Being excellent online is an ongoing imperative.
Recruiting has changed, and many of the changes are here to stay.
Campus visits, tours, and group sessions will return, of course. But the massive and rapid expansion of the virtual experience, including online learning and recruiting, will ensure they remain pillars of modern student recruitment, retention, and giving.
Virtual campus tours. Online campus visit days. Zoom discussions with faculty and admission staff. New website resource centers for prospective, admitted, and committed students. The entire student recruitment process has moved online. Along the way, digital outreach has grown to address the lack of traditional inquiry paths, with increasing investments in social media advertising, email, and webinars. Many different types of online summer programs, like free online classes and major/career seminars have been created, and alumni have heeded the call to chip in as online advocates and mentors.
You name it, colleges and universities have tried it online.
Along this path, we learned several important lessons:
- Online student engagement levels are encouraging.
- Getting online is the easy part, doing online well is not so easy.
- The skills and team roles needed are different.
Let’s review them one by one.
1. The Broader Role of Online Engagement: The Market Situation
Some of these changes have been coming for a while, some have been sudden—but all will have a lasting impact on our enrollment marketing programs.
Student & Recruitment Behaviors
While we were already facing demographic shifts, increased competition, and question over the value of a 4-year degree, the pandemic caused a tidal wave of further change.
- Increased student consideration of 4-year college alternatives: taking a year off, going online for a year or more, attending a local community college
- Fewer traditional inquiries due to campus visit and recruitment travel changes/reduction
- More smaller group campus visits, more one-on-one sessions
- Moving to online college fairs, reduced in-person events
- Even more stressed high school counselors, with less time for college support
- More aggressive discounting and financial aid packages
- Fewer international students and out-of-state students, with some students staying closer to home
- Large state institutions digging deeper into in-state and regionally close student populations
These changing behaviors necessitate significantly improved communications efforts to prospective and current students. There’s need for:
- Consistent ways to be informed and share content, with more channels
- Much more rich media and authentic content
- A rapid response communication plan when changes occur
- Central resource centers to manage and share information
- A much savvier and customer service-oriented approach to social media management
- The online welcome center to be as welcoming as the on-campus one
Work Models: Leadership and Management
The sudden shift to remote work was jarring for many; the model calls for leaders to rethink how they manage, as it involves:
- Providing increased clarity on goal setting and key metrics to manage
- Enabling more workforce autonomy and direction on how to achieve goals
- Cultivating a self-motivated and driven team
- Facilitating more online collaboration
2. Engaging Your Audiences—and Doing It Well
This environment demands rethinking what you now want to excel at as an enrollment team. For example, road warriors who traveled extensively and were excellent at face-to-face meetings are now trying to figure out how to engage via email and video. How can you and your team develop a personal connection with prospective students online? Are territories needed? Do you need traveling admission counselors? How do you address the need for more authentic and rich media content?
Building a strong online presence is one imperative component to your planning. Here are key areas where you’ll want to excel:
- Outreach-focused digital marketing to:
- “Unknown” students, lead development (inquiry building)
- Known students (inquiries, purchased lists)
- Influence the influencers (community, families, alumni)
- Delivering a personal prospective student online experience
- Virtual events: content, production, and promotion
- Rich media content development
- Social media management across the spectrum:
- To draw the interest of prospective students
- To create more personal connection deeper into the recruitment process
- To reach current students and alums
- To provide better customer service and Q&A
- One-on-one meetings
- Parent communications
- School counselor connections
- Behavioral analytics
- Building student advocates
In applying these needs to your staffing model, core functions, of course, still remain—such as: processing applications, communicating deadlines effectively, managing data, and building reports tracking your key metrics.
There are also a few things you will eliminate or reduce spending on, such as high school visits, large-on campus events, and college fairs.
3. Enrollment Team Roles: What’s Needed Now
To meet these new needs, the composition and skill sets of your enrollment team may shift: you may fill these roles through full or part-time positions and/or in partnership with solution providers.
An expert on strategy in terms of prioritizing the right digital channels based on your goals as well as understanding the unique targeting parameters for each channel.
Virtual Experience Specialist
Someone with a strong aptitude for pulling together the content, people, and online approach to building a strong virtual experience when delivering online events, roundtables, meetings, etc.
A person who creates social media content, connection, and audience engagement. They are not just posting but connecting and engaging directly with followers and are also responsible for building a social ambassador and social influencer program.
Video | Rich Media Production Specialist
An expert in the tools of rich media & video production from recording to editing to publishing.
They support ongoing communications, often email, to prospective and admitted students.
Event Management / Coordinator
They organize campus visit programs, tours, special invite sessions, and one-on-one meetings.
Website / Prospective Student Online Experience Coordinator
For this role, delivering a personal experience requires tech expertise in website management.
Analytics / Data Operations
Analyzing behavioral data is critical to improve personal communications, improve digital targeting, and improve enrollment forecasting.
Content Specialist / Writer
A person whose strength is building content, including infographics, social content, copy, etc.
This role coordinates the many moving parts needed to help tracking and reporting across all activities.
Recruitment Coordinator – Executive Level
Enrollment Market Strategy – Executive Level
As you explore and consider these new types of roles, it is likely many of them require a more technical staff and higher compensation packages than your institution may be used to funding. That said, savings from travel and large in-person events could offset this.
Things have changed. Now is the time to build a modern enrollment team designed to thrive in this new and ever-changing environment.
Jim Rogers is the CEO of 3 Enrollment Marketing.