Break for the border: How to attract out-of-state students

Over the last number of years, the financial backbone of higher education institutions has changed dramatically. State funding no longer accounts for the majority of a school’s budget. In fact, colleges and universities are lucky if state support provides even 20 percent of their overall budget.

Higher Education institutions have had to be resourceful to keep their heads above water and with this in mind there has been a huge focus on the financial lure of international students and deservedly so but what about the oft forgotten out-of-state students?

Do you know whether or not your institution actively targets students from other states? Do you have a dedicated section on your website with information about how to apply, tuition costs and above all why they should apply?
Does your university have a strategy to actively recruit these lucrative students or have they been largely discounted due to the tepid temperature of the economic climate?

It’s true that more and more students are opting to stay at home in their own states where they can save thousands in tuition fees. However, universities who avoid targeting out-of-state students are missing out on a more than generous return on investment as well as the additional prestige that comes from having a diverse student body. Some regions in certain states are also facing declining numbers of 17 to 18 year olds so fishing outside their own student pond can help bolster their overall enrollment numbers.

Students tend to migrate out-of-state for a variety of reasons including:
• University reputation and ranking
• Reduced out-of-state tuition fees
• Study programs

We recently came across a feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Link to article) which contains a clever interactive tool which examines 1600 universities and colleges and the migration of new full-time students, based on their states of residence when they apply between 1994 and 2010. By looking at this interactive chart, it’s apparent that certain states and indeed certain universities have been consistently successful in recruiting out-of-state students. 

For instance, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts consistently attract the largest volumes of out-of-state students. So, how can other universities boost their intake of students from other states?

If your university would like to increase your stake in the out-of-state student game then you need to employ the following tactics:

Extend in-state tuition to nearby states

Southern Illinois University’s board voted to offer in-state tuition to first-year students from Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana. After the first year, the students can qualify as Illinois residents significantly reducing their tuition fees. This is a tactic that has proved successful for several universities in the past.

Have a dedicated out-of-state section on your website

Having a section on your website devoted entirely to the provision of information out-of-state students makes a very clear statement to prospective students who visit your site from other states. The absence of a dedicated section for out-of-state students also makes a very clear statement. It’s essential that you provide clear and concise information about tuition costs, deadline for applications, study programs and campus tours that is specifically for out-of-state students if you want to establish yourself as a credible option.

Get creative

Last but not least don’t be afraid to get a little creative. A marketing campaign that stands out for the right reasons can make prospective students stop in their tracks just long enough to consider your institution as a very real possibility. Remember that you have serious competition so if you want to get noticed you’re going to have to be different. Consider creating a video from the prospective of an out-of-state student- this will help create a video that ticks all the right boxes. This idea of merging creativity with student prospective should extend to all aspects of your digital campaign which targets out-of-state students including social media and email marketing campaigns. It’s also a good idea to set aside some time and budget to work on a dedicated SEO campaign.

Attracting out-of-state students is no easy feat; it requires perception, hard-work and determination. Highlighting the unique selling points of your institution is the best way to get migrating students over state lines!