UWM’s Online Summer Courses Website: A Marketing Innovation

Concurrent Session 4

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Brief Abstract

The UWM Online Summer Courses website promotes enrollment in online summer courses through eye-catching images and engaging descriptions that provide detailed information and appeal to students’ interests. The website helped UWM increase overall undergraduate enrollment in online summer courses by 7.1% when comparing year-to-date head counts between 2015 and 2016.


Teaching, Learning, and Technology Consultant at UW-Milwaukee.

Extended Abstract

In this presentation, we will discuss the development and implementation of the Online Summer Courses website, which was developed at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) to promote online summer courses and which received a 2016 Marketing Award from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). The UWM Online Summer Courses website promotes enrollment in online summer courses to current UWM students as well as to students attending other universities who wish to get ahead in their studies. Summer session enrollment is associated with improved retention and increased likelihood of degree completion, and online summer courses present an opportunity for UWM to pursue new revenue from special students. Online courses are a strength area for UWM, which has the highest online enrollment in Wisconsin. The University offers more than 30 online degrees and certificates, 400+ online summer courses, and a pathway for students to earn their first 60 General Education credits entirely online. To help students find the courses that work best for their degree trajectory, the UWM Online Summer Courses website showcases a wide range of high-quality courses offered online during the summer sessions. The Online Summer Courses website does not replace but supplements the regular schedule of classes, and students still register through the campus registration system maintained by the Registrar’s Office.

Students typically access information on courses using UWM’s course catalog and schedule of classes, both of which employ functional but often bland language to describe course offerings. In contrast, the Online Summer Courses website uses a combination of eye-catching images and engaging descriptions to provide detailed information about the courses and to appeal to students’ interests. The website uses a contemporary, visually impactful navigation system with rollover tiles, a search bar, and filters that allow users to drill down to course level, session date, and type of class (e.g., humanities, social science, etc.). It has also been designed to be user- and mobile-friendly and easy to update as courses become unavailable for registration. Course descriptions and images are uploaded by faculty members through a self-service web form, which also has links to resources on locating acceptable use images.

One course showcased on the website, for example, is an anthropology class entitled “Cultures of Online Games and Virtual Worlds.” The traditional catalog language in the schedule of classes reads: “Anthropological understandings of online games and virtual worlds including: conceptual foundations, current topics, methodological issues, and first-hand experience.” On the UWM Online Summer Courses website, however, the instructor is able to provide a richer description that appeals to students’ interests: “This online course serves as an introduction to how we may understand the place of online games and virtual worlds in culture and society. The recent explosion of attention to computer and console games, especially to the massively multiplayer online games known as MMOGs (World of Warcraft, Everquest) and virtual worlds (such as Second Life), should prompt us to consider the best of what scholarship has had to say about games cross-culturally, and how the current moment may or may not call for their rethinking. This course will focus on key claims scholars have made about games, both within and beyond anthropology, and read them alongside three experiences in online games and virtual worlds that students will undertake. Following an introductory week of intensive readings, each of these experiences will be the organizing point of a one week module, including course readings, discussions, and other activities. The entirety of the course will be conducted online, and involve significant contributions from students in discussion forums and other venues.” This rich text provides greater depth of information about the course and is accompanied by an engaging image that invites students both at UWM and outside of UWM to enroll in this course.

To promote Summer 2016 online courses, we worked with a marketing firm, BVK, to target our key demographic: traditional-aged undergraduates with at least one year of college experience. The online promotional campaign featured highly targeted Wisconsin and Northern Illinois DMA paid search on Google, Facebook ads, and other coordinated buys through Q1 Media (a company focusing on educational websites that college students are likely to visit). HTML emails were also sent to current UWM students as well as to ‘lost admits’—students who applied to UWM in previous years but who chose not to enroll here.

The results have been significant. From February 1, 2016 to July 15, 2016, the website received over 21,000 unique page views. More importantly, we have seen a 7.1% increase in overall undergraduate enrollment when comparing year-to-date head counts between 2015 and 2016 for summer online courses and an 8% increase in special student enrollment. Also, students registered for 566 more online credit hours in 2016 than in 2015. Since the number of courses stayed relatively flat, we attribute the increase in enrollment to the Online Summer Courses website and the effective marketing strategies that were used to promote it. For a media buy of $20,000, the University yielded an increase in tuition revenue of $170,000.

In this presentation, therefore, we will discuss our process for developing, implementing, and marketing the Online Summer Courses website, including how we identified and collaborated with various campus stakeholders. We will also provide information on how the site impacted enrollment at UWM, and we will lead a discussion that considers how other institutions might leverage such a website for instructional and faculty development purposes.

The UWM Online Summer Courses website can be found at: http://uwm.edu/online-summer/