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Colleges Encourage Enrollment With Innovative Recruitment Strategies

August 7, 2020 Sarah Cavill

By now, many students have likely been informed of how their colleges and universities plan to handle the upcoming fall semester. While many students are back on campus, other higher education institutions opted for fully online models or a hybrid of both modalities. However, with so much unknown about the duration of the pandemic and whether the current education models will be successful, figuring out how to boost enrollments is a high-priority issue for enrollment marketers. Many higher education institutions are faced with limitations on previous recruitment strategies and wariness from students and parents. Inventive recruitment strategies that address concerns about culture, value and career building initiatives may be the ticket to steady and increased enrollments.

Multimedia Engagement Strategies Can Help Prospective Students Gain Comfort And Enroll

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A robust multimedia approach that enables higher education institutions to reach prospective students  especially during a time when in-person campus visits are less likely can be a successful way to help prospects decide which school is a good match for their needs academically and culturally. According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, “Culture is the glue that binds organizations together. And colleges and universities, like any other brand, need to communicate culture to effectively articulate who they are, what they offer and why it matters in a rapidly changing global environment.”

Community-building social media campaigns can help higher education institutions showcase opportunities offered academically and recreationally across their colleges or universities. Ideally, social media campaigns can enable prospective students to get a feel for how they will fit in, make connections with other students and engage their interests, even with COVID-19 restrictions.

Virtual events with faculty and currently enrolled students can be an effective replacement for traditional campus events that aren’t possible right now. Pace University held virtual summer visit days for interested prospective students and virtual information sessions for specific majors in the graduate school. Pace is also hosting a series of virtual events for incoming students, including sessions with the Education Abroad Office and the Office of Residential Life & Housing, and symposiums like a recent one about race in America. Unfortunately, deferrals and cancellations are a current concern for all higher education institutions, so offering robust programming for accepted students is also important.

Personalized email campaigns that address student and parent concerns empathetically can help ease concerns about college life during COVID-19. Schools that communicate proactive policies that prioritize students and the community are more likely to connect with anxious parents and students on the fence about their enrollment decisions.

Live chats that allow students and parents to ask all their questions in real time can be similarly effective in offering answers to difficult questions. Additionally, when prospective students are able to interact with other students and faculty through live chats, they may create connections that help them envision themselves at the colleges or universities those speakers represent. During uncertain times, connection can be crucial in helping prospective students feel excited about choosing to enroll.

Higher Ed Institutions Are Encouraging Enrollment With Creative Discounts

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Tuition is a concern right now for many families, especially with growing economic anxiety nationwide, and for those families grappling with the new teaching modalities and the value they’ll provide. There are creative, helpful ways that colleges and universities can market and promote discounts and programs that offer tuition relief. 

Promoting creative or temporary tuition discount solutions may leave higher education institutions better prepared for when college life returns to normal. “The crisis will pass, and institutions are going to need to look ahead to think about how they should be pricing themselves in a more steady-state future. They’re going to need to think about how to compete better in a future post-COVID-19,” said David Strauss, a partner at Art & Science Group.

For students concerned about the cost of tuition, waivers may offer a creative solution. Tuition waivers may be given to students with hardship status, Native American ancestry, students who are non-traditional or entering a specific field of study, among other factors including ethnic diversity. Many higher education institutions already offer scholarships, discounts and tuition waivers, but the programs may not be widely understood. Enrollment marketers can add information on any available waiver programs to FAQ sections geared toward prospective students on their websites.

Tuition caps allow students to more accurately plan for the cost of their education which, during trying economic times, can be hugely reassuring. Typically, tuition caps are offered when students enroll in specific programs, although they can also be based on other factors, like the amount of credits taken. With tuition caps, the tuition rates are a fixed amount as long as qualifying students maintain the enrollment requirements of the program. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), for example, offers a tuition cap program. “It really is an unusual deal, and is part of the university’s commitment to keep our costs as reasonable as we can for students, while still providing them with a great educational experience,” said a UTRGV spokesperson.

Lowered residence fees, or reimbursements for room and board for schools moving entirely online, could offer relief to students concerned about how the new online-only and hybrid models are going to work.

Career-Focused Recruitment Strategies May Boost Higher Ed Enrollment Throughout Economic Uncertainty And After

Many students worried about the current economic climate may feel reassured by higher education institutions that can offer career training programs and networking opportunities, with the understanding that career-focused initiatives will still be a part of any learning mode.

Shorter, career-focused programs that are geared toward helping students quickly launch careers right after graduation can be attractive options for prospective students. In particular, training-oriented, bootcamp-style programs may appeal to those students who are more certain of the fields they want to pursue. And, shorter training programs may be more suited to difficult economic situations than traditional four-year programs. 

Some schools, like Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), are lowering their tuition price points while fast-tracking their alternative learning options, with an emphasis on getting graduates out into the workforce sooner. “We have 120 competencies. And you can master those as fast as you like,” said Paul LeBlanc, SNHU President. “So, it really means thinking about structural change and systems. Is there any reason why we can't go 12 months out of the year and get students out into the workforce faster?”

Career counselors and career centers need to be very vocal about what kind of opportunities are going to be available. This support includes internships, virtual networking opportunities, partnerships with industries that are available to offer opportunities to students and counseling services for students in their respective majors. Knowing that these career-focused programs are available can tip the scales for students deciding whether to enroll, defer or step back altogether. Education marketers can highlight available career resources, offering strong career support as a differentiator for prospective students. 

“The university where I got my undergraduate degree had a great program where students got to work on relevant projects, through a partnership between the university and industry. I’d really like to see some version of that now, especially since we’re all worried COVID-19 will hurt the job market in general,” said graduate student Aseem Saxena, who is currently deferring until the spring.

Many of the recruitment strategies that are being deployed during the coronavirus crisis are likely to be solutions that last post-COVID-19. Offering students information about the issues that really concern them, including culture, value and career, can help ensure  they make the best and most informed choices for their education, even when there isn’t a crisis. Education marketers should take this time to perfect new and innovative strategies that can boost enrollment now and in the future.

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DMS EducationTM is a thought leader in education and martech-enabled digital media distribution. Through our support of traditional and for-profit colleges, trade schools, community colleges, boot camps, continuing education providers, OPMs and agencies, we have seen it all. Led by industry veterans and dating back to our founding in 2002, DMS Education provides predictable, scalable and reliable education marketing.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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