How Community Colleges Can Increase Enrollment and Student Aid

Community colleges play an integral role in our communities across America. They are responsible for educating and training over eight million students per year and help bridge the gap between higher learning and the workforce needs of a given region. 

While their place in our communities is well established and extremely beneficial, these institutions are facing growing challenges. We want to present an innovative solution that can help community colleges with these market headwinds. 

Competing in a crowded marketplace

Higher education at-large is a very competitive landscape. 

Public universities, private colleges, and community colleges are all competing for a shrinking pool of students. On a national level, enrollment has been declining for years. In 2019, community colleges continued their enrollment slide with a decline of 3.4 percent. In comparison, four-year public institutions saw a drop of 0.9 percent, and 4-year private institutions bucked the trend with an increase of 3.2 percent. [Source: Inside Higher ED]

This increasingly competitive landscape, coupled with a shrinking pool of applicants, means that advertising and marketing have become more important than ever. Public universities and private colleges usually have much larger budgets to spend on advertising than community colleges. In addition, for-profit online colleges, often backed by private equity capital, spend heavily targeting the same student demographic that typically attends community colleges. 

Financial wellbeing of students

Another headwind community colleges face is in retaining and supporting students once they are enrolled in the college. While tuition at community colleges is less expensive, more than 40% of working, part-time students do not complete their degrees. Unsurprisingly, the dropout rate is highest among the lowest income population. Below is a breakdown of the income levels of community college students.

Income Overall Dependent Independent
Less than $20,000 37% 23% 47%
$20,000 – 49,999 30% 28% 31%
$50,000 and up 33% 49% 22%


[Source – Community College Research Center]

There is a wide range of programs community colleges do offer to support their students, most notably online classes and even food pantries. But it is a stark reality that those near or below the poverty line still struggle to complete their education.

So how can community colleges both increase enrollment and support their students financially? Surprisingly, the answer lies in car wrap advertising! (Wait, what?)

Wrapping a car is one of the most effective and overlooked ways to advertise. In 2019, Neilson published a study that showed wrapped cars had the highest recall of any transit advertising medium. However, just a fraction of companies use this as a strategy.

What community colleges can do is pay their own students to advertise the school on their cars!  Here are some of the benefits of a program like this:

  1. Students generate increased income: Students can earn an additional $1,200-$1,500/year by placing an ad for the community college on their car. This amounts to nearly 25% of a federal Pell grant and can give much-needed cash to students while they are going about their ordinary day-to-day activities. Since they are already driving, there is no added time required to generate passive income!
  2. They become brand ambassadors for the school: Anyone who has ever had a wrap on their car knows that people stop and ask about it. Who better to espouse the benefits of enrolling in the community college than its own students? They can provide feedback on the classes, programs, and reasons why they love the school.
  3. They reach the school’s targeted population: Most students live and work in the county where they attend their local community college. This puts effective advertising messaging in front of the audience the school is looking to target!

While still a novel concept for some, community colleges across the country like Delaware Technical & Community College, Anne Arundel Community College, and Evergreen College in California have been participating in a Student Ambassador program implemented by Carvertise. As a result, they have seen increased enrollment as compared to the national average, a stronger culture throughout the college, and a financial gain of over $200,000 that has gone directly back into the pockets of their own students – a true win-win!


Greg Star is the Co-Founder of Carvertise. Feel free to email Greg here or connect with him on LinkedIn.