Reversing the decline in higher education enrollment begins with strategic communication and demonstrating return on investment


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Any higher education practitioner who has taken the pulse of enrollment in the past 22 months will likely agree that the pandemic has affected undergraduate enrollment across the country. However, there were clear signs before the pandemic that a registration challenge was on the horizon.

The registration challenges are many and varied. How can institutions compensate for these challenges with efforts that will move the needle forward without the need for additional resources?

To counter current enrollment slides, institutions need to connect with their students through strategic communications to create a strong and cohesive engagement experience that integrates with other facets of their lives while conveying the value of academic and extracurricular experiences in their respective establishments.

Higher education was too comfortable

Just a few years ago, the value of higher education was rarely questioned. Research clearly indicated that a college degree offered better initial job prospects, higher lifetime wealth, and plenty of opportunities for advancement. Without a serious counter-argument and a comfortable position within societal priorities, higher education was arguably too complacent and comfortable. However, with rising tuition fees and the changing job market, the tide has turned, but all is not lost. Institutions can right the ship, but it is important that this be done quickly.

The first step to true recovery requires institutions to understand and meet students where they are from an engagement perspective. Netflix and Amazon reflect the types of tailored experiences consumers expect, and higher education is no different. Technology investments that support engagement, artificial intelligence, machine learning, communication and analytics are no longer optional but necessary. Identifying efficiencies through automation, centralization, and increased coordination is key to creating the desired experience for prospective and enrolled students.

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Strategic communication – more than just a message

Engagement is essential for both recruiting potential students and retaining current students, but the first challenge is to ensure that either type of student engages and stays engaged. In most cases, this connection goes through a strategic communication plan that takes into account not only the message, but also the communication methods, frequency and paths within the plan.

Today, many institutions continue to be frustrated with the lack of engagement results generated by their current communications, which tend not to be personalized in the messages or in the ways and timing that students want. to commit. Gone are the days of having a handful of generic or slightly personalized messages. Institutions should use and deploy communications that incorporate personalization that reflects both content and student behavior as part of an overall recruitment, retention and communications strategy. The key is to deliver the right message at the right time through the right channel (s). To effectively drive engagement, institutions must use a multi-channel, multi-channel approach enabled by technology. For example, if a student hasn’t interacted with an email, the next step should be to try engaging them by text or phone. Although these are expected adjustments, the important point to remember is that the change in method should be automated.

Not only the method of awareness raising and the behavior of the pupils must be taken into account, but the content must be personalized according to the data collected during the interactions. This information could range from data received during conversations with the student, submissions of information through various forms, or even the use of web tracking on an institution’s website. For example, if a student browses the website and interacts with content from a club or extracurricular organization, efforts should be made to use it proactively in future communications in addition to other known information. Intelligent and dynamic content generation is essential to meet the expectations of personalized student communication.

Key return on investment in interactions

Proving the overall value of a university experience is now seen as a table issue in recruitment and enrollment conversations at universities today. To demonstrate the return on investment of earning a degree and gaining the associated experiences within a given college or university, communicating the value in relation to the afterlife is critical. graduation. The use and promotion of labor market data and the relationship between this data and institutional programs is vital.

In addition to these ideas, the successes and perspectives of alumni of an institution are invaluable in communicating this same message. While alumni from many years ago can still help demonstrate long-term success, conveying the successes of recent graduates who have graduated in the past three to five years is especially compelling to prospective students. and their parents. The effort to bring together and integrate strong alumni stories requires a great deal of cooperation between alumni engagement offices and admissions through a deeper partnership than is found on many campuses today. However, the future success and overall health of the institution and higher education depend on this mutually beneficial collaborative effort.

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Always in search of the magic formula

The magic registration formula is quite complex and is constantly revised. Adjustments can be made to academic programming, scholarship amounts and the latest extracurricular offers. However, a successful enrollment foundation relies on three key elements that work together: effective engagement guided by a strategic and personalized communications plan that incorporates a powerful ROI message. Deciding whether or not to incorporate this foundation will determine which institutions are best positioned to be successful with future student enrollment and continued growth.


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