Supporting Students’ College Search is an Institutional Imperative

According to the 2020 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Officials, “most colleges expect enrollment to decrease this year.” This means that admission teams across the country will need to revisit and revise their recruitment plans. 

The usual tactics and strategies for recruitment have shifted and will likely look different for the foreseeable future as many institutions have transitioned to a test-optional admission framework with an enhanced emphasis on digital engagement.

The new normal is constantly changing and providing support throughout the student journey is paramount.

“Every student’s journey to college is different.”

As school’s look ahead to the fall of 2021, the uniqueness of student journeys into higher education has exponentially expanded. The need to ‘meet students where they are’ has become an institutional imperative. 

With America’s high schools juggling a mix of in-person and remote instruction, recruitment efforts have to be innovative, intentional, empathetic, and ask questions that lead to a deep understanding of what prospective students need to know.

Asking the Right Questions

Getting to know prospective students is a complex endeavor. There are numerous surveys, studies, and data points that can be challenging for institutions to keep track of, much less use in intentional ways. At the heart of all of this is the need for genuine understanding. 

Going forward there are three considerations that are vital for supporting prospective students:

  • When do students begin their college search? 
  • What channels do they turn to for information? 
  • What criteria are important to them? 

These questions should be asked often as they will drive relevant communications. They will also provide a plethora of themes and context.

Measurement and analysis of this data requires agile technologies that can allow institutions to scale their engagement while simultaneously making individual students feel valued. 

Identifying trends within the millions of search criteria is a must for admission offices. Asking questions frequently, across myriad engagement channels, creates opportunities for personalization.

Personalization Enhances the Recruitment Experience

Admission offices that connect with and uplift the process of applying to and getting into college at the individual student level tend to stand out from institutions that are more generic in their approach. Garnering student attention at the granular level – especially personal and academic interests – allows schools to differentiate themselves from other institutions.

This is in contrast to recruitment tactics of the past that were predicated on generic messaging that lacked context. Nowadays, the recruitment experience is much more tailored and personal, and students expect that from institutions.

Using a data-driven approach, every aspect of the recruitment experience should be personalized. While it does take more effort to ensure that communications touchpoints are customized for individual students, the value to both the institution and the individual are easily recognized – students feel a closer connection to a school and a college expands their enrollment. 

Supporting students during their journey is all about understanding their needs. Recruitment messaging has to line up with the most pressing aspects facing students. For example, in this year’s 2020 Naviance Student Surveyhigh school juniors and seniors were explicitly concerned with the cost of attendance. In a year that has been anything but normal, tuition is definitely top of mind. 

A study by MDRC found that students at 10 Ohio community colleges who received personalized messages in conjunction with financial assistance information enrolled at a higher rate than their peers.

Ongoing Support

Data-informed recruitment that is highly personalized is key to supporting students as they make their way through the admission process. 

Additionally, it’s vital that admission staff maintain an open dialogue with students and their families. For example, with the updates in campus re-openings and policies related to the coronavirus, institutions keeping communication transparent with prospective students and families begins to build a level of trust and affinity that could bode well in the future.

Identifying opportunities for one-on-one or small group interactions will provide much-needed connections and engagement. 

Communication that is proactive and personal is a tremendous benefit. Placing students and their families at the center of the admission process adds a human touch in a high-tech environment. This is important for all students, but even more so for students in traditionally underserved groups. 

Having a helping hand from an institution, especially when the enrollment landscape is in a state of almost constant change, is a must for admission teams as they construct their vision, actions, and goals for supporting students during the 2021 admission cycle and beyond.

The Student-Centric Recruitment Framework

This post is the first in a series of six principles from Hobsons’ Student-Centric Recruitment Framework that will assist higher education institutions as they navigate the future of recruitment. The next blog post will be about how colleges respond to student interests. For more student-centric recruitment strategies, download the framework.

Topics Admissions and Enrollment Management
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