It’s no secret that the higher education landscape has become more competitive. According to a 2015 Gallup and Inside Higher Ed study, 58% of admissions directors said they did not meet their enrollment goals.  And though higher education is known for restricted budgets and big asks, schools are investing more in branding and marketing. In a 2015 survey on branding in Higher Education, 63% percent of institutions surveyed spent more than $100,000 on branding, while 31% spent over $200,000.

However, colleges and universities are also under pressure to show results from these campaigns. Proving that your marketing strategy drives a strong return on investment (ROI) can be beneficial to getting you more funding and flexibility. But how will you show the ROI of your Higher Ed marketing campaigns? We have some tips to help you showcase ROI and make the most of your marketing strategy.

Set the stage for measurement and attribution

There are a few things to think about before you start looking at ROI. First of all, you should have your measurement plan in place, but if you don’t it’s never too late to create one. A measurement plan will outline your tactics and define how you’ll be measuring: a great place to start when looking to define ROI. It will also help you understand where you’ll measure and what your limitations are, such as: are you able to track your applications and attribute them to your marketing campaigns?

You’ll also want to think about your student’s journey. Not all marketing tactics will directly drive applications. For instance, your display campaigns might do a great job of driving awareness for those prospective students who haven’t yet considered your institution as an option. However, they won’t do a great job of getting those prospective students to immediately fill out an application. Understanding where in the decision-making process your potential applicants are will allow you to better measure ROI overall.

Define value

So how do you actually go about calculating ROI? Often, the main objective for many Higher Ed marketers is applications. But you’ll want to understand the actual value of an application to your institution. For example, you may reach your application goal on a regular basis but have a student enrollment rate that is slowly decreasing over the semesters. This means that the value of your application won’t be as high as before. Make sure you adjust accordingly.

Look at the full picture

Finally, make sure you take into account the full picture. Once you account for retention rate and understand the average amount of time a student will be enrolled at your institution, you can accurately predict an applicant’s worth in terms of dollars. Though this may seem obvious, it’s often overlooked that an actual application can be worth quite a lot. This is important when you begin looking at cost per acquisition because you’ll be able to set realistic goals and make the case for your marketing budget.

Assemble your toolbox

There are of course tools that can help you calculate the ROI of your Higher Ed marketing campaigns more easily than via an Excel formula, such as marketing automation and CRM platforms.  In fact, you’re probably already using Google Analytics to track your website’s performance (if not, here’s how you can start). Google Analytics can also help you measure marketing ROI since you can already see marketing channel metrics. If you are able to set up your application submissions as a goal, then you are able to see which channels perform best in terms of applications. You can even assign worth (in dollar amount) to your application (not bad!).

While there are numerous factors you should take into consideration when calculating ROI, looking at what we’ve outlined here can help you develop a solid strategy that leads to valuable benchmark data. You’ll then be better able to understand your performance and set reasonable expectations. And you can adapt your strategy and objectives as necessary.