How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    The benefits of segmentation in higher education

    This blog post highlights student segments based on people’s aspirations rather than simplistic and demographic factors. Parthenon group were able to group students into six segments or ‘personas’, and some were more commonplace than others.
    Last updated:
    December 1, 2023

    The higher education market is becoming increasingly competitive. Institutions can no longer rely solely on their academic reputation to attract students; to appeal to today’s cohorts they need to adopt a more agile approach to student recruitment and reach out to different student segments with personalised content. In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach to student recruitment is no longer fit for purpose.

    Widespread access to the internet and rapid technological advancements mean we’re more connected than ever before, and in order to survive, universities need to adapt. But first, they must fully understand their market and what motivates them.

    Before the turn of the 21st century, students were often driven by factors such as a university’s geographical location. This isn’t the case anymore. Nowadays, students want to justify the cost of their education; as such, they tend to favour institutions that meet all their requirements - not just in terms of their academic education, but career aspirations and social needs.

    A new approach to segmentation 

    A national study by The Parthenon Group involving 3,200 US students and applicants provides a sound basis for a fresh approach in how we can view the diversified student market. Through their research, the group were able to segment students into six key categories based on motivations and mindsets.

    By assigning comprehensive profiles to students in this way, Parthenon believe that universities can develop more sophisticated recruitment strategies and even rethink their course offering to fit the needs of today’s students.

    Parthenon’s study also ties in with our predilection for personalisation.Technology enables businesses to create and deliver hyper-personalised marketing campaigns based on any number of variables (from location to search history), and the higher education sector has the potential to do the same.

    So why aren’t they?

    According to Parthenon, higher education is lagging behind in the area of student segmentation and as a result many institutions are failing to meet students’ demands.

    “By thinking of students based on attributes - in particular traditional 18 to 24-year-olds and non-traditional adult learners - colleges and universities end up serving students in ways that are convenient for the institutions rather than meeting the needs of today’s students.”

    - The Parthenon Group, The Differentiated University

    The Parthenon Group’s Differentiated Segments

    Parthenon’s research-informed student segments are based on people’s aspirations rather than simplistic factors like age, e.g. what they hoped their bachelors degree would enable them to do after graduation. Parthenon were able to group students into six segments or ‘personas’, and some were more commonplace than others.

    Aspiring Academics (Achieving)

     Typical traits:

    • 18-24-year-olds with impressive academic records
    • Academically-driven with post-graduate plans
    • Attracted to excellent research faculties

    Coming of Age (Transitioning)

     Typical traits:

    • Not sure what to do after graduation
    • Less academically-driven than Aspiring Academics
    • Place little value on research faculties
    • Motivated by social culture and activities

    Career Starter (Thinking Practically)

    Typical traits:

    • Job orientated
    • Using higher education for career progression
    • Looking for a course that will enable them to reach their goal in the shortest time
    • Price sensitive
    • Places value on placement opportunities

    Career Accelerators (Advancing)

     Typical traits:

    • Usually older
    • Aiming to advance their career in current role or industry
    • Working adults with some educational background
    • Interest in institutions that acknowledge academic and career experience
    • Value non-traditional delivery methods (ie. online) and job placements

    Industry Switchers (Changing career)

     Typical traits:

    • Often in more unstable financial situations or possibly unemployed
    • Looking to start a career in a new field
    • Motivated by institutions that can link them with career opportunities and prepare them for the transition

    Academic Wanderers (Seeking Degree)

     Typical traits:

    • Students attending university later in life
    • Unsure of what they want to gain from degree
    • Least satisfied of all the segments with their university experience
    • More likely to be unemployed or on low incomes
    • Don’t place importance on their academic performance

    In using these segments as a basis for their own, universities can form a better understanding of what motivates different student cohorts and adjust their recruitment strategies to suit them. The same applies for students who are currently enroled too.

    For instance, universities can promote industry placement opportunities to Career Starters and Accelerators in the application phase, and offer Coming of Age and Academic Wanders career advice support during their course.

    “Schools serving these multiple populations have an opportunity to leverage the opportunities and tools they have developed for one type of student across all three. For instance, colleges with online offerings aimed at adult students in career-targeted majors could make these offerings available to this traditional-age segment that may use these courses to supplement their onsite experience and potentially shorten the number of years it takes them to graduate.”

    - The Parthenon Group, The Differentiated University.


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    Kate Tattersfield

    Kate Tattersfield is a former teacher turned content creator at FULL FABRIC, specialising in writing for the education sector.

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