Transforming the Student Experience: Admissions to Alumni

The Higher Education Challenge

When COVID-19 first hit, the unprecedented changes forced schools of all kinds to adapt. Universities and colleges scrambled to figure out solutions for learning that would keep students safe while still maintaining an optimal learning environment. From Zoom classes to optional testing, there’s nothing quite like a pandemic to jumpstart change.

The Higher Education Challenge

But in addition to causing health and safety challenges, COVID-19 also exacerbated the pressures that institutions faced. With trends of declining enrollments and increased expenses, the traditional operating model of higher education was under pressure to transform even before a global pandemic swept through.

According to McKinsey & Company, even the most notable institutions weren’t safe from these challenges:

  • Up to 57% of public 4-year institutions and up to 77% of private not-for-profit 4-year institutions could suffer budgetary shortfalls of more than 5%.
  • Public 4-year institutions saw more than a 10% decline in first-time college enrollment in fall 2020 and private nonprofit 4-year institutions saw a decline of over 8%, significantly affecting most universities’ top revenue source.
  • Fundraising remained flat in 2020, with institutions projecting steep fundraising declines in 2021.

These fiscal pressures are emphasized by growing questions over the return on investment of higher education. With new graduates facing less-than-stellar job opportunities and staggering debt, is an expensive higher education experience worth it?

With the quality of higher education under scrutiny, it’s more important than ever for institutions to transform the experience they are providing. In order to secure longevity and continued support, they’ll need to establish strong connections with their student body and prove their value throughout the student journey.

In this post, we’ll break down tips and strategies for transforming the student experience at every stage of the journey, from recruitment to long after graduation.

1) Attracting New Students With Targeted Efforts

With the generic appeal of higher education waning, universities need to start getting specific if they want to continue attracting — and keeping — prospective students. What, specifically, about your institution is special? What should it be known for and who can that distinction serve?

In a McKinsey case study, a university was able to increase their first-year class enrollment by a whopping 30% after transforming their recruitment strategies. A top effort? More targeted outreach, which included materials that spotlight specific educational programs.

By targeted, I’m talking about sharing something that’s of interest to that prospective student. If you’re sending promotional materials, be it a brochure or a video (the language of Gen Z), show them what they care about.

There are countless ways a school can differentiate itself — top programs (see the occupational therapy program in the clip above), student mix, research capabilities, community impact, or facilities are just a few. The key is that those areas of distinction are clearly defined and supported.

By focusing on what makes them special, higher education institutions can set themselves apart from the competition and, more importantly, attract more committed students and faculty.

2) Excite Admitted Students with Personalization

After getting prospective students to become interested and apply, schools face the challenge of convincing those admitted that accept the offer. How do you share admittance news in a way that is memorable, in a way that makes choosing your school a no-brainer for the student?

Freebies and branded merchandise are often included in admissions packages in order to get students excited, but they also do little to show that your institution is the best choice. After all, it’s the holistic student experience that is considered in the final decision, not just how nice the free T-shirt you sent is.

Personalization can be the key for Gen Z retention in higher education, and sharing admittance news is one smart opportunity to leverage it. It serves a twofold purpose: answering questions and helping students get excited for their future at your school.

With that overarching goal in mind, the New York Institute of Technology turned to Personalized Video. Check out the message they created below.

This approach to admittance news combines personalization and visual storytelling, encouraging the student to really see themselves at NYIT. Plus, by including relevant information about financial aid, the video also addresses practical concerns. Doesn’t that paint a better picture of Haley’s future and spark more excitement than a simple “You’re In!” letter?

3) Make the Enrollment Process Easier With Video

Part of transforming the student experience involves finding ways to improve that experience. This includes processes like enrollment. Students are already concerned with their academic studies and don’t need any added stress from complicated administrative processes.

Here’s where the medium you use is critical.

Digital communications and processes are undoubtedly here to stay, especially with the onset of the pandemic. Additionally, most incoming students will be part of Gen Z, a cohort of young people who have been immersed in digital resources since birth and therefore consume content differently than older generations.

Particularly, video content has emerged as the key to reaching Gen Z. For example, video tutorials are now the preferred medium for younger demographics. It makes sense. Combining audio, visuals and text, video is by far one of the most engaging and clear ways to communicate essential information.

This is why the University of Dayton decided to tackle the important topic of financial aid with the visual aid of video. Personalized with critical information for each student, the data-driven videos helped students understand their financial situation while also providing helpful resources.

Similarly, other institutions can turn to video to explain or simplify complex topics. From a tutorial on how to register for classes to a visual walk-through of requirements for graduation, the sky should be the limit when it comes to improving your students’ experience.

4) Mobile Solutions for Student Success

Mobile Solutions for Student Success

Moving forward, digital technology and mobile solutions are expected to continue their impactful roles in the student experience.

Most institutions already have mobile solutions in place for students, such as official apps that present course information, announcements and grades. These solutions have made academics easier for the digitally-inclined student, as they are able to have access to important resources right in the palm of their hands.

Industry professionals anticipate, though, that mobile devices will be leveraged even more, expanding to other aspects of the student experience. Biola University CIO, Steve Earle, for instance, sees smartphones being used as ID cards or even for storing educational credentials in the future.

Going mobile is also a great way to update your digital communications. What can you send through your app? How can you use social media to better reach your students? If you’ve been solely using email, add SMS and MMS messaging into your arsenal. Send texts with links to landing pages that show a personalized welcome video, financial aid information and more.

When it comes to transforming the student experience, mobile technology and innovations are here to help. Don’t neglect an upgrade, no matter how minor it may seem. Even small adjustments can have a big impact.

5) Show You Care by Celebrating Milestones

Students are the backbone of your institution. If you want them to finish their studies — and continue to support you even after they’re gone — you’ll need to build a relationship with them that’s strong enough to survive time, distance and life struggles. The best time to build that bond? When they’re an active student.

There are loads of opportunities to connect with your students, but one of the most meaningful is through messages of encouragement and celebration. Whether it’s with a Personalized Video or a simple GIF, show that you care about them and their goals by reaching out when it matters to them, not just to you.

While graduation may be the ultimate academic milestone, you can also surprise and delight them by celebrating their other achievements, such as finishing their first year or great academic performance.

Video content is also perfect for sharing on social media, which further boosts brand exposure and social engagement as we’ve seen with several campaigns.

Social Media Engagement From Personalized Videos

  • 5x uplift in social sharing
  • 19x social amplification
  • 56% share rate

6) Update Alumni Engagement Metrics

Keeping alumni engaged is undeniably crucial to a university’s operations. From donations to mentorships and professional networks, alumni have a lot to offer schools and current students.

Metrics for tracking alumni engagement, though, have too often been limited. This kind of data is critical for informing decisions and building strong relationships with alumni, but traditionally, has been limited to event attendance and fundraising revenue.

When COVID-19 hit and shut down in-person events, higher-education institutions found themselves with little insight into their alumni. The pandemic brought to light that metrics for alumni engagement desperately needed to be updated. Going forward, much more data should be collected including:

  • Email engagement
  • Social media interactions
  • Volunteering actions
  • Mentor-mentee participation
  • Event attendance
  • Fundraising revenue

With better data comes better insights, which can be used to strengthen alumni relationships and improve the experiences of your students — former, current and future.

How Personalization Can Redefine the Student Experience

Whether they’re a prospective student or alumni, personalization is one of the most powerful ways to catch students’ attention and keep them engaged with your school. With our self-serve Next Generation Video Platform, you can create video campaigns that let you speak to each individual student personally, yet at scale.

To learn more about how higher education and other nonprofit organizations have used Personalized Video to get game-changing results, such as 83% more engagement and a 7x higher CTR, get in touch.

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Cheryl Rodewig

Cheryl Rodewig is a marketer and journalist published with international magazines and brands. She loves using data to craft meaningful stories and build connections with diverse audiences.

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