How Institutions Can Make Certificates and Short Programs Feasible Amid Rising Costs

While traditional degrees are still king, today’s students are making major changes in how they approach their education. As employers increasingly drop college degree requirements for new hires in favor of skills, more students are leaning toward certificate programs, bootcamps, and other non-degree pathways as the next step in their education (and often in their careers). With this spike in interest, the alternative education market is growing rapidly. For example, the coding bootcamp market is projected to grow 19.31% in 2022 and reach $1.2 billion in market share by 2028. 

Noticing the opportunity, colleges and universities are expanding their offerings to meet student preferences and create new revenue streams for their institutions. The new programs allow nontraditional students to upskill and join the workforce at a faster rate. 

However, reaching and enrolling the right students and deploying cost-effective marketing strategies for non-degree programs can be challenging.

How to Market Micro Programs Effectively

The teams tasked with launching and growing alternative education programs are collectively struggling to effectively engage with target audiences at a cost per enrollment that makes sense. The low price points of bootcamps, certificates, and credentials are critical for access, but they also make marketing these programs extremely difficult. 

Low program price points coupled with high marketing costs leave many universities with few options, unless they have a strong brand, an established organic presence, or an active alumni pipeline to feed enrollment. While enrollment marketers have faced this challenge since the emergence of alternative programs, there is a path to success — but it requires a new way of thinking and operating.     

Over the past two years, we at Archer Education have learned a lot while helping our partner institutions launch and grow their certificate, credential, and short-course programs. The following tactics, among others, have worked for us.

1. Use Facebook Lead-Gen Ads to Increase Lead-to-Enroll Conversion Rates

The key to making Facebook ads work is ensuring they’re customized to meet your target audience’s needs. Customization will be the foundation of their efficacy. Ads that make a personal connection with prospective students drive them to thoughtfully engage through these forms. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in the quality of each lead, ultimately improving conversion down the funnel.

2. Focus on Broader Google Search Terms

As demand for these programs continues to rise, so does the price to acquire relevant traffic in Google search. Program costs for these nontraditional paths may be lower, but search terms are highly competitive as universities roll out these new programs in tandem. As a result, we’ve been less specific in our keyword targeting efforts, focusing on broader audiences and avoiding high costs per click (CPCs) and costs per lead (CPLs).

3. Include the Marketing Team Early

Setting yourself up for success as you develop and launch these programs is critical. It starts with including key stakeholders as early on as possible, including faculty, administration, learning design, enrollment, and marketing team members. 

During the development process, our marketing experts are able to provide insight to partner institutions on which programs to launch, how to position them in the market, and how to create differentiating experiences within this fast-growing education sector. Having been on the ground floor of multiple nontraditional program launches, I can confidently say the most successful ones were executed by teams that included all relevant parties from day one.

4. Invest in Quality Nurturing

Although the price points for bootcamps and certificates are lower, enrolling in one of these programs is still a commitment that many students aren’t prepared to make right off the bat. If prospects aren’t enrolling and paying immediately, marketing teams need to nurture them toward that end goal through multiple touch points. 

We recommend a tech-first approach that puts less pressure on your employees and more dependence on automation. Quality lead nurturing requires personalized information and messaging, and employing AI allows for this kind of effective engagement with ease.

5. Consider Alternative Marketing Channels

With such strong competition, higher-ed marketers need to think outside the box and consider creative ways of reaching prospective students. Enrolling these students is a journey that requires multiple touch points, follow-up communications, and always-on availability. Utilizing the features of specific channels can help you connect with potential students at the right stage of their enrollment journey. We outlined a few channels we recommend exploring to engage with adult learners here.

Ways to Test New Marketing Methods for Micro Programs

Launching alternative education programs provides exciting opportunities for our team to discover new ways of thinking about enrollment. With their different price points, outcomes, and student expectations comes a completely different approach to our marketing strategies. Below are some of the tests we’re running to get a better understanding of the space and what works best.

Offer a “Pay Now” Option on Thank-You Pages

We’re anticipating this additional call to action will lead to a higher conversion rate, but we’re also curious about how Google and Facebook will respond to this addition. Does adding payment information restrict our targeting abilities? Does incorporating this feature have any downsides? Understanding these issues can help us avoid any failed experiments as we look ahead, but it could also lead to an effective optimization that we can implement across the board.

Test Expanded Geotargeting

With traditional degrees, we often suggest targeting prospects within an immediate geographical radius. With these lower-stakes certificate and bootcamp programs, however, we’re interested in expanding our target audience to a wider geographical area. Why? Prospective students might be willing to look beyond their backyard for the right program if it requires less of a commitment.

Embrace Micro Education Programs

Creating micro education programs doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. Yes, they come with smaller budgets and niche student needs, but they also create an exciting opportunity that has big potential for success at your university.If you’re looking for some support as you embark on this next chapter, keep in mind that Archer Education partners with accredited universities to help higher-ed marketers and COOs accelerate online learning growth and enrollment. If you’d like to learn more, contact our team and explore our tech-enabled marketing, enrollment, and retention services.