do it 1 or 2 days a week.
FIND & CREATE Solutions
- Provide help finding, subsidizing, or providing adequate day care,
- Some schools even pay students to do day care on site for other students’ children,
- Check local and state laws regarding anything to do with day care and children
- Provide assistance with transportation to school,
- Provide bus passes and schedules
- Organize student car pools
- Provide gas cards to students who agree to assist with transporting others to class
- Organize Uber or Lyft car pools (Uber-pools)
- Provide help with reducing conflicts with job schedules
- Hand students an Employer Copy of their Schedule to PROACTIVELY assist
- Allow make-up classes if possible whenever work conflicts cause challenges
- Provide full-time tutoring and academic support
- Available on days when classes are not held, or
- During non-class time
- Assist with locating housing
- Offer an off-campus housing search feature on your website
- Provide a list of landlords or properties that previous or current students have rented from
- Proactively contact nearby apartment properties to negotiate better rates for students – typically the student could be a “safer & more stable” tenant.
- Provide a list of reputable apartment search websites for students
- Help with Personal Finance Management
- Help applying for health insurance
- Help locate medical clinics and low-cost medical referrals,
- Help qualifying for food stamps;
- Provide Foreclosure assistance and other debt-related issues.
By helping your students overcome the hurdles they face while pursuing their career degree, you build a positive environment. By demonstrating how they should be proactive in their own lives and exhibiting positive role model behaviors you establish a higher standard of excellence.
When associated with higher standards that are implemented as a means to assist and support them, people tend to rise to those standards. And this is the beginning of your “Culture of Achievement”, which just happens to be the topic of my next Hidden Gems Blog!
Improving Web Ranking for Career Schools
Every business, whether you're Career School or Amazon.com, needs to pay close attention to search engines, web rankings, and other such geeky things.
You see, in today's’ world, if you don’t appear near the top in a Google/Web search, you might as well not exist. Consumers – and this includes your prospective students, are able to gather a LOT of information quickly and with very little effort. They also have very short attention spans.
What does this mean to you?
- You need to appear on the 1st page of any internet search,
- This means #’s 1-4 on mobile devices!
- You compete intensely with other career schools in your region,
- Your message needs to:
- Pique their Interest and Spark their Imagination
- Provide a positive vision of their future
- And, you have just 4 seconds to do this!
- Address and Alleviate their fears
- (I address many of these topics in other Blog Posts)
Students and consumers today are far better informed than ever before. And they use the internet to get this information. It’s vital to be the 1st to get their attention, and then hold their attention with useful information that is personally relevant. I address many of these key topics in my other Hidden Gems blog entries.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: I refer to a number of websites and resources in this (and future) blogs. Neither I, nor Diamond SIS make claims as to their effectiveness, value, safety, or anything else for that matter. We get no compensation from anyone for mentioning their name and do so only as points of reference for the reader. We invite (and recommend) that you do your own research. OK, I think that covers all the legal stuff. The point is – we can’t guarantee anyone else’s products or services.
What can mere mortals do to improve their Web Ranking?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a complex and rather advanced topic, so in this article I’m going to focus on some basic tasks that you (or your webmaster) can do for little or no cost. While basic in nature, I do strive to provide concrete, useful and more in-depth tools than typically found in similar articles. These quick tasks are the fundamentals of website design – yet are still often overlooked, that most businesses should review and address them frequently.
Of course, you’re welcome to contract with a professional SEO services company who can work wonders, but for this article, we’re going to focus on effective SEO tasks that we mere mortals, can accomplish in a short amount of time.
Let’s get on with it: Quick Projects to Improve your Web Rankings:
The internet uses Keywords to understand what topics and content are relevant to your site. You should have Keywords appropriate for your Career School on ALL of your web pages. You can have different keywords on each of your pages – although it’s suggested that you keep certain “core” words the same on each page– like your school name.
Keywords on your web pages have less value today than they did in years past – the search engines are much smarter nowadays and not so easily impressed. But make no mistake, they are still VERY important for 2 reasons:
- These are the Key Phrases that you expect your prospective students to use when searching for schools like yours – and this is VITAL for improving your standing in search results
- Content is King: When keywords are mirrored in the relevant content of your website, the Search Engines DO consider this valid information for higher ranking in in search results.
Important: Don’t “stuff” keywords into your content. I just explained how important Keywords are – but be careful not to needlessly repeat keywords in an unnatural way. The Search Engines are very smart nowadays. If you go crazy repeating your keywords in the content, they’ll know. Keyword stuffing is not good for your readers and will most likely result in a lower - not higher, page ranking.
Sample Keywords for a Nursing School:
Nursing school,CNA school, RN school, online nursing degree programs, your school full name, nursing degree, other common name for your school, LVN school, registered nurse, bachelor of science in nursing, master’s degree in nursing, doctor of nursing practice, associate degree in nursing, RN to BSN to MSN, graduate certificates, MSN Family Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Programs, Associate Degree Nursing, ADN, Bachelor of Science Nursing Degree, BSN, Practical Nursing Diploma Program, Vocational Nursing Diploma Program
Create Page Names:
Each page of your Web site should have a useful and descriptive page name. This is different than the page “title”, so be sure that you add appropriate page names to make the most of what Search Engines can do!
Create Page Descriptions:
Search engines also rely on unique Page Descriptions. These are VERY short (150 characters -INCLUDING the SPACES) so Make. Every. Word. Count!
Write useful & relevant Page content:
Make certain that the words you write on each page are relevant and correspond to the keywords, Page Descriptions and Page Names. I’ve always preached “Content is King!” and in web rankings this is truer than ever.
Review Pictures and Graphics on your Site:
Each image has a file name and an “alt” tag. The Search engines actually use the images file name as a factors in your ranking – so consider using names that actually describe the picture, i.e. “Successful_Welder_fixes_car.jpg” or “Happy_CNA_assists_Patient.jpg” also, be sure to add the “Alt” tag to EVERY image. This single feature helps considerably with ranking and is a hidden gem for boosting your web profile.
This topic can go on for years, but not here. These are incoming hyperlinks from other web pages to your website. The more backlinks you have pointing to your site, the more popular it will be. Backlinks are incredibly important to achieving high page ranking.
The one thing to do regarding links is to make certain that any time you or your website are mentioned in the news or on the web, be sure to have links to your website added to those mentions. Whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, a local High School, Volunteer organization, Chamber of Commerce, one of your Employers – anywhere possible, get links from other websites to point to yours. This is one of the most important things you can do to improve your website ranking.
Conversely, it also helps to add links to other organizations. Like your accrediting agency, the Dept. of Ed., other large, established organizations that lend credibility to your school. Outbound links give search engines a clear idea about your website/page because relevant links help establish authority. As always, Content is King – so only link to relevant, valid and logical websites from each page.
Every time you add or remove pages and content from your website, be sure to update your Sitemap. If you have no idea what this is, most of the programs that you use to build and manage your websites will have quick instructions on how to do this.
Essentially, a Sitemap is a directory of all the active pages in your website and how they are connected. The Search engines use this information when they “crawl” your site, gathering the information used to rank your site.
OK, What’s next?
Once you’ve updated your website and added the above features to your pages and images, be sure to submit your site to the search engines.
Spiders, spiders everywhere: Submit your Site
A spider is a program that visits Web sites, reads their pages and other information then creates entries for their search engine. Google has spiders, Yahoo has spiders, Bing has spiders … these things are crawling around the web 24/7. All the major search engines have similar programs. You might also hear them called "crawlers" or "bots."
Step 1: Manually Submit your Site to Google and Bing. This is simple and will only take a few moments:
Step 2: Next, submit your site to a broad range of other search engines. While the sheer number of users on these are much lower, this does get the attention of the Web Ranking elves and will assist -in a small way- in establishing your website.
Broad Search Engine submission (Free)
I’m only going to lightly touch on pay-for services in this blog. There are so many, and they are so broad, that this is not the appropriate forum for such a large discussion. But here are some basic notes.
Google Adwords and Bing Advertising are the most well-known and reliable tools for increasing page ranking and awareness. They require a monthly budget to be allocated and based on the keywords used by people when they search, your School will be displayed as a featured ad. This Pay-Per-Click advertising is VERY powerful and is also Very effective.
Many National and local companies can provide SEO services. They can be expensive, but they can also be well worth it. But don’t expect results overnight – from ANY of the methods discussed in this blog. Achieving top-rankings will take time, literally months, so listen to these experts and carefully weigh the value of what they offer. Perhaps do all of these free steps 1st, then after 3-4 months, decide your next step.
Now that you’re drawing more potential students – don’t squander the opportunity!
Now that you’re drawing and attracting more potential students, its imperative that you don’t lose them. You need to take every action possible to keep their interest and convert them from someone merely “browsing”, to someone who is directly committed to becoming a student at your school.
I provide a number of ideas about improving Recruiting and Referrals in upcoming Hidden Gem blog articles, stay tuned!
Tools to improve your Career School SEO and Page Rank
Page Rank checkers
Website Hosting and Development
Increasing enrollment requires you to overcome objections, and many potential students are “just looking” or “aren’t ready” to move forward with a decision.
One of the most popular reasons they aren’t ready to commit to you: Fear of going back to school.
The average age of a career college student is 27. And over 30 per cent are over the age of 35. This means that they’ve been away from formal schooling for a LONG TIME!
So, knowing this, be proactive! As part of your recruiting process, right on your website, address how your school will help the returning student succeed.
By greatly alleviating this fear, you stand out from competing schools, and can accelerate the recruiting process.
Specifically: What you can do to be different:
- Promote your student support services, or, if you don’t have a strong student support services program, create one!
- The better you support your students:
- The Higher your Retention rate
- You'll increase student-student referrals
- Student engagement increases which often leads to instructor satisfaction and lower turnover/burnout.
Whether students have just graduated from high school, or are returning to school after being in the workforce, Student Success Programs help them learn how to be a successful student, learn how and where to access the resources they need to be successful, and provide fail-safes to keep them from feeling isolated, or falling behind.
Elements of Student Success Programs:
- Study Skills, Note-Taking, Test-Taking & Time-management Training:
- Many students – young and old may never have mastered good study skills. Instruction into how to study and how to optimize their time is paramount to their success. Their motivation is quite different now, and whatever tools and help you provide now will greatly affect their ability to succeed
- Identification of their Learning styles:
- Help students identify their learning styles
- Based on these learning styles and the study skills, help them develop critical thinking skills to encourage their success
- School & Campus Resources:
- Clearly provide and demonstrate the range of resources available at your campus or on-line.
- From counselors and coaches, to books, and on-line training, and anything else.
- Encourage instructors to actively demonstrate use of these resources in their courses.
- Computer Skills Training
- Often a basic course in the use of computers and MS-Office will greatly improve a students’ ability to succeed
- Test incoming students in critical computer skills and, if appropriate, provide instruction that will help them maximize both their school experience and their career.
- Academic Coaching:
- Provide each student with an official Academic Coach to help them learn how to “do college.” Of course, this person may be the assigned counselor, the core issue is to make this a pro-active role with regular check-ins and interaction with each student.
- Job Description Reviews
- Review as part of the early student experience, what the requirements for their various careers.
- Review basic Requirements for post-graduation jobs
Review Requirements for jobs 3-5 years after graduation and how they might shorten that timeline – if appropriate to their course of study.
Help them plan for the correct experiences and classes, based on their post-graduation goals
- Retention program:
- Provide students with early alerts on grades, attendance, etc.
- Use On-line alerts and private emails or SMS to connect with students in a timely manner
- Include regular Positive feedback for each student.
And Most Important of All:
Whatever Services and Support that you offer, be sure to communicate this up front to your prospective students. You’ll reduce one of the most common fears about going back to school, and reduce the barriers to Registration.