As Autumn Arnett, Editor at Education Drive, notes, the digital rush in higher ed — distance education, microcredentials, virtual tours and more — is facing a small correction in 2018. After decades spent moving aggressively into new digital technologies, some institutions are pausing to better define best practices and get a grip on their data.
After all, much of the twenty-first century to date has been spent marveling at our capacity for data collection and storage. In 2018, many are starting to ask: to what end?
As the attention span of millennials and Gen Z diminish and demands for high-quality information grow, higher education will be forced to adapt and finally make use of collected data. And as a result, shifting strategies for recruitment, retention and engagement significantly. Data that has languished on dusty servers and in file cabinets for years must now get analyzed for buried insight.
Incubated at the University of Sydney, one of the world’s top universities, the Funnelback team boasts decades of higher education experience and expertise. In conversations, shared research projects, and in ongoing collaborations with our higher education partners, we’ve learned a great deal about where the world is headed with its data.
Here are the six things our higher education partners say that they’ll be watching in 2018:
1. Worth it
Students are increasingly demanding measurable value for their dollar to demonstrate the return on their (sizable) investment in higher education. Whether or not this is fair, (or accurate), successful institutions are finding ways to connect the dots for students.
To determine ROI, universities must meet another common objective for 2018: to break down silos between departments, programs, schools and even technologies. Tracking student success is an all-hands effort requiring data that’s accessible across traditional silos.
Fortunately, this data can provide insights valuable across the institution. Engaged alumni can be connected with prospects and current students to boost quality student enrollment and target students at risk, resulting in more successful, engaged students. Internally, dashboards can track success in everything from marketing programs to academic success. And the (provable) success of students in school and after graduation can help make the case for academic ROI.
2. Quality over quantity
With enrollment declines rumored to be plateauing after a multi-year fall, many institutions are starting — or renewing — a conversation about bringing in higher-quality applicants. “Quality over quantity” measures are not the same across the board, depending on the scale and type of competition faced by an institution. Nonetheless, renewed marketing efforts targeting key prospects will only grow the already hyper-competitive competition among higher education institutions in 2018.
3. Text killed the video star
Quality content is more important than ever. Students, inundated with information and increasingly unwilling to stay for boring on low-quality content, are finding new ways to ignore marketing materials.
The trend toward greater video content won’t stop – after all, nearly two-thirds of potential students are on YouTube every month. But strategic, quality content will increasingly trump a multitude of videos on platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube.
In 2017, they preferred to consume college web content through text and not video. And search platforms have diminished the traditional impact of SEO, focusing instead on perceived quality. Institutions will respond to this finding with not more but better-targeted, higher-quality content – and not just video.
4. Optimizing student & alumni outreach
Universities are collecting data “in really kind of remarkable quantities,” says Richard DeMillo, executive director of Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for 21st Century Universities. However, too many don’t make effective use of this knowledge repository.
In 2018, we expect to see an increase in institutions using this data to precision-target prospects, existing students, and alumni, providing new avenues for engagement. This activity can boost target application rates, student success, and alumni engagement. Reaching prospects when and where they want has a direct impact on quality applications.
5. Programs > Universities
Marketing teams in higher education have grown increasingly wary as programs, teams and schools have established their own distinct digital presence. How many sites or individual digital accounts belong to the University and its various programs, teams and schools? How many aren’t managed or touched by marketing? If you’re counting on more than one hand, you’re not alone.
Institutions report more and more searches for specific programs, not an institution’s name. If a prospect’s first point of entry isn’t your homepage, how is your message getting through? Can visitors easily get to the content they’re seeking?
More than just taking over independently-managed pages, this is an opportunity to offer services that unify your content without squashing separate brands or the independence of certain programs.
These moments in time — quick internet searches or decisions — can make or break a decision to apply. Research, purchase, or opt-in micro-moments are increasingly driving content. To really succeed with micro-moments will require “deeper demographic research and a mobile-intensive strategy,” according to Jayson DeMers at Forbes. But there’s a simpler way to get at micro-moments. What comes up when a prospect searches for “tuition for National Park College” or “study abroad at NYU”? Students are looking for answers in the moment. If it takes more than a few moments, you’ve lost them. (“Rich results” on search engines are a big part of this.)
Will we see more effective use of hoarded data by the end of 2018? For some universities, connecting siloed data is just beginning. For others, unifying solutions like have already connected diverse datasets to help draw better insights and provide greater access to critical data.
Already-stretched marketing and IT budgets entering 2018 will continue to be challenged to find ways to cut costs, while facing growing pressures from millennials and Gen Z to provide higher-quality content. Will the benefits and insights from unified data drive more effective recruitment, retention and alumni relations? Only time will tell.