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Driving Enrollment Through Understanding the Value of a Community College Education

The Challenge

The North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) sought to change perception of the value of a community college education and ultimately increase enrollment to its 58 colleges across the state.  

The Solution

APCO partnered with NCCCS to create a statewide outreach campaign that would ultimately encourage action by their audiences. We started by visiting more than 25 communities where these colleges exist to listen to college administration and meet with community and nonprofit leaders. APCO then conducted formal research to create and tailor messaging to audiences all over North Carolina. Our data showed that prospective students knew the traditional value of community colleges as affordable and flexible institutions, yet this understanding was not enough to change mindsets or lead to enrollment. Instead, we found that individuals were moved to enroll when they learned about the modernity and breadth of program offerings and how these offerings led to a new way of learning which ultimately set them up for a solid career. Based on this discovery process, we created the ‘Your Hire Education’ campaign.    

The concept leans into the fact community colleges are “different on purpose,” tapping into the enterprising spirit of both North Carolinians and community colleges to make prospective students feel proud to attend and showing the tangible benefits of getting a community college education. Using audience data, our team delivered the messages directly to each audience segment representing ethnic diversity to geographic variances. We measured day-to-day results, and optimized the media based on each audience’s unique consumption habits and interest in the message. For example, when we saw that with certain audiences, messages about bigger paychecks performed better than messages about second chances at a career, and we diverted funds to bring the most successful ad units to those audience segments. By tracking the campaign data, the team was able to determine the optimal frequency for each audience, the optimal sequence of messaging and the website experience that was most appealing for each audience.  

The Result

The campaign launched in mid-2019 and by February 2020 enrollment in North Carolina community colleges increased by 4.4 percent with 53 out of 58 colleges reporting an increase. This was a major milestone as it was the first increase in enrollment in almost a decade. Additionally, as determined in our post-campaign perception survey, those who had seen the ad campaign were 14 percent more likely to consider attending community college in the next three years. 

Colleges, organizations and individuals engaged with the #YourHireEducation hashtag and other marketing materials, helping raise the profile of their college’s offerings. The campaign’s reach surpassed targets, including exceeding the digital engagement goal by 576 percent and the website view session goal by 224 percent.   

APCO continues to partner on this and other growth campaigns for NCCCS 

From the Campaign