Today’s student population is a melting pot of individuals from different demographics, geographies, and learning styles. Although this diversity brings tremendous opportunities and an engaging environment, it also drives considerable complexity for institutions who seek to attract, enroll, and retain more of these students. Engaging with today’s student population is not straightforward, and to truly personalize the student journey, education professionals must first understand who their students are and then adapt their outreach and processes to meet their unique needs.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the diverse student population to gain a better understanding of the individuals who are seeking education today.
Who’s who of students
There are a few ways to view the myriad of students knocking (literally or figuratively) at the door of educational institutions today.
- Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964
- Gen X: Born 1965 to 1980
- Millennials: Born 1981 to 2000
- Gen Z: Born 2001 to 2020
Among these generations, you’ll find more than simply an age difference. Each group grew up with varying levels of access to technology and historical events, which influences their world views and how they interact with others. Their attitudes toward work and education may vary and even the way they prefer to engage and interact with educational institutions may differ. For example, baby boomers and Gen X individuals may prefer more “traditional” modes of communication like phone calls or face-to-face interactions, whereas Millennials and Gen Z report preferring digital interactions like text messages, email, and social media.
- Domestic: United States
- In-state vs. out-of-state
- Online / remote
- Hybrid: on-campus and online/remote
In the past, many institutions relied heavily on geographic proximity to drive admissions and enrollment. In today’s digital world, the geographic lines have been blurred. Now, institutions must consider education pathways for a variety of geographic situations.
- Race / ethnicity
- Language (native and secondary)
- Income level
- Gender (e.g., female, male, transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, etc)
- Family (e.g., spouse, dependents)
- Military affiliation
- Employment status
Creating a safe, inclusive environment for students is a multifaceted approach, rooted in a deep understanding and appreciation for the diversity of our world. What characteristics and internal or external influencers make up your current student body?
To get to the core of your student population, you must start with the data. It will give you insight into not only the who, but the where, how, and even why of new students. Use this information to modernize and personalize your program. We’ll dive into this more soon.
The education industry is experiencing a decline in student enrollment across all sectors. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, data shows a 4.1% decrease (approximately 685,000 students) for post-secondary education enrollment in the Spring 2022 compared to the same time last year. First-time student enrollments declined sharply by nearly 10% in 2022 compared to 2021, and the number of high school graduates is expected to decrease from 2027 through 2037, compounding the issue.
It’s not all gloom and doom, however. A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse reported that 75% of first-time students from the Fall of 2020 returned in the Fall of 2021. This marks a modest improvement over historical averages (+1.1%), but it still falls below pre-pandemic levels (75.9%). When looking at traditional, college-age students (younger than age 25), we see a continued decline in associate degree and certification completion. However, non-traditional students who may be earning additional credentials have contributed to notable growth in the industry (+3.9% or +37,800 students).
Primary drivers and detractors for continued education
A number of factors could contribute to the decline in enrollments, such as:
- Economic inflation, which reached 8.6% in May of 2022
- Recession signals, though not a guarantee may influence a more conservative outlook on finances
- Perceived value of education and the return on investment
- Perceived effort to attain a degree, certificate, or other continuing education
- Illness or family obligations, which could be exacerbated by the pandemic
Where there are detractors, there are drivers as well. Some notable drivers for education that institutions can align with include:
- Employer demands for upskilling or reskilling existing employees
- Perceived value of education and return on investment, particularly with certain career fields
- Desire for a career change
- Desire to upskill or reskill, outside of employer influence
- Lifestyle change
Job loss is another significant driver of seeking additional education. According to the Strada Education Network, one in three Americans indicated they would change careers and reskill in the event of a job loss. So, although losing a job is never a pleasant experience, we see that there’s a significant portion of the population who would take that as an opportunity to update their skillset as they seek a new career.
Next step for admissions and enrollment
With enrollment numbers in decline with only modest improvements in certain areas, it’s clear that institutions must adapt and adopt new processes and systems to succeed through these difficult times.
Engaging with today’s student population requires a personalized approach to each student’s unique journey. Remember the melting pot of students in today’s population? A one-size-fits-all approach will fall flat and could likely hinder your ability to meet admissions and enrollment targets. Instead, focus on mapping the entire student journey, across logical cohorts of students (e.g., adult learner/domestic/online, traditional college-age/domestic/in-person, adult learner/international/in-person, etc). Identify the various touchpoints along the journey and assess the effectiveness of each touchpoint. By leveraging a technology solution, like LeadSquared, you can easily map this journey, and access critical data to determine what’s working, and what’s not.
As you assess the student journey, you may find that you need to expand and diversify your outreach channels to reach your prospective student pool easier and more effectively. For example, is email working well for adult learners but seeming to fall flat for a younger cohort? Consider adding texting or new social media channels as an outreach point for the younger group. It’s difficult to know these levers with any certainty without the help of technology.
Communicate the value of education with your institution. Simply offering a program and communicating the outcomes from the program isn’t enough. How will this affect their daily life? How does the learning from this program connect with real-world applications? Can they use the learning in their job immediately? By appealing to their need for actionable learning, you’ll be able to better communicate the value of gaining that learning from your institution.
Once you’ve gotten their attention, the next step is enrollment. The rise of advanced technology and nearly instant gratification in consumer interactions has infiltrated virtually every industry, including education. Today’s students expect a seamless, automated, personalized experience with clear visibility into the entire process. This can be quite challenging, if not downright impossible to achieve without the right technology partner in your corner.
The best way to overcome the enrollment hurdle is to simplify. Leverage technology to simplify the application and enrollment process. Build intelligent workflows through a tool like LeadSquared to decrease time to engagement with new prospects and alert admissions counselors of student activity to drive better speed to enrollment, for example.
Simplify and streamline the financial commitment process, providing visibility and transparency along the way. Be sure to communicate well and often with prospective, new, and existing students.
Personalize the experience as much as possible. Understand the various types of students that make the most sense for your institution and make the effort to demonstrate that understanding through personalization. Believe it or not, personalization doesn’t have to take up all of your time. With a solution like LeadSquared, you can personalize the student journey across multiple student types, at-scale.
Enrollment is a great victory and will support the health and success of your institution, but it’s not the finish line. Retaining students through the duration of their program and being the go-to education resource when the next need arises is just as important.
Mapping the various student journeys will give you the actionable insight you need to continue to foster these relationships and engage with these individuals throughout their time with your institution and beyond. Leverage technology to see the whole picture and adopt a mindset of continuous improvement
Also, consider ways to build a sense of community and belonging among your student body. Evangelize the mission, vision, and value of your institution to empower and encourage students to do the same. Not only will this help retention rates, but it will also create a network of ambassadors in your student population, which will help admissions as well. Everything is connected.
Preparing for the future
Although some experts anticipate that enrollment numbers will equalize in the coming years, it’s difficult to predict exactly when that will happen. Instead, institutions should focus on strengthening their admissions and marketing processes today through simplification and automation. Through technology, teams can maximize resources and drive enrollment success through personalized student experiences, at-scale.
Check out how LeadSquared can transform your admissions and marketing processes and enhance the student experience, end to end – request a no-obligation consultation and see the solution for yourself!