Email marketing for student retention

Leverage these email marketing tactics to improve retention by nurturing students all throughout the student lifecycle.

Smiling woman in a graduation cap and gown holding a diploma

It’s common for colleges to focus on recruiting when creating their email marketing strategies. Unfortunately, recruiting efforts often take precedent over an equally important goal — retention. 

According to The Hechinger Report, 55% of students who started college in 2015 were gone by the following year and that is up from 44% in 2013.

Why are students leaving and what would it take to make them stay? In an era of performance-based funding, finding the answer to this question is more important than ever.

Students today want to achieve academic success, participate in activities, athletics and are looking for community. They want to feel like their school cares about them, not like a number on a roster. College marketing departments have a unique opportunity to satisfy the wants of an already captive student audience, engage them as part of the community and make them feel valued. Developing a robust email marketing campaign is a solid first step toward keeping students engaged socially and academically, thus, ensuring they re-enroll year after year.

5 email marketing campaign tactics to keep students engaged:

1. Email strategically. Students are often juggling many responsibilities while attending school full-time. Their inboxes can be filled with campus events, academic reminders, messages from coaches, internships and campus resources to name a few. Therefore, it is important to be strategic about your email efforts, making sure you don't overwhelm them. Take note of when the majority of campus emails are sent out, ensuring you make contact on a lighter email day. You can also mark big campus events like homecoming and exam week to mitigate your email efforts during busy times. Engaged students check their email at least once a day, so email frequently, but be strategic.

2. Offer variety. Make sure each email contains an assortment of information so each student finds something they connect with. If emails are primarily dominant in one topic, students may end up feeling like you are not communicating with them. Start by creating categories to drive your content. Here are a few you could try:

    • Athletics. Share updates on upcoming games as well as results from recent games.
    • Arts. Include a list of upcoming performances — plays, musical performances, art installations or exhibitions.
    • Academics. Be sure to include a list of all upcoming lectures that are open to the student body and/or community.
    • Food. Keep students on campus at meal-time by telling them exactly what they have to look forward to on the menu that week. Or better yet, if there are events offering free food, advertise that.
    • Extracurriculars. Does your school have active and engaging student organizations? Be sure to let your students know about all of these opportunities.
    • Tutoring & Tips. Studying and asking for help is hard. Provide studying tips and remind students how they can get help if they need it.
    • Events. Are your school’s organizations doing cool things like taking a trip to save the whales, going to a political rally, hosting a local fundraiser or volunteering in the community? Students want to develop a voice and make an impact, so sharing these opportunities is vital.
    • Community. Students who are engaged at the town/city level where their college is located are more likely to stay at their school and in the area after graduation. Point them to community calendars to see what’s happening and highlight particularly interesting and enriching opportunities like festivals and athletic events.
    • Success stories. Highlight a professor’s recent publication, an alum’s professional award or a student achievement. This gives students a peek into the future and what’s possible for them.

3. Make it easy. Create a standard, easy-to-navigate email template that organizes content in a scannable and appealing manner. This will make it easy for students to scroll down to the section that most interests them.

4. Measure and adjust. Create trackable links for all email content so your team can measure which content resonates with your student body. Further engage students by sending out surveys and incentivizing participation with a gift card drawing to a local favorite restaurant.

5. Ask questions. Be sure to include a section in each email that invites students to reach out if they can’t find what they’re looking for. Something like, “Looking for more? Tell us what matters to you so we can help you get the most out of your time." If you find overlap here, it could help you strategize specific communication campaigns.

Keeping students engaged by offering them the content they care about is key for improving student retention and keeping them engaged. Want help creating your student lifecycle email marketing strategy? Contact us!