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Colleges in Crisis

Posted by Liz Schulte on 8/16/17 5:30 AM
Topics: Marketing to Students, customer experience, Generation Z

Colleges face changes in the educational landscape daily. However, the current storm of revenue losses, student stressors and negative public perception has thrust many into uncharted territories. What are the issues facing today’s administration and how do they affect the college store? 

Colleges in CrisisCampuses are heading toward dramatic transitions. Over the last three years, chief business officers have increasingly agreed that higher education is in financial crisis.  According to Inside Higher Education, 71% of Chief Business Officers in 2017 said the media’s reports about the financial state of higher education is accurate, compared to 56% in 2015. The main concern is to raise the school’s revenue. This puts increased pressure on college stores to turn a profit, even while student populations decrease.

Specific issues facing colleges

  • Decreases in enrollment
    The overall number of college-bound students graduating high school is expected to continue to stagnate or decrease until 2030. The Midwest and Northeast will be impacted more than the South and Mountain regions, which could see growth in student populations. What this means for colleges is that many will have a smaller pool of applicants. Schools will have to rely on recruiting, retention and increasing nontraditional student
    As a store, knowing and planning for changes in the student body is a must. Generation Z and nontraditional students are more focused on their careers and may be harder to reach. Look to adjust the merchandise you sell in your store to have wider appeal and stock more food choices. Also, make sure your store has a marketing plan that speaks to increasing populations of international students.  

  • Limited revenue streams
    Decreases in enrollment have a huge impact on a college’s operating budget, but that isn’t the only way revenue can decline. Decreased alumni giving, limited development efforts, discounted tuition, decreased state funding or an unstable political environment all impact the financial state of a college. These pressures have put some schools in danger of closing, a historically rare event.
    Retail is also going through a transformative time. With major industry disruptors, stores have to stay adaptable to changes in retail. Focusing on providing enriched customer experiences, moving toward frictionless checkouts and giving students more convenient purchasing options — such as an eCommerce site or in-store pickup —can help retail stores stay relevant and profitable.

  • Student debt
    Student loan debt in 2017 has reached $1.3 trillion. Student loans are the second highest form of consumer debt, beating out auto loans and credit card debt. Naturally, students are looking for financial relief anywhere they can get it, but for colleges who are also struggling with their own budgetary concerns, it is hard to provide.
    Students want to see savings wherever they can. Stores can help provide that. Host sales, advertise buyback, communicate with faculty about the cost-saving benefits of early adoptions and make the store’s voice heard on campus when discussions about course materials costs come up. Offer new students and families guidance about their course materials options like the UCM University Store.

  • Student mental health
    Generation Z have grown up in a different world than the previous generation. They tend to have a more pessimistic outlook and may be more predisposed to depression, loneliness and other mental health issues.
    Because of this, students might respond better to more body positive marketing campaigns. Recruit current students to wear the store’s merchandise and share those pictures on social media. Use students for social media takeovers. By using faces students might see on campus in your advertising, these individuals can become peer influencers, helping spread the word about sales or events at the store in a more impactful way.

Times may appear bleak, but planning and willingness to adapt will keep you relevant and essential in fulfilling the needs of the students.

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