Chris Lee, Director of Marketing and Communications, RCU Limited

Over the past few weeks further education colleges have been heavily engaged in converting student applications to enrolments.

School leavers and other young learners looking to switch providers will have been of particular interest given that the majority of income for colleges in England comes through ESFA funding for 16-19 year olds.

However, as we know not everyone who comes to your open day, applies, receives an offer or even accepts a place, will shows up at your college for enrolment at the start of the new academic year.

School leavers are likely to apply to several institutions, some of which may already have their hearts and minds set on just one provider while others remain undecided.

Why individuals pick one provider over another

Research tells us there are a whole range of reasons why individuals pick one provider over another. Decisions are influenced by many factors, and often the more important considerations will include things like the choice of courses and subjects, location and ease of travel, or whether the provider offers a safe and friendly environment.

We also know that once the young learner has considered their options and made their decision where to enrol, often there is little you can do to convince them to change their preferences and take up a place at your college.

However, follow up contact with these applicants who don’t enrol, provides a really important opportunity for you to learn more about the influences and choices of young learners living in the local community. It provides you the opportunity to not only find out what the most important factors are when considering a post-16 provider and what attracted them to enrol somewhere else, but also how potential learners perceive your college and where you may exceed or fall short of expectations.

Secure appropriate permission to contact these applicants for research purposes

Armed with this insight you can start to tackle the most important issues, raise local perceptions and influence school liaison activity. This can pay dividends in terms of future recruitment.

As long as you have received the appropriate permission to contact these applicants for research purposes, your college already holds a wealth of useful information, including previous school, subjects applied for, home postcode and contact telephone numbers. This offers the chance to conduct some really targeted and effective research which can be linked back into future recruitment activity, application management and curriculum planning, enabling you to make beneficial changes where required.

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Perceived quality of teaching the most important factor

We recently carried out a survey of applicant non arrivals on behalf of a college, enabling them to quickly engage with those learners who didn’t show up to enrol, find out more about their decision making process and gather valuable perceptions of the college. The research enabled us to identify exactly what these young people are doing now, where they had chosen to study and why.

We found that learners rated the perceived quality of teaching as the most important factor when selecting a post-16 learning provider.

They were also more likely to look for somewhere which they thought:

  • Offered a friendly, welcoming atmosphere and which
  • Offered the best course or subject choice

As such, providing a great experience through college open days and effectively communicating the quality of teaching and the value of your curriculum, local opportunities and progression routes are important elements for successfully maximising recruitment.

Less Important factors

Some of the options which learners deemed less important however, when selecting a post-16 provider, included:

  • Access to lots of sports and social activities,
  • Class sizes or
  • Whether there is good progression to university or employment.

The research also explored how well the college had handled the application process and gathered individual views from learners attending an open day.

This produced some really valuable insight for the college enabling them to identify and focus on the most important issues first.

Identify what is of greatest importance to young learners in your area

However, with different demographics and varying levels of competition between colleges and other post-16 providers, the needs and perceptions of young learners in your own local community may very well be different to those identified above.

Therefore, identifying what is of greatest importance to young learners selecting a post-16 provider in your area, will enable you to effectively prioritise and communicate your strengths and raise the perceptions of your college with potential learners for next year and beyond.

So, if you still have access to your applicant ‘no shows’ don’t wait too long before getting back in touch so you can develop a stronger understanding of their decision-making process while it’s still fresh in their minds. This will give you a real advantage ahead of next year’s recruitment drive.

Chris Lee, Director of Marketing and Communications, RCU Limited

Chris is responsible for the delivery of perceptions research, market assessment and curriculum review projects and is the key point of contact for over 250 colleges currently subscribed to the AoC and RCU MiDES service and Vector.

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