Enrollments at community colleges around the country are down. Generally it is assumed by most observers that the drop is due to an improving economy, after previous boosts driven by laid off workers during the most recent recession. Community college enrollments tend to go up in bad times and up in good times.
Here in Texas we must mention, however, that recent downturns in the oil patch may bring in more students to two-year schools, so our state may be heading in the other direction, at least at some locations.
A recent interview by Katherine Mangan, with Carla Hickman, managing director of the research and technology group EAB, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, points to another possible cause of low enrollments. Students who would normally be attending community colleges are being recruited by public universities. Competition has always been present with proprietary schools in workforce training, but now universities are actively engaged in targeting potential students and marketing their school's programs to specific audiences.
Much of this activity occurs on cell phones. In response, community colleges are starting to use the same strategies. From the CHE interview:
Q. What are some of the creative approaches community colleges are taking to compete with four-year colleges?
A. We’ve seen community colleges across the country look at new digital-marketing practices, including "geofencing," which allows them to spend less on mobile advertising by focusing their ads on a particular geographic area. Northwest Iowa Community College had a certified nursing-aide program and wanted to be sure that every dollar they spent on marketing was targeted toward prospects who were likely to convert. They used geofencing to target their mobile apps toward a local hospital, and they built a 60-mile virtual border around it. Only individuals within that radius, and at two local job centers, received those ads. They showed us that, for a $1,200 investment, they were able to yield nearly $9,000 in training revenue.
Another college sends ads only to where a Department of Motor Vehicles is located because it’s a place where adults are on their phone, bored, looking for something to do.