A global decline in enrollment: Could UGC be a solution?

June 7, 2023

Jayde Robertson

Picture this: a sea of students immersed in the digital realm, expressing themselves through social media. It's no secret that both Gen Z and millennials have adopted social media as their native language, making it the perfect platform to capture their attention. As higher education institutions embrace the power of social media, a new strategy emerges – harnessing user-generated content (UGC) to enhance the student journey and revolutionize marketing efforts.

Gone are the days of one-sided marketing messages falling flat. Today, we're diving headfirst into UGC and how it can skyrocket engagement and supercharge enrollments.

But before we get into the juicy details, there are a few numbers that you need to know. 

Social media has become the go-to channel for over 98% of schools in the fast-paced digital landscape. It's where students, alumni, and faculty connect, express themselves, and shape the online conversation. Also, according to the 2022 State of User-Generated Content Report, 93% of marketers agree that consumers are more likely to trust content created by customers than content created by brands. If that isn’t enough to sway your opinion, 64% of consumers surveyed in this report stated that if a brand they like and follow is in the habit of sharing UGC, they’re more likely to share content about the brand on their social media. 

Put simply, the world of (higher) education is changing. Yes, the concept remains the same. A prospect finishes high school, chooses to pursue a degree, and then finds a University. The need hasn’t changed - but the desire has. 

What’s the reason for the shift in preference? 

In the dynamic landscape of (higher) education, recent years have presented a unique set of challenges. From a decline in college enrollments to the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the education landscape has undergone significant shifts. In fact, a staggering statistic from CNBC reveals that in 2022, there were 4 million fewer college enrollees in America compared to a decade ago. As if that wasn't enough, the pandemic further exacerbated the situation, resulting in a 10% decrease in sign-ups.

But why are students opting out of college? What lies behind this alarming trend? Dive deeper into the data, and you'll discover a key factor: doubts surrounding the return on investment in terms of both cost and time. It's a sentiment that echoes among prospective students, with nearly half expressing concerns about the value they would receive from their educational journey. 

These doubts reflect a shifting mindset among students, who are increasingly seeking assurances that their investment in higher education will yield tangible benefits. In an era of skyrocketing tuition fees and mounting student loan debt, it's no wonder that students are scrutinizing the outcomes and opportunities that await them post-graduation. 

What can marketers do about it?

Let's break it down. The statistics gathered by CNBC  make one thing clear: higher education institutions need to address these concerns directly. And the easiest way to do this is through their marketing. #makecollegeappealingagain

In theory, it’s pretty simple. Students don’t see the lifetime value in higher education anymore - so we need to show it to them.  It's crucial to demonstrate the value of a college education, showcasing the transformative power of knowledge, skills, and career prospects. Do this while telling a story, selling education as a lifetime experience - and you’ll have ticked most of the boxes. Globally speaking, we need to restore confidence and reignite enthusiasm, which means we need to leverage innovative strategies that highlight the real-world impact of education and its potential return on investment.

Is UGC the answer?

There is little more satisfying than finding a solution to a problem, don’t you think? And in this case, UCG might be one of the solutions we’re looking for.

It allows institutions to tap into the voices of their students, alumni, and faculty, turning doubt into inspiration. UCG is more than just the latest trend in content marketing. It’s a lens through which prospective students can see their future - at your institution. They can gain insight into the real experiences, triumphs, and transformative journeys of those who have gone down the same path. It's a testament to the incredible opportunities and personal growth that await them within the walls of a college or university. UGC acts as a powerful antidote to doubt, replacing uncertainty with relatability, trust, and a sense of community.

When all else fails, UGC paints a vivid picture of the opportunities and rewards that await prospective students. It gives us as education marketers the opportunity to address the concerns that weigh on students' minds. By showcasing the real-world impact, career pathways, and vibrant campus life, UGC becomes a catalyst for change. It instills confidence, inspires ambition, and reignites the belief that the investment of time and resources in higher education is well worth it.

The decline in college enrollments is not insurmountable. It presents an opportunity for institutions to embrace UGC and reframe the narrative.  Yes, education isn’t what it used to be. But in all fairness, nothing is. Everything evolves. So too should our strategy. We’re in a unique position to bridge the gap between an overinformed generation and an underutilized education system. Paint higher education as the transformative journey that it is, and do it through UGC.

Are you a marketer curious to learn about the aspects that affect our industry?

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Ready to take your education marketing to the next level with UGC?

Dive deeper into the dos and don'ts of UGC in education marketing with our infographic.