Psychographics in Higher Education: A Tailored Approach for HBCUs

November 14, 2023
Psychographics in Higher Education: A Tailored Approach for HBCUs

Imagine stepping into a world where the statistics on a spreadsheet transform into vivid stories, a world where numbers turn into narratives about ambition, culture, and community. This is the power of psychographics. Psychographics venture beyond the surface of demographics and tap into the heart of a student’s life and aspirations. They are the gateway to crafting stories that resonate with the soul of each student, allowing you to address their desires, goals, and values in your communication strategy.  

What do psychographics mean for higher education, why it is particularly crucial for HBCUs, and how does it bridge the gap between institutional and student aspirations? The answers may just lead to higher student yield to help you meet admissions goals. 


What Are Psychographics? 

In the realm of higher education, psychographics are a qualitative metric that are based on psychological characteristics and traits of current and prospective students such as their values, desires, goals, interests, and lifestyle choices.  

For Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), psychographics act as a compass for directing outreach strategies that align with the motivations, values, and cultural nuances of prospective students. In fact, psychographics entail a deeper dive beyond demographic data, as they enable admissions and recruitment professionals to tailor narratives and engagement approaches that resonate with the individuals within the communities they serve. 


Psychographics vs. Demographics 

Understanding the distinction between psychographics and demographics is vital in appreciating the nuanced approach required in higher education marketing, especially for HBCUs 

Demographics offer a macro view, concentrating on quantifiable characteristics such as age, ethnicity, location, and socioeconomic status. While demographic elements are fundamental, they are surface-level attributes that don’t help us understand the student’s internal motivations, beliefs, and aspirations. 

Psychographics enrich the perspectives that come from demographics by providing a multi-dimensional understanding of the prospective students. It uncovers the why behind students’ choices and illuminates their motivations, interests, values, and lifestyles. This allows institutions, particularly HBCUs, to tailor their engagement strategies, creating a more meaningful connection with potential students by resonating with their intrinsic motivations and cultural sensibilities.  


Do Psychographics Overtake Demographics? 

With all this focus on psychographics, can we set demographics aside? That is like asking a runner, which is more important, the shoe or the sock? All you have to do is talk to the runner who only has the sock and the runner who only has the shoe, and you’ll find that both are important.  

So it is with psychographics and demographics when creating a messaging strategy. Both are crucial for developing effective messaging strategies. Demographics help in crafting broadly applicable messages, ensuring that they are relevant to distinct groups. Psychographics, on the other hand, allow for a more tailored approach, customizing messages to align with individual interests, ensuring that communication is impactful and resonant.  

Integration of psychographics and demographics also supports adaptability and innovation in admissions strategies, allowing HBCUs to remain responsive to changing trends and needs within the student population. This ensures that their messaging remains relevant, effective, and attuned to the evolving landscapes of student aspirations.  


Psychographics Unique to HBCU Students  

Understanding psychographics is crucial for HBCUs as they tailor their recruitment, engagement, and retention strategies, ensuring that they resonate with the intrinsic motivations and values of their prospective and current students.  

Key psychographics that are often prevalent among HBCU students include: 

Diversity within Unity 

While HBCUs were originally founded to provide higher-education for Black students, they have evolved into institutions that attract students who value diversity, inclusivity, and a chance to learn in a multicultural environment. 

Community and Collective Empowerment 

A sense of community and collective progress often resonates with HBCU students. They are drawn to the supportive environments and the shared sense of purpose and belonging the HBCUs tend to foster. 

Social Justice and Advocacy 

HBCU students often display a strong inclination toward social justice causes, valuing institutions that empower them to advocate for equity, inclusivity, and systemic change within society. 

Personalized and Supportive Learning Environments 

Many students choose HBCUs for the promise of a more personalized learning experience, where there is a strong faculty-student rapport, and the educational approaches are more tailored and supportive.

Networking and Mentorship 

Prospective HBCU students tend to look beyond just the academic offerings, valuing institutions that promote holistic development through various extracurricular activities, leadership opportunities, and personal growth initiatives.  

Historical Significance and Legacy 

The historical significance of HBCUs, their legacy, and their role in advancing civil rights and equality is a crucial psychographic element that attracts students wanting to be part of institutions with such profound societal impacts. 


How to Apply Psychographics to Admissions Campaigns 

When building an admissions campaign aimed at increasing student yield, using psychographic information ensures that the messaging will resonate. The content you develop becomes a powerful tool to connect with prospective students on a deeper level, helping them to feel and envision themselves as a part of your HBCU community. 

Use psychographics in any of the following dynamic content mediums to help prospective students envision themselves as part of your HBCU community:

Storytelling through Student and Alumni Experiences

Share stories from current students and alumni who have forged a successful path through your HBCU. Their journeys, challenges, and triumphs can be incredibly relatable and inspiring to prospective students.    

Cultural Showcases 

Create content that highlights the richness of the cultural experiences available at your HBCU. This could include spotlights on cultural events, historical retrospectives, and features on cultural societies and clubs.  

Academic Excellence Spotlights 

Develop content that emphasizes the academic strengths and unique programs offered by your HBCU. Include insights from faculty and details on research opportunities, specialized resources, and support services.  

Campus Life Insights 

Offer a glimpse into campus life through videos, articles, or photo essays that capture the essence of the HBCU experience, including dorm life, extracurricular activities, and unique campus traditions. 

Interactive Q& A Sessions and Webinars 

Host interactive sessions where prospective students can engage directly with current students, faculty, or alumni. These sessions can cover various topics such as admission tips, academic advice, and insights into campus life.  

Social Media Takeovers 

Allow students and alumni to take over your HBCU’s social media accounts temporarily to share a day in their life, experiences during special events, or insights into specific aspects of their HBCU experience. 

Themed Blog Series 

Consider running a series of themed blogs that dive into specific topics like navigating financial aid, finding mentorship opportunities, or exploring career paths through the HBCUs programs and networks. 

Virtual Tours with a Twist 

Go beyond the conventional virtual tour by incorporating stories and insights that bring the physical spaces to life, linking buildings, and locations with historical significance, student achievements, and vibrant campus traditions. 


Benefits of Psychographics

The benefits of psychographics go beyond just messaging and recruitment strategies. They transcend the generalities, allowing HBCUs to appreciate and cater to the uniqueness of each student’s journey, thereby enhancing the overall educational experience and ensuring that the institution’s offerings are not just absorbed, but cherished and valued by students. Thus, for HBCUs aiming to strengthen their community, enhance student experiences, and improve recruitment and retention rates, the integration of psychographics into their recruitment and admissions strategies is not just beneficial; it’s essential.  


Read the Blog: The role of Storytelling in Elevating HBCU Recruitment and Enrollment

Author Bio

Alex Moore, MBA, is a senior partner and marketing strategy expert at Stratagon. In true early adopter fashion, Alex is passionate about marketing technology, automation, CRM and using leading tech tools to create forward movement in business and in life. Connect with him on Twitter.