January & February Higher Education Lead Generation Volume Predictions

Historically, 54.4% of January’s inquiries are generated during the first 16 days of the year. Based on this month’s volume to date, January is on pace to end up with volume up 27.1% from December and down 3.5% YOY. This month-over-month change is an improvement from January 2016, which delivered an increase of just 18.2%.

January Average Daily Volume Trends 2013-2017

February has less variance in volume than January. Throughout the month, we have historically seen volume levels on par with the second half of January. On average, external source volume drops 13.9% in February, and volume from internal sources slip 7.4% compared to the prior month.

January-February Average Weekly Volume Trends - 2013-2017

The chart below shows monthly volume totals from January 2016 to January 2017, with projections for the end of January 2017. Moving further into 2017, we believe the volume trends will be positive. Early signs of expansion for programs that passed regulatory hurdles combined with the continued growth of internal marketing channels should result in strong inquiry generation performance throughout the year.

Monthly Volume Totals January 2016-January 2017

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15 Top Higher Education Programs – Q3 2016

Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Ed Inquiry Generation Review Whitepaper CoverBased on Q3 2016 Conversion Volume

The 15 top higher education programs based on share of conversions (SOC) in Q3 2016 made up 57.5% of all higher education lead volume and 56.2% of all conversions, according to the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review.

#1 Business Administration and Management, General

Bringing in 10.5% of all higher education lead volume and 15.6% of the conversions, the Business Administration and Management, General program is holding onto its top higher education program spot. The Q3 2016 conversion rate for this business program was 12.2%. With maturing still to come, this conversion rate was already up 15.0% QOQ and 18.7% YOY.

The inquiry share of voice (SOV) for business administration and management programs is down 7.7% QOQ. The Business, Management, Marketing and Related Support program category has been losing inquiry SOV for some time. Last quarter (Q2 2016) saw QOQ inquiry growth, and we were watching to see if it would be the start of a business program rebound. But Q3 results proved this is not the case. The inquiry SOV for the business category was down 7.5% QOQ and a whopping 93.0% YOY. Meanwhile, the Q3 2016 conversion rate for the business category was 10.1% ― already strong with maturing to come. The share of conversions was up (2.4% higher QOQ) as a result of this healthy conversion rate, and in Q3 2016, more than one-quarter of all conversions were for business programs.

We partially attribute the unexpected situation of shrinking inquiry volume and growing conversion rates to employability. Graduates of lower-level business programs typically have limited job options in comparison to graduates of higher-level or niche business programs. Schools have streamlined their offerings based on this trend, and the remaining business programs are converting quite well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 8% growth in “business and financial operations occupations” from 2014 to 2024. This rate is on par with all professions, but the 2015 media pay of $86,110 is significantly above the average for all occupations.

#2 Nursing/Registered Nurse (RN, ASN, BSN, MSN)

Nursing/Registered Nurse programs accounted for 13.5% of all higher education inquiries in Q3 2016 but only for 9.8% of all conversions. The 6.0% conversion rate for nursing programs in Q3 2016 is down 19.5% QOQ and 39.0% YOY. Although further maturation of the Q3 2016 cohort of inquiries will boost performance, it is unlikely that the conversion rate will match that of the prior quarter.

The BLS projected 19% growth within the health care profession from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the  average expected for all occupations. The increase is projected to add roughly 2.3 million health care jobs to the economy. However, the BLS projections were based in part on the federal health insurance reform increasing the number of individuals with access to health insurance and may be impacted by changes to the Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration.

For registered nurses, the BLS projected slightly lower growth of 16%. In addition to greater health care access, this increase is expected due to an aging population, growing rates of chronic conditions and an increased emphasis on preventive care. The median annual wage for registered nurses was $67,490 in 2015.

#3 Medical Insurance Coding Specialist/Coder

Although the Medical Insurance Coding Specialist/Coder is ranked just one spot below the Nursing/Registered Nurse program based on volume of higher education conversions, its share of volume in Q3 2016 was significantly below that of the second-place program. Medical coding programs brought in 5.1% of all higher education inquiries in Q3 2016 and 5.0% of all higher education conversions. The 8.2% conversion rate for Q3 2016 was up 0.5% QOQ and 8.6% YOY.

As a result of the growing use of health services in the U.S., the BLS projected a 15% increase in “medical records and health information technicians” from 2014 to 2024. The median annual wage for people in this profession is just $37,110, but typically only a certificate or associate degree is needed to qualify for employment.

#4 Medical Office Assistant/Specialist and #5 Medical/Clinical Assistant

With 3.4% of all higher education inquiries and a 3.7% share of conversions, Medical Office Assistant/Specialist programs are in a period of growth. The conversion rate is also climbing. In Q3 2016, the conversion rate was 9.0% and matched the Q2 2016 conversion rate, but it should mature to a higher point. The Q3 2016 conversion rate was 4.6% higher than the Q3 2015 conversion rate.

Medical/Clinical Assistant programs brought in 4.8% of inquiries but only 3.5% of conversions during Q3 2016. These programs had a conversion rate of just 6.1% in Q3 2016 ― down 5.8% QOQ and down 18.4% YOY.

A 23% growth in employment of medical assistants was projected by the BLS as the health care category grows as a whole. Also, physicians are expected to hire additional medical assistants to help with routine administrative and clinical support needs.

The relatively meager median wage of $30,590 (as of 2015) for medical assistants is reflective of the minimal education required for this profession. Most medical assistants have attained certificates as their highest level of education.

#6 Health/Health Care Administration/Management

Health/Health Care Administration/Management programs accounted for 3.2% of all higher education inquiries and 2.8% of all higher education conversions in Q3 2016. The 7.2% conversion rate in Q3 2016 for health care administration programs was up 6.6% QOQ and 4.3% YOY.

Employment of “medical and health services managers” is projected to grow 17% from 2014 to 2024. Many of these positions require a master’s degree, and the $94,500 median annual salary reflects this education requirement.

#7 Criminal Justice/Police Science

The inquiry SOV for Criminal Justice/Police Science programs was 2.4%, and the share of conversions was 2.8% in Q3 2016. The 9.7% conversion rate in Q3 2016 for criminal justice and police science programs was higher than expected ― up 9.0% QOQ and 5.9% YOY.

The BLS projected only 4% growth for “police and detectives” between 2014 and 2024. This expansion is a slower rate than across all occupations, though demand varies by location. The median annual wage for this field is $60,270.

#8 Psychology, General

Psychology programs accounted for 2.8% of all higher education inquiries and the same percentage of conversions in Q3 2016. The 8.1% conversion rate for psychology programs in Q3 2016 was up 13.6% QOQ and 8.4% YOY.

The employment of psychologists was projected to grow 19% from 2014 to 2024. Candidates with doctoral degrees in applied specialties will have the best job prospects for these high paying positions. (The median annual wage for psychologists was $72,580 in 2015.)

#9 Computer Systems Analysis/Analyst

Computer Systems Analysis/Analyst programs held a 1.5% inquiry SOV and a higher 2.1% SOC in Q3 2016. The conversion rate in Q3 2016 for computer systems programs was robust at 11.5% ― 11.2% higher than Q2 2016 but down 1.8% YOY. (Though with additional maturing, the Q3 2016 conversion rate will likely pass the Q3 2015 conversion rate.)

“Computer and information technology occupations” were projected to grow 12% from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS. The increase in jobs is due to a greater emphasis on cloud computing, big data, the internet of things, mobile computing and more. Due to the complexity of this field, it has a high median annual wage of $81,430.

#10 Pharmacy Technician/Assistant

Pharmacy Technician/Assistant programs brought in 1.8% of all higher education inquiries and 2.0% of all higher education conversions in Q3 2016. The 9.3% conversion rate in Q3 2016 for pharmacy tech programs was higher than the 8.9% conversion rate of Q2 2016 and the 8.2% conversion rate of Q3 2015.

The employment outlook for pharmacy technicians is slightly stronger than the average for all occupations, but with a 9% projected growth rate (from 2014 to 2024), it is weak compared to other health care fields. The median annual wage for pharmacy technicians was $30,410 in 2015.

#11 Educational Leadership and Administration, General

The share of inquiries for educational leadership and administration programs was 1.3% in Q3 2016. A high conversion rate (10.0%) delivered a greater proportion of conversions (1.6%).

Based on estimated school enrollments and budgets, “education, training and library occupations” are projected to grow at an average rate according to the BLS. The same applies for “elementary, middle and high school principals.” This profession group had a high median annual wage of $90,410 in 2015.

The “postsecondary education administrators” occupation is projected to grow at the faster rate of 9%. The median income is similar to that noted above at $88,580.

#12 Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies

Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies programs brought in 1.5% of all higher education inquiries and 1.6% of the conversions in Q3 2016. The 8.4% conversion rate for liberal arts programs in Q3 2016 was quite weak compared to the 12.4% conversion rate of the year prior.

Because liberal arts degrees can help graduates land in a variety of occupations, we are not outlining employment or wage details for these programs.

#13 Web Page, Digital/Multimedia and Information Resources

The inquiry SOV for Web Page, Digital/Multimedia and Information Resources was 2.4% in Q3 2016. A disappointing conversion rate of 5.4% resulted in only a 1.6% share of conversions. The conversion rate was down 11.6% QOQ and 15.3% YOY.

This program can lead to a variety of positions, and the employment prospects range dramatically. There was little to no change projected in the employment rate of graphic designers, but 27% growth was estimated by the BLS for web developers from 2014 to 2024. Graphic designers had a median wage of $46,900 in 2015. Meanwhile, the median salary for web developers was a much higher $64,970.

#14 Truck and Bus Driver/Commercial Vehicle Operator and Instructor

Truck and Bus Driver/Commercial Vehicle Operator and Instructor programs accounted for 0.7% of all higher education inquiries generated in Q3 2016 and 1.5% of all conversions. The 19.1% conversion rate achieved for trucking programs in Q3 2016 was the highest conversion rate for all of the top 15 programs. The conversion rate was down 1.0% QOQ and 7.4% YOY.

The job outlook, according to the BLS, for “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers” contrasts with the conversion rate. They projected 5% growth from 2014 to 2024. The average median pay for truck drivers was $40,260 in 2015.

#15 Accounting

Accounting programs also performed well in Q3 2016, bringing in 0.7% of all higher education inquiries and 1.5% of the conversions thanks to a 16.7% conversion rate. This conversion rate for accounting programs was 15.5% higher than Q2 2016 and 17.1% higher than Q3 2015.

The accounting profession is projected to grow at a rate of 11% from 2014 to 2024. The median annual wage for accountants was $67,190 in 2015.


The Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review covers overall trends in the inquiry and student acquisition activities of higher education institutions for the period of January-September 2016. The following topics are featured:

  • Inquiry volume
  • Conversion rates
  • Channel distribution
  • Inquiry costs
  • Top higher education programs and program categories
  • Degree-level distribution


Click here to get your free copy of the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review.

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The Pros & Cons of an Internal Enrollment Management Organization

Whether achieved in-house or through outsourcing, online higher education enrollment growth requires integration and synchronization of all enrollment functions to quickly and proactively manage the funnel of prospective students from inquiry through matriculation. Why? Because speed matters for online students.

As our enrollment management whitepaper explains, the distance-learning arena does not parallel the traditional higher education market. The competition is fast and inclusive of many more institutions than the competitive set for the typical campus-based program. Plus, online students are very different, both in demographics and in behavior. The time-intensive enrollment management formula utilized for years by most traditional schools no longer works in today’s competitive environment.

Many institutions have outsourced to online program management firms (OPMs) to achieve the requirements needed for quick scaling. See my prior blog post to learn more about the pros and cons of OPMs.

We’ve seen many other institutions succeed at building out internal enrollment management structures. Although the implementation process requires an up-front capital investment and dedicated resources, institutions reap the long-term benefits of this decision, including 100% revenue retention and operational continuity.

Internal Enrollment Management Organization Pros & Cons

The Pros: Internal Enrollment Management Organizations Retain All of the Control & the Revenue

An internal enrollment management team is responsible for everything. As a result, the institution reaps every bit of the eventual rewards.

1. Retain complete ownership. An internally built enrollment management organization is 100% owned by the institution that created it. There are no expiring contracts that cause operations to revert to the starting line.

2. Structured to succeed. Cross-functional integration facilitates student recruitment in a highly competitive setting. Integrated enrollment management organizations are customized based on the internal and external environments and can be regularly evolved to ensure ongoing success.

3. No revenue sharing. The tuition earned by online programs is not split. Everything an institution earns is theirs to keep.

4. Complete operational control and continuity. Institutions that internally manage the enrollment process make all the decisions regarding recruitment and admissions practices. Every choice can be selected based on what is important to the school now and in the future. Most importantly, internal enrollment management organizations – and everything they create – are fully owned by their institutions.

5. Brand equity protected. The institution makes all of the marketing decisions. Third-party actions focused on a fraction of the school portfolio are alleviated.

The Cons: Building Out a Competitive Enrollment Management Team Requires an Organizational Commitment

Without a doubt, there are no shortcuts to success.

1. Up-front capital investment. Although the expenditure will be significantly less than the multi-year loss of funds from a revenue sharing agreement, there is a required up-front capital investment to generate brand awareness and recruit students. Because an institution is investing all the capital, all the financial risks lie with the school as well.

2. Cross-functional resources needed. The management of distance learning programs requires more than just marketing and admissions staff. Financial aid, transcript evaluators and applications materials processors are also necessary. In addition, institutions may need to hire dedicated instructional designers, learning management system administrators, technical resources and student support professionals. However, most institutions already have these resources, and the only thing needed is operational integration.

3. Slow(er) implementation. Building from scratch takes time. The most successful online programs managed by internal teams took up to a year to launch. But many schools have successfully achieved five-figure online enrollment within less than a decade.

Do You Need the Immediacy of Outsourcing Without the Long-Term Commitments?

Unique to the industry, Sparkroom offers short-term OPM engagements. Let us manage the demand generation and admissions funnel while supporting the restructure of your in-house enrollment management operations.

Sparkroom short-term OPM engagements provide the following benefits:

  • End-to-end marketing and admissions funnels, from inquiry to matriculation
  • Cross-channel demand generation and promotion campaign strategy and execution, including creative development
  • Performance marketing technology provides 100% transparency into media buys, conversions and overall ROI
  • Simultaneous strategic consulting to realign internal resources, developing an integrated enrollment management organization that can take over the efforts when ready

Sparkroom short-term OPM engagements are ideal for institutions looking to scale online programs and for schools facing the expiration of existing OPM agreements. A variety of fee structures, including customizable retainer and fee-for-service arrangements are available. Click here to request your cursory enrollment management strategy session and to start customizing your ideal support solution.

Click here to download the Sparkroom enrollment management whitepaper.

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Affiliate PPC Leads and Hot Transfers Underpriced


When Factoring Average Cost and Conversion Rates, Higher Education Affiliate PPC Leads and Hot Transfers Were Underpriced in Q3 2016

Affiliate Data Lead v PPC v Hot Transfer Conversion Rate and Price

The overall cost per lead (CPL) for third-party higher education inquiries was $44.13 in Q3 2016, according to the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review. Up 3.1% QOQ and 12.1% YOY, this average was primarily set by the $42.24 price tag for affiliate data leads, which accounted for 46.9% of all lead volume in Q3 2016.

In Q3 2016, the average CPL for affiliate PPC leads was a $39.82. Up 13.3% QOQ and down 19.3% YOY, this lead category was considered premium when it first launched and right-pricing followed. But with a Q3 2016 conversion rate 8.8% higher than affiliate data leads and a CPL that averaged 5.8% lower, we expect the price for affiliate PPC leads will continue to adjust over time.

The CPL in Q3 2016 for affiliate hot transfers was $97.72. The CPL was up 5.6% QOQ and up 36.6% YOY. Hot transfer pricing has been up and down, but it appears now to be steadily rising. And no surprise. Hot transfers were a bargain in Q3 2016. The conversion rate for hot transfers was 276.8% higher than the conversion rate for affiliate data leads, but the CPL was only 131.3% higher.

The Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review covers overall trends in the inquiry and student acquisition activities of higher education institutions for the period of January-September 2016. The following topics are featured:

  • Inquiry volume
  • Conversion rates
  • Channel distribution
  • Inquiry costs
  • Program distribution
  • Degree-level distribution

Click here to get your free copy of the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review.


Note: This data within this post was corrected on January 16, 2017.

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The Pros & Cons of Online Program Management (OPM)

OPMs specialize in quickly taking schools from online program infancy to maturity. Through comprehensive services inclusive of marketing, recruiting, operations, IT support and more, OPMs invest their capital in providing an easy, risk-averse solution to online program growth.

Typically, two types of higher education institutions consider OPM partnerships:

  • Institutions newly offering online programs
  • Schools with existing online divisions that have failed to realize significant enrollment growth

As our enrollment whitepaper explains, both face the same challenge. A lack of resources and experience keeps them from competing on an even playing field with institutions that have successfully established their online program offerings.

Online Program Management (OPMs) Pros & Cons

The Pros: OPMs Simplify Online Program Development, Promotion & Recruitment

Hiring an OPM allows an institution to rely entirely on someone else’s resources to grow online program offerings and enrollment.

1. No initial outlay required. OPMs come to the table offering to make an investment in a brand. Typically, they fund the marketing efforts, provide the staffing and cover all necessary expenditures. As a result, institutions can get online programs launched without making any noteworthy capital investments.

2. OPMs have everything covered. OPMs are comprised of large teams inclusive of online education admissions professionals, instructional designers, learning management system administrators, marketing and recruitment experts, technical resources and student support professionals. Because of the breadth of their resources, schools can rely on OPMs from start to finish to plan, launch and maintain online programs.

3. It’s fast. OPMs have the funding, infrastructure and team already in place. As a result, the go-to-market timeframe is a fraction of what most institutions can achieve on their own.

The Cons: OPM Agreements Demand High Tuition Revenue Sharing, Require the Relinquishment of Control and Lock You Into Long Agreements Whether or Not Their Performance Achieves Your Objectives

OPMs take on every aspect of program management, including the decision making.

1. Demanding tuition revenue requirements. OPMs don’t work for free. Far from it. Tuition revenue-sharing agreements vary, but the split going to the OPM can be as great as 70%. Most schools using an OPM provider accrue only a small portion of their potential online income.

2. Long-term contracts. Because OPMs invest significant resources in the launch and growth of online programs, they often require lengthy contracts – of up to 10 years – to ensure time to recuperate their investments. These contracts lock schools into binding terms despite changing climates, competition and internal resource capabilities.

3. Lack of control. When schools engage with OPMs, they release much of their authority regarding how and where programs are promoted. Using their funds, OPM providers typically manage the end-to-end recruitment and admissions process. Decisions are made based on the need to be successful for the programs they manage and do not necessarily factor in what is of greatest long-term benefit for the school or its brand.

4. Ongoing dependency. The expiration of an OPM contract frequently leaves an institution with nothing. Everything that was developed by the OPM, from programs to systems to teams, is owned by the OPM. Upon contract expiration, schools make one of two choices: renew the contract or start anew.

5. Not always effective. Time and time again, we’ve talked with schools anxious to part ways with their OPM provider because of disappointing performance. While missing targeted enrollment goals is always regrettable, it’s even worse when a long-term agreement forces the continuation of ineffective, outsourced enrollment management.

Is an OPM right for you?

Business decisions are all about tradeoffs, and sometimes outsourcing makes sense. Before you make any conclusions regarding an OPM, outline your short- and long-term objectives then review your institution’s current practices to identify current gaps and understand capabilities.

Sparkroom specializes in helping colleges and universities identify the best path forward. We work with schools to assess the current situation, evaluate opportunities for growth and decide how to proceed.  Click here to learn more about Sparkroom enrollment management consulting.

Click here to download the Sparkroom enrollment management whitepaper.

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Higher Education Conversion Rates Vary Based on What You’re Selling and How Inquiries Are Generated

Online Higher Education Conversion Rates Are Climbing

Although higher education conversion rates were flat across all program types between Q2 2016 and Q3 2016, the conversion rate for online programs spiked in Q3 2016 to 8.8% according to the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review. This conversion rate is the highest for online programs since before 2014, and the cohort is not even fully mature.

Campus-Based Higher Education Conversion Rates May Be Stabilizing

Conversion rates for campus-based programs peaked at 11.3% in Q4 2014 and declined every quarter since Q2 2015. The conversion rate slip from Q2 2016 to Q3 2016 was minor, potentially indicating the start of a stabilization period.

Average Higher Education Conversion Rates - Total vs. Online vs. Campus-Based - by Quarter, Q1 2014-Q3 2016

First-Party Channel Conversion Rates Are Slipping

After peaking at 17.1% in Q3 2014, the conversion rates of first-party channels have consistently fallen ― down every quarter since Q3 2015.

The conversion rate for Q1 2016 was 14.5%. Although this represents strong performance in comparison to all leads, it was down 4.8% YOY. Most likely, this can be attributed to the expansion of emerging first-party channels (like social advertising) that do not convert at the higher rates of paid search and organically driven leads. The conversion rate for Q2 2016 was 14.2%. Taking further maturation into account, we expect it will wrap up with a final conversion rate similar to the quarter prior. With much more maturing still to come, the conversion rate of Q3 2016 was 13.7%.

Third-Party Conversion Rates Remain Steady

Conversion rates for third-party inquiries steadily hang in the 3-4% region. The Q1 2016 conversion rate was 3.9%, the lowest conversion rate we’ve seen since the first quarter of 2015. Due to high inquiry volume rates, conversion rates are typically the lowest during the first quarter of each year. The 3.9% conversion rate during the first three months of this year surpassed the 3.7% first quarter conversion rate of 2015 and the 3.0% conversion rate from Q1 2014.

Expected to mature slightly more, the 4.0% conversion rate from Q2 2016 was on par with norms. At 4.02% in Q3 2016, continued maturation may bring this quarter’s conversion rate above the 4.4% peak from Q2 2015.

Average Higher Education Conversion Rates - Total vs. Third-Party vs. First-Party - by Quarter, Q1 2014-Q3 2016

The Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review covers overall trends in the inquiry and student acquisition activities of higher education institutions for the period of January-September 2016. The following topics are featured:

  • Inquiry volume
  • Conversion rates
  • Channel distribution
  • Inquiry costs
  • Program distribution
  • Degree-level distribution

Click here to get your free copy of the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review.

Note: The data within the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review is based on last-click attribution tracking. Many first-party channels log stronger performance when cross-channel attribution is measured.

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January 2017 Volume Predictions for Higher Education Inquiry Generation

The first month of the year is always expected to be very strong. But how strong will January 2017 be? By analyzing historical inquiry volume data from within Sparkroom performance marketing technology, we can make predictions.

The graph below depicts the average weekly volume during the December into January period for the past four years (Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013, Dec. 2013-Jan. 2014, Dec. 2014-Jan. 2015, Dec. 2015-Jan. 2016). As the chart shows, volume in December starts off strong but fades quickly during the holiday season before rocketing up in January, the strongest month of the year.

Average Weekly Volume Trends - Dec 2012-Jan 2013 to Dec 2015-Jan 2016


We are expecting volume in December to decrease 6.1% from November. This is a slightly smaller month-over-month decrease than the year prior, but still the December volume is projected to be down 10.2% from December 2015.

In January, we are anticipating a 21% increase over December 2016. If this comes to pass, it will equate to an 8.4% decrease from January 2016. By channel category, we typically see a 22.5% month-over-month jump in inquiries from third-party sources. First-party sources, which are not as easily scaled, average a smaller (but still quite significant) month-over-month increase of 19.8%.

Of course volume fluctuations vary greatly from school to school, program to program and region to region. But no matter where you are or what you’re promoting, you can expect January to deliver a strong start to the new year.

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“Build It and They Will Come” Does Not Apply to Online Education

Many higher education institutions have turned to online education as a way of diversifying tuition revenue streams and mitigating traditional enrollment declines. But success is not guaranteed.

Almost every publicly held for-profit higher education institution has an active online program, and the not-for-profit sector is following their lead. The number of higher education institutions offering distance learning has grown by 74% over the past decade, and more than half of the top 30 schools ranked by online enrollment are not-for-profit schools.

Higher education institutions offering distance education

Not surprisingly, due to the increased supply of online programs, the marketing of distance education is competitive and increasingly ineffective. In fact, according to the Sparkroom Q2 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review, online inquiry volume was up 9.7% year over year, but conversion rates had slipped to 6.2% (down significantly from the Q3 2014 peak of 8.4%).

Why do so many colleges and universities fail to realize significant online enrollment growth?

Most schools that initially fall short in their efforts to grow online program enrollments tend to rely on their existing operational structures and resources to manage all aspects of online program promotion, recruitment and admissions. Though experienced with recruiting and matriculating traditional students, they are usually not familiar with or structured to respond to the demands of online students.

Online enrollment growth requires an integrated enrollment management organization.

Schools successful at enrolling students into their distance learning programs have created and fostered customer-oriented, student-centric philosophies in which they proactively support students from inquiry through graduation. Achieved through process automation and operations management training, this synchronization creates a business management system and culture designed to identify and remove the causes of process defects while minimizing variability.

Institutions can achieve an integrated systems by implementing one of the following approaches:

  1. Partner with an online program manager (OPM)
  2. Build out a new enrollment management infrastructure dedicated to promotion the online division

On Wednesday, November 16, I will be presenting a webinar that outlines the pros and cons for each of these approaches. Click here to view the on-demand webinar.

Scaling online programs requires sophisticated strategies, dedicated teams and notable effort. Multiple paths can lead to success or toward failure. Choosing the right approach for your institution is the most difficult and most important decision in the process, and the Sparkroom team is here to help you make that decision. Click here to request your free cursory enrollment management strategy session.

Click here to download the Sparkroom whitepaper on enrollment management titled, So Your President Wants to Grow Online Enrollments ― Now What?

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It’s Time to AMP It Up!

Example of AMP pageThe Why & How of AMP Pages for Higher Education

Last month, Karine Joly wrote an article for University Business that clearly explained why all colleges and universities should enable their websites to publish AMP pages as soon as they can. Today’s blog post supports Karine’s recommendation with additional details including the benefit to enrollment marketing efforts and instructions for setting up AMP pages on Drupal and WordPress sites.

For non-commercial searches (those with few advertisers), AMP pages appear at the top of Google’s search results. They are streamlined pages with limited technical functionality that are intended to quickly and seamlessly provide answers to search queries.

AMP Pages Are Ideal for Quick, Consumable Bits of Information

Currently, we see editorial-style pages indexing well in the AMP space at the top of the search results. Most commonly for higher education websites, this content is going to come from your blog.

Anything that answers common questions (or search engine queries) is going to do well as an AMP page. That means content in the format of how to guides, FAQs and opinions should be set up as AMP pages, whenever possible.

AMP Pages Aren’t Lead Generators… But They Can Be Part of Your Recruitment Strategy

Because AMP pages do not allow for any JavaScript code (without workarounds that impact SEO performance), forms do not show within them. As a result, you are unlikely to generate a lead directly from an AMP page.

But AMP pages can still be significant contributors to your student recruitment efforts. Make sure your AMP pages link out to related non-AMP pages that include forms. Although it’s an extra step in the user journey, with your AMP pages showing at the top of search pages, you may be surprised at the volume of inquiries achieved. Just make sure your Google Analytics are set up to track the conversion path correctly so you can analyze and optimize your content to continually enhance performance.

Setting Up AMP Pages Is Easier than You Think

As Karine Joly mentioned in her article, if your website is built on Drupal or WordPress, setting up AMP pages is pretty streamlined.

Setting up AMP pages on Drupal websites:

It’s as simple as installing the AMP module and enabling AMP for pages or nodes (groups of pages). Don’t forget to test your AMP pages (which will appear at the regular URLs with “?amp” at the end) to make sure everything looks as it should. Here are the instructions from Drupal.

Setting up AMP pages on WordPress websites:

There’s an open-source WordPress plugin that dynamically generates AMP-compatible pages once installed. Here’s a link to download it. Go to the regular URL with “/amp/” at the end to test WordPress AMP pages.

Here’s a link with instructions for validating your AMP pages. Because AMP pages are so new, validation is not yet an efficient process. But it’s worth the effort.

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How to Use Variable Testing to Win Your Office’s Halloween Costume Contest

Which witch would win your office Halloween costume contest?It’s not easy to select a winning Halloween costume. A variety of factors, including the party setting, attendee demographics and cultural changes, can have a significant impact with regard to which costumes get the most votes. If you’re resolute about having the best costume at your upcoming festivities, we recommend the utilization of variable testing.

As marketers, we typically advocate A/B testing. However, since small, incremental changes are required to accurately evaluate results, it’s going to be too time-consuming of a process. With Halloween right around the corner, you’ll have to take some shortcuts. But if you set your mind to it, you can still get a lot of costume variations tested between now and the big event.

First, Understand Your Target Audience

The more you know about your target audience, the more likely you’ll be able to envision a costume your co-workers will appreciate. Consider your audience’s IAO variables, or interests, attitudes and opinions. If your costume connects with what is relevant to your audience, it is likely to be well received.

Then, Start Costume Variable Testing

The steps below are pulled from the Sparkroom guide to A/B testing landing pages. Although we are recommending a streamlined testing process, if you follow these instructions, you should be able to narrow your costume choice to one that has a good chance of winning.

1. Define your testing objective:

Your testing goal must be measurable. While you can track and evaluate other key performance indicators, only the metric that relates to your testing objective should determine the results of your test.

2. Create a testing plan and schedule:

List out all of the costume variations you would like to test. Then, develop a hypothesis on the impact of changing those elements. Make sure to prioritize your testing schedule to have the biggest impact toward your objective as soon as possible. That way if you run out of time, you’ll still have tapered your choices significantly. Because each test may reveal new insights about how you should move forward with subsequent testing, expect to re-evaluate your testing plan and schedule after each winning variation is determined.

3. Create your variations:

Test just one thing at a time ― otherwise, you won’t know what delivered the results. Be patient during this process… but not too patient. Halloween is approaching fast!

4. Volume is key:

Sitting alone in your office will not help your testing process. Make sure enough people see each variation to accurately pick your winning costume. Try walking through public spaces to quickly boost impressions.

5. Know when to stop:

To alleviate external factors that could impact the results, conduct the test for the shortest period possible.


Important Disclaimer:

It is possible your co-workers will feel like you cheated the system and, therefore, not vote for your costume the day of the competition. If this happens, hold your head up high and know you did your best.

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