Rebranding the Future: Online School Marketing

Bart Caylor
6 min readSep 1, 2022
image by Elenabsl via Adobe Stock

I believe 2020 was a wake-up call for a lot of institutions when it comes to online school marketing.

Too often, online programs have been an afterthought in enrollment marketing strategies for traditional colleges and universities.

But the Pandemic propelled colleges and universities into reconfiguring entire curriculums for distance learning practically overnight.

Many of those schools probably didn’t realize that they were playing catch-up in a world consumed by digital transformation.

In the fall 2019 semester, over 50 percent of American postsecondary students enrolled in at least one online course. And that was before the Pandemic shut down college campuses nationwide.

That is a 30 percent increase in online participation from only a decade earlier.

Why this drastic shift in preferred learning methods?

Taking Power Back From For-Profits

Since the dawn of for-profit online institutions in 1989, online instruction has had a rocky reputation.

Mired in investigations and financial scandals, for-profit universities unwittingly made online degrees a questionable commodity.

But with digital pioneers like Western Governors University, the first non-profit online school, traditional brick-and-mortar institutions had a sneak peek of the future.

Of course, a lot has changed since WGU put down roots 25 years ago. Now, what used to be a quirky offering is a core necessity for higher ed campuses.

If anything, the higher ed market is lagging behind other sectors. Some experts expect e-learning to become one of the fastest-growing industries in the world by 2023.

Despite online degrees being widely accepted today, 75 percent of schools still cite future online program limitations as a concern.

It’s important to remember that the delivery method of your students’ content is secondary to its quality.

Getting your school’s online offerings up to par will be a team effort, but it will be up to your marketing team to bring mission-fit students into the fold.

But who exactly is the target audience for a distance learning platform?

Your prospective student pool for online education may be much bigger than you think.

Nontraditional is the New Norm

The classic “traditional” student, or full-time 18 to 22-year-olds living on or near campus, is now a minority. And the numbers are not even close.

Today, about three-quarters of undergraduate students are nontraditional, and the age range of that group encompasses multiple generations.

Taking a full load of classes on-site is simply not in the cards for many Americans pursuing a degree.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the data:

Those statistics don’t even account for the Great Resignation’s role in the surge of new nontraditional students.

The Pandemic inadvertently caused a paradigm shift in organizational work culture.

American workers who have enjoyed the perks of working from home are planting a flag in the ground. And the ripple effect is being felt in our higher education system.

According to a survey by Cengage, 73 percent of students prefer that courses that moved entirely online during the Pandemic remain there.

The numbers speak for themselves. Whatever their reasons, your prospective students are more likely than ever to be interested in some level of online learning.

Therefore, online school marketing should be near the forefront of your institution’s enrollment marketing strategy.

Online School Marketing for the Next Generation

With Gen Z now making up the bulk of traditional students, higher ed marketers are gearing up for the following age segment: Generation Alpha.

I don’t think I can overstate the influence of this generation’s extensive technology immersion. It’s no coincidence that anthropologists point to the launch of the iPad as the birth of Gen Alpha.

Online social interaction has become commonplace for a group raised on social media and multiplayer gaming.

(I think gamification could explode in higher ed marketing for Gen Alpha students — click here to learn why!).

While in-person interactions are still preferred among children ages 8 to 15, 39 percent mainly talk to their friends online.

This digital saturation ended up being a blessing in disguise as the Pandemic forced millions of children into a distance learning dry run.

Online learning was an oddity to millennials and an interesting proposition to Gen Z, but it will be just another avenue of learning for Gen Alpha students.

But regardless of demographic, you can approach online school marketing from a few positive angles that can entice prospective students.

Focus Points for Online School Marketing

Online learning carries several benefits that incoming students may not consider. Spread awareness of your online programs by highlighting their advantages.


Arguably the most lucrative benefit of online courses is the freedom to work on them whenever and wherever is most convenient.

Flexibility is a great selling point for students with rigid working hours or parental responsibilities.

However, even traditional students may consider adopting a hybrid class schedule to accommodate blocked time slots.


How often have you heard of students being forced to rearrange an entire schedule because they missed the class size cut-off for one required course?

With online courses, they have a much greater chance of bypassing that blocked slot headache.

Let students know they’ll never have to worry about being forced to take a dreary Friday night class to settle a requirement. Instead, those students can take that course from the comfort of home (or wherever they’d like).


The average cost of a 4-year degree at a public college in the U.S. is over $10,000 cheaper online than in-person.

Also, the average student who commutes to in-person classes spends well over $3,000 per year on transportation and over $1,300 on meals.

Online classes are much easier on students’ bank accounts — not to mention the time-saving benefit of not having to commute to class!


Traditional schools don’t usually offer in-person classes during the summer months or the winter holiday break.

However, the flexible nature of online courses means scheduling for online schools year-round often operates much differently.

Inform potential recruits if your school offers online summer or winter term courses! You’ll likely have ambitious students who will jump at the chance to shave some time off their degree completion time.

The Future of Education is Now

Online education isn’t for everyone, and it will always have its share of critics.

But distance learning is here to stay, and its popularity with nontraditional students will only increase in time.

Your online school marketing must be on its A-game in order to keep up!

Drop us a line if you’d like some more ideas for addressing online schooling in your enrollment marketing strategy!

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Featured image by Elenabsl via Adobe Stock

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Bart Caylor

President & Founder Caylor Solutions Husband. Dad. Learner. Thinker. Branding, Marketing, Problem Solver for Education. Apostle's Creed. #highered #marketing