Prior to 2000, most students participating in AMHSI, a semester-long study-abroad program in Israel, were from public schools. However, during and following the Second Intifada from 2001-2005, Muss HSI saw its enrollment of public-school students decrease. To offset this development, HSI began targeting day school students, which it did successfully, growing the number of students from these schools each year. In recent years, as day schools have become increasingly expensive, and the option to spend a semester in Israel has added to that expense, AMHSI’s number of families seriously considering the program decreased.
Jewish National Fund (JNF), which now operates the program, wanted to gain insights that could lead to increased enrollment:
- How could AMHSI stand out in the broader marketplace of high school study abroad programs in Israel?
- What are student motivations for attending a program like AMHSI?
- How could AMHSI improve its marketing and recruitment efforts to appeal, especially, to students from public or independent schools?
To gain answers to these questions, Rosov Consulting engaged in two waves of market research data collection: quantitative and qualitative. First, RC surveyed recent AMHSI alumni to better understand what drew them to the program, what factors put them off, what competing programs they considered, and, finally, what they valued most from their experience. Surveys were distributed to 312 AMHSI alumni from the past three years (2015–17), eliciting a final sample of 164 respondents (53% response rate).
Next, RC conducted focus groups with teens and interviews with parents from populations that might be attracted to AMHSI’s program. The goals were to gain a more nuanced, qualitative understanding of:
- How and why AMHSI does or does not appeal to each group;
- How members of these groups become aware of and learn about study abroad opportunities;
- Their hesitations and concerns about a program like AMHSI; and
- How they react to existing AMHSI marketing materials.
Teens who participated in focus groups were primarily sophomores and juniors at non-Jewish high schools who had some degree of previous formal Jewish education. They came from a broad array of large and small Jewish communities across the U.S.
Rosov Consulting leveraged its existing network of organizational partners, especially in youth-serving sectors, to generate a sample of 35 teens in 12 virtual conversations across more than 10 metropolitan areas and Jewish communities. To supplement the teen perspectives, RC spoke with a further sample of parents, probing their considerations, concerns, and reactions to existing AMHSI marketing materials.
The research and subsequent analysis yielded four substantive key findings. Importantly, Rosov Consulting framed these findings in ways that could be implemented as actionable marketing strategies. Key findings were that:
Earlier recruitment paves the way for future AMHSI participation. Recommendation: Initiate advertising and recruitment with middle school-aged populations, especially among those set to leave day schools for public high schools and non-Jewish private high schools.
Word of mouth through social networks is the most common and compelling way that teens learn about HSI. Recommendation:Target – and partner with – Jewish youth organizations (especially those without their own semester high school programs in Israel) to leverage existing networks for recruitment. Incentivize friends to attend together.
Teens are primarily concerned about the financial and academic costs of attending AMHSI. Recommendation: Advertise quality education and financial assistance. Going on AMHSI should be about gaining friends and experiences, not about falling behind.
Parents and teens are motivated by different information and access it through different channels. Recommendation:Customize marketing for target audiences and make the most relevant information easily accessible.
AMHSI implemented a new marketing approach based on these findings. They reinvested in marketing to public schools (to a population that 10 years ago might have been in day schools when they were less expensive). Now, partly because those students are in public schools, the teens and their families welcome the opportunity to have an immersive Israel and Jewish experience during their high school years. AMHSI targets these teens and conveys the message that the program is affordable and is an environment in which they will make friends. AMHSI focuses especially on cities now, including Pittsburgh, Denver, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Atlanta, Dallas, and Austin, where they know a significant population exists of families who will consider the program.
Moreover, AMHSI’s new organizational partnerships are proving fruitful in reaching more families and reaching them as early as 7th grade, informed by the finding that families plan their high school experiences well in advance. As just a few examples, AMHSI’s relationships with the Israeli Scouts, BBYO, and Foundation for Jewish Camp on both national and local levels have helped lead to an increase in enrollment and brand awareness across teens affiliated with these organizations.
In just a little over a year since these new marketing strategies and approaches were implemented, AMHSI has a 15-20 percent increase in enrollment. The program serves as an example of the need to be nimble and to adopt an outreach strategy in line with realities in communities and with specific potential audiences.