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Five tactics to boost enrollment in 2021

The global pandemic accelerated the pace of change for organizations across every sector in every region of the globe. As more organizations shift services and information to digital channels, trust has become a key concern for customers. This article explores the importance of striking a balance between speed and confidence to deliver on customers' ever-increasing digital demands.

Toby Margetts

Written by

Toby Margetts
‎Digital Strategy Lead – Squiz
9 December 2020

In this blog post we’ll explore what’s actually changed and what those changes mean for Higher Education institutions (HEI) in real terms. We’ll also explain the Squiz approach to helping you remain ahead of the ever-steepening curve when it comes to student acquisition.

So what has actually changed in Higher Education?

Beware: poachers operating

Remarkably, one of the most impactful changes has nothing to do with the Covid-19 pandemic.  In late 2019, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) announced some profound changes to their Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. This was in response to being sued by the Justice Department for allegedly violating antitrust rules.

The changes included the removal of certain provisions that had previously protected colleges in the US from having their students poached by another HEI after the May 1 deadline – the point at which commitments to enroll become final. Colleges were forced to respect this deadline and, after May 1, could not “knowingly recruit or offer enrollment incentives to students who are already enrolled, registered, have declared their intent, or submitted contractual deposits to other institutions”. But that rule no longer applies.

This has understandably led to a nervousness amongst HEIs who can no longer rest assured that the vast majority of students who pay their deposit by May 1 will actually turn up for fall enrollment. The fear factor alone is enough to create a domino effect as HEI’s can justify poaching efforts by claiming they’re just protecting themselves from others doing the same. To not take this stance could be considered naive, even. This self-fulfilling prophecy has the potential to spread like wildfire much akin to the toilet paper panic that gripped the western world during the pandemic.

Historically, after May 1, HEIs in the USA would switch their focus from increasing yield (the percentage of admitted students who pay confirmation deposits) to focusing on melt (the percentage of students who deposit by the admissions deadline but decide not to enroll in the fall). They did this because they knew their students were safe. The removal of the NACAC provisions essentially extends the timeframe in which HEIs must continue focussing on yield right up until the point at which classes begin.

Fewer students are entering into HE

Now the obvious culprit for a decrease in student numbers is Covid-19. But scratch below the surface and it becomes clear that the problem transcends the pandemic.

Between 2011-2019, college enrollments fell by 11% in the USA (Source: NPR). While complete figures aren’t yet available, the most recent data from the National Student Clearing House, which analyzes data from 3.6 million students from 629 colleges, indicates that undergraduate college enrollment is down 2.5% in 2020 compared with 2019. In short: college enrollments have been declining for years and things are only likely to get worse in the short term. And for every prospective student that chooses not to pursue Higher Education, the pool shrinks and the competition grows.

Another revision of the NACAC Code of Ethics saw the door open for colleges to “offer incentives exclusive to students applying or admitted under an early decision application plan [such as] special housing, enhanced financial aid packages, and special scholarships.”(Source: Inside Higher Ed)  Could those that don’t offer such benefits find themselves missing out

Winning the student acquisition battle

Clearly colleges need a robust acquisition strategy to help them navigate these troubling times and to attract as many students as possible. It must consider every facet of the college and how it might contribute towards that goal.

Within that strategy there are myriad tactics a college can employ and here we’ll be focusing on five.

1. Make students your most powerful marketing tool.

Current students and alumni can and should be one of your most powerful tools to recruit new students. Who better to persuade a prospective student than a person that’s already bought in to the experience?

Colleges need to engineer scenarios whereby prospective students have access to current students –either digitally or physically. For example creating a panel of current students with whom prospective students can chat to live or asynchronously via platforms like Facetime  or Instagram that they are already comfortable using. This can lead to a more candid form of discussion away from the pressures of face-to-face communication with authority figures within a college.

2. Personalize your messaging for maximum impact

We know that no two students are the same. Expecting a one-size-fits-all approach to engage undergraduates, postgraduates, international students and mature students is wildly unrealistic and a waste of time and money.

What if you could change messaging, imagery and content to suit the person that’s viewing it? With Squiz Datastore it’s possible to do exactly that. By unifying data that has been created in different formats by systems across the organization, Datastore makes it easy for the CMS to access, understand and use a common data set to deliver personalized digital experiences to every type of student.

3. Double down on engagement when the odds are in your favor

It’s possible, using Squiz Datastore, to identify which of your prospective students are most likely to confirm a spot and enroll. Understanding which metrics to focus on is key but once a college has this understanding, it can massively improve the outcome of marketing efforts since colleges can focus on these students instead of the entire cohort of admitted students. This is a great way to dramatically improve student yield.

4. Show students what the want before they even knew they wanted it

It’s essential that the barriers to information are as low as possible. A powerful search solution should be the bare minimum but those that differentiate themselves through search are more likely to convert students. Squiz Funnelback allows colleges to surface the most relevant search results alongside contextually relevant results that pique students’ interest at the point at which they are most open to it. For example, if a student searches for ‘housing’, in addition to providing ultra relevant results, the search engine should also show funding options related accommodation and perhaps an article on what items students need to deck out their halls of residence.

5. Empower your marketing teams with the tools to excel

A website is undoubtedly any HEI’s most powerful marketing tool. It is the shop window through which prospective students gaze in order to formulate an opinion of your offering. Many college websites lack the flexibility and functionality to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of modern students. Templates are too rigid. Workflows are too complicated. Squiz Matrix gives web editors everything they need to create engaging content delivered in innovative ways. It also includes a content API that provides full headless publishing, meaning content formats are automatically optimized based on the channel and device so you can rest assured that content will look amazing on any channel you might choose to publish it.

Squiz wishes you all the best for your 2021 student recruitment efforts in what is likely to be another strange year in these unprecedented times. If you’d like to learn more about Squiz products and services or simply would like to find out how we can support you on your digital journey, please get in touch today.

Toby Margetts

Written by

Toby Margetts
‎Digital Strategy Lead – Squiz
9 December 2020

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