For Profit Education Industry Trends

For Profit Education Industry Trends

Key Audiences and Online Trends in For-Profit Education

For-Profit University Rankings


While the for-profit education industry struggled for years against diminishing student enrollment, several accredited universities have recently seen major stock gains and are re-focusing on rebuilding their attendance.

Top ten most visited for-profit universities based on custom industry, month of January 2018.

Over the past year, Walden University gained a strong traffic lead over University of Phoenix, which was the industry frontrunner for years. University of Phoenix has certainly lost visit share in for-profit education, but Walden’s relative growth in traffic may also be partially attributed to increasing engagement on their student web portal (since their traffic ramped up suddenly in the beginning of the school year).

For Profit University Search Trends


Although the University of Phoenix lost traffic share over the last 12 months, it remains the most-searched university by a long short. However, Walden University has a very low paid click rate, meaning they get quite a lot of organic clicks from search.

Top branded and unbranded search terms driving traffic to for-profit university websites, month of January 2018.

In terms of unbranded searches (keywords that don’t include a brand name), terms like “online universities” and “online college courses” have lower paid rates, meaning higher organic opportunity. For-profit schools can use these terms to compete for better SEO.


Top branded and unbranded search terms driving traffic to for-profit university websites, month of January 2018.

Understanding Prospective Student Audiences


In order to identify prospective students online, we need to focus on behaviors that indicate interest in a certain of type of school, rather than broader behaviors that may include current students or faculty (for example, visiting a university website). We created audiences based exclusively on people who research school tuition costs, accreditation status, available degree programs, reviews, and other indicators of the evaluation phase.

While audiences researching educational institutions online tend to be young (mostly 18-24 years old), and are roughly split down the middle in terms of gender, they exhibit several differences depending on the type of degree or institution they are pursuing. For example, although Caucasians are the largest racial segment for all prospective student groups, we see below that the most over-indexed racial group varies depending on the type of school they’re interested in.

 Based on audience profile reports and overlap analyses of prospective students for trade schools, for-profit schools, and traditional 4-year colleges. Characteristics or attitudes with highest index or the most overlap (relative to the other segments) were selected.

Competitive Spotlight: University of Phoenix


Let’s imagine University of Phoenix wants to rebuild their slowing traffic, and they begin by identifying where they’re losing traffic.


Pulled from Hitwise AudienceView 24 weeks ending June 27, 2017.

Above, we see they are losing traffic to Western Governors University, a private non-profit career school. More people visit wgu.edu after phoenix.edu than before, suggesting a lot of people are comparing the two schools, but end up with WGU. Meaning, WGU isn’t losing much traffic to phoenix.edu. Phoenix should pay close attention to WGU’s messaging, and perhaps target “wgu” keywords in search.

After identifying where they lose traffic, Phoenix can focus on what’s driving traffic. Below are the top three channel drivers to phoenix.edu, in comparison to average online behavior. Below, we see that search engines are a major traffic driver to phoenix.edu, as is email. While social media ppears less important overall, specific social networks, like LinkedIn and Badoo, are major traffic drivers.

Pulled from Hitwise AudienceView 24 weeks ending June 27, 2017.

The University of Phoenix Audience


How does the University of Phoenix ensure their marketing is reaching new students? Below are differences between their current audience and their prospective audience. Though they have similarities, potential students have unique characteristics and motivations which can inspire more tailored messaging and creative.

Audience overlaps pulled from AudienceView over 4 weeks ending Feb 10th, 2018.