The first questions is, what is an offer? We all know the answer to that so I won't go to the Dictionary to give you the formal definition of an offer. Yes, is the word "offer" the right word? The offer states what you would like someone to do. Whether you are selling toothpaste, a car, a college education the offer creates the groundwork for a prospective student to decide to move forward and actually buy.
Remember the offer is the first step in the sales process. Your goal is to get people to buy, not browse and "kick the tires" so to speak. So the offer has to have some serious incentive to get someone to move forward. Let's look at a couple of examples.
You are selling a tube of toothpaste for $2.95/tube but the offer is $.50 off the retail price. The savings is 17%. Not an insignificant savings.
You are going to buy a car, It's retail value is $15,000, you offer a $1,500 discount plus a trade-in guarantee of $1,000 for a total savings of $2,500. The savings for this offer is 16.6%.
Now, you send out a mailer, offering a student a degree completion offer with a total projected cost of $20,000 and you offer to waive the application fee (estimated at $75). The total savings for this offer is .37%. Pretty pathetic when you compare your offer to offers people see every day in the overall marketplace.
People have come to expect something for their investment. Whether it's toothpaste, a car, or an education. I find, that most Higher Education institutions don't recognize the fact that to attract more students (note, I did not say prospects) they have to give them something that they consider valuable! And keep in mind, that doesn't have to be money. Meeting the needs of a busy family, a tiring job, a busy work schedule and around hobbies and other areas that conflict with them completing their degree can be more valuable than a cash outlay. However, it's YOUR job to translate the intangible benefits of your institution into a strong offer.
One negative example comes to mind. I have a good friend, single mother, child under the age of 10, who was working on completing her degree. She registered for a class, started taking it, and due to a work/child scheduling problem missed two classes. When she returned to class after her mini crisis she was told by the professor, she had been dropped. She knew, going in, that she was only allowed one absence/semester. Now, this may have been a totally unreasonable professor (by the way, it was a required class) yet, had the institution had a resource to help her work through that issue this could have been a huge offer to make. We have an office to help you with a flexible schedule. Had this institution done that she would have remained in school or that class she would have felt wonderful. As it was, she finished her other class, dropped out and completed her degree at another local institution.
On the other hand, a positive example. A Midwest University wanted to increase enrollment to their degree completion program. After three email deployments, 75,000 each they ended with 112 new REGISTERED students. How? They offered each of them a $1,000 scholarship, no strings attached. It's the offer and how you communicate the offer to your client that makes the difference.
My recommendation is, don't think institutionally, think like a prospective student. What do they want and from there, create the best offer possible. The offer is what get's them to buy.