For schools seeking to improve enrollments, this is a time of amazing opportunity. Across the country, institutions are finding new ways to communicate with students – and using these new strategies to meet enrollment and retention goals.
As students find themselves with more and more ways to earn a degree, institutions face an urgent challenge. In order to attract and retain students, institutions have to communicate in ways those students prefer and expect, demonstrating an understanding of students’ needs and conveying the school’s unique value proposition.
How are schools accomplishing this? We’ve identified three key strategies to improve communication and boost student enrollment.
1. Adopt a student-centric approach to communication
When students’ priorities, concerns, and perspectives guide a school’s communications, students tend to succeed at higher rates and remain with the institution. The most effective institutional messaging truly reflects students’ needs and experience.
What does that mean? A student-centric approach goes beyond the classroom. And, it is never one-size-fits-all. A student-centric institution’s communications are tailored to that school’s specific group of students and prospects, whose needs will be distinct from any other student body. Every school is different, reflective of the diverse group of individuals who made the choice to attend. By understanding the specific motivations and challenges of the people who are already enrolled at your institution (or may be soon), you are able to speak clearly and directly to their specific goals and needs. Just as importantly, you are better able to guide them through the entire process from application and enrollment to registration, graduation, graduate enrollment when applicable, and career placement.
How do schools achieve such a deep understanding?
Market and institutional research is an important place to start, allowing institutions to build student-centric communication efforts on an objective foundation. Once you have access to robust data, changing your communication style usually requires realignments across the institution – from admissions to program design to faculty.
2. Implement contextual communication
Just as it is important to target messages to your particular body of students and potential students, the most effective schools also tailor their messages to a given student’s place in the student “lifecycle.”
Students’ needs are not monolithic, of course, but evolve as they progress through their time in college. To connect with and guide them most effectively, student-centric institutions target their needs at every touch point and stage – when applying, when registering for classes, when making an appointment with an advisor.
When you examine the relationship between these institutional messages and student or institutional goals, schools generally find that some messages are more urgent than others, and this is another factor to consider when crafting messages. An institution’s timely response to inquiries from potential students is an urgent priority for meeting enrollment goals. When students don’t hear back from a college promptly, they move on – in fact, a best practice is to respond within hours, not days. Yet many colleges still do not make this a priority. By responding quickly and comprehensively to inquiries (perhaps by using an outsourced call center, if the job is too large for an in-house team), schools can swiftly and efficiently drive higher enrollment.
Our research has shown that the top channels of communication for students are phone calls, emails, and text messages, basically anything mobile.
For all of these communications, the key is to reach out to students through the channels and modes that they prefer. Our research has shown that the top channels of communication for students are phone calls, emails, and text messages, basically anything mobile. By creating a comprehensive communication plan based on market research and data specific to your school and target audience, you can build a sophisticated framework for sending students the right messages at the right time. And this contextualized communication can not only ease the enrollment process, but also help them succeed throughout their college experience.
3. Guide students proactively
To drive student success and retention most effectively, it’s best for schools to communicate proactively with students at every stage. Sustained, consistent, and targeted communications can help students understand:
- How to register for their next semester’s classes
- How to complete the steps necessary for graduation
- How to apply for internships
- How to pursue study abroad
- How to pay their balances and reapply for financial aid
When institutional messaging makes these answers clear, driven by recognition of students’ challenges and needs, it helps everyone achieve their respective and interwoven goals. With greater student success comes greater retention – and over time, a boost to an institution’s reputation that can lead to more enrollments.
Today’s students’ goals and requirements are increasingly complex. They have more immediate options and more information than ever, and they typically examine many criteria when selecting a school: from graduation rate and career placement to the availability of internships.
By using market research to understand students’ priorities and needs, personalizing student communications, and guiding students more proactively, institutions can position themselves for more student success – and higher growth.
To learn more on improving your student recruitment strategies, download Blackboard’s free playbook: Top 3 Ways to Give Your Student Lifecycle a Boost.