College Shifts Recruiting Focus From Direct Mail to E-Mail

After success with an e-mail recruiting effort last year, Northwestern Business College is replacing some of its direct mail efforts with e-mail based on e-mail's lower cost and ability to better target specific groups of prospective students.

“Over the next year or so we will look to decrease the amount of direct mail by nearly 20 percent,” said Vince Norton, chief operating officer at Northwestern Business College, Chicago. “The goal is to integrate and increase the amount of e-mail and Web outreach we are doing and make sure that it is effective and works effectively with the other mediums as part of the overall effort.”

Northwestern Business College is not associated with Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. It targets young working adults, not high school students, and has departments in commerce, computer information systems, health sciences, office technology, paralegal and travel/hospitality.

“We go after adult nontraditional students,” Norton said. “This actually represents one of the largest segments in the college sector today.”

The school has increased spending on e-mail marketing by 25 percent to 30 percent since last summer.

The lists were provided by, the agency that handles the college's e-mail effort. It got the lists from PostMasterDirect and eDirect.

A recruiting e-mail this month to 30,000 prospects has drawn 232 responses. A response is defined as someone who links back to the college's site, gives demographic information and identifies an area of study that interests them.

Norton said the average cost per inquiry for the current campaign is about $33, compared with $120 for a direct mail campaign.

“For direct mail, our average response rate was about three-quarters of a percent,” he said. “Response rates for e-mail campaigns are in that same area, but the major benefit for us is the difference in the cost per inquiry.”

Though the response rate may seem low, Andrew Beedle, CEO of, said it is average for specialized or technical schools such as Northwestern Business College. His agency also develops e-mail campaigns for about 30 other schools, including the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

Response rates seen by the graduate schools Beedle works with average 12 percent to 14 percent, he said, while four-year schools draw 7 percent to 10 percent.

“The unique benefit e-mail has for the college market is that it responds to a kid's needs in real time instead of a process that has them waiting by the mail to get letters back from universities,” he said. “These are people looking for education. They don't have to be sold on that. It's a matter of developing a relationship with them, and e-mail allows you to do that more efficiently and cost-effectively.”

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