Student engagement strategies for colleges in the United States

student engagement strategies for the US colleges

A little while ago, our interactions with directors and admission heads of colleges in the United States to understand “what colleges need to engage their students better” and “what can be done to strengthen their existing student engagement strategies” unfolded some of the most pressing challenges. Not surprisingly, there was a common theme.

Kim Gasper, Director of Admissions, Asher College


>> We want to have productive discovery conversations with students and be responsive in our outreach.
>> The admission inquiry volume is huge, and it is important for us to manage them appropriately so that we can reach out fast, consistently.
>> A disconnect in the communication channels.
>> Intense regional competition with other colleges.

Kim Gasper, Director of Admissions, Asher College

Sarah Holmes, Director of Admissions, Bellus Academy



>> Optimizing the Lead-to-enrollment time is the most important challenge for us.
>> We want our communication channels to be integrated and want templates that allow us to reach prospective students on mobile.

Sarah Holmes, Director of Admissions, Bellus Academy

Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought a radical change in the education system and added another layer to the already existing challenges. Digital has taken a center stage for both – admissions and learning. But colleges still lag in deploying rigid student engagement strategies across the entire student lifecycle.

Let us look at the proven methods to engage with students before and after enrollment. But before, a quick glance at the current state of education in the US.

The state of education in the US

Higher education is a career-defining path for high school graduates and adults. While adults seek college education to learn new skills, school graduates believe a bachelor’s degree will give them the best chance at finding a fulfilling, high-paying career.

Current scenario: In the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, a large part of the American workforce is left without jobs and are eager to gain new skills and credentials. NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) expects 19.7 million students to enroll in colleges and universities in fall 2020.

On the one hand, students pursue colleges to build their careers, and on the other, colleges also strive to select the best-fit applicants. That is why colleges are inclined to strategically attract the best talents to their institutions. Public colleges have no dearth of applicants, but private colleges put an extra effort to bring students to their campuses. Thus, how to increase enrollments has always been a concern for private colleges.

higher education CRM to increase student enrollment

Pre-enrollment student engagement strategies

Most of the colleges gear up and deploy resources only during admission seasons to address student inquiries. Nowadays, colleges are also investing in digital campaigns and leveraging social media to expand their outreach. But most of these channels are disconnected and the admissions team finds it challenging to organize the details of prospective students coming from different channels.

Colleges also take support from call centers to handle inquiries. For instance, the US Government supports federal students with financial aid for higher education, which applies to private, public, and even career schools. Whether the college assumes financial aid, eligibility, the process to avail, etc. are some of the common queries that the admissions support team deals with regularly. With much of the workforce going remote, it has become extremely difficult for colleges to monitor and track the activities of teams involved in admission campaigns. 

Earlier, many student engagement activities centered around open houses, education fairs, and campus tours. But today’s students are digital natives. Prospective students keep a tab on their preferred college via website, social media, and more. Students and parents reach out to at least one person from the institution for guidance – indicating that colleges should also prepare to support queries with minimum lag.

Key challenges to student engagement before admission

  • Inability to handle voluminous queries during peak admission days leading to slow response
  • Inadequate digital presence and disconnected channels
  • Intense competition among institutions and unfiltered information for students
  • Campus tours – that are not the same as before
  • Manual admission processes that require form submission, verification, and selection
  • Failure to provide a convincing response to financial aid and grants

After brainstorming over these prevailing challenges and taking inspiration from the successful student engagement strategies from leading colleges, we came up with a 5-step plan that can accelerate enrollments in your college. More importantly, you can implement this plan in your existing admission process using Higher Education CRMs or Enrollment Management Platforms with minimum to zero effort.

A 5-step plan to engage with students for enrollment

1. Omnichannel and a mobile-first approach

Omnichannel refers to a cross-channel strategy to drive better relationships with prospective students. For example, a prospective student saw your ad on Instagram and clicked it for details. In another scenario, a student got to know about your college from friends and called your administration directly for course details. In either case, you would want to engage with the student and guide him through the enrollment process. This is an omnichannel approach. Typically, omnichannel covers website forms, social media ads, search ads, lead aggregators, education fairs, walk-ins, and email or phone inquiries.

Many colleges are also taking a mobile-first approach to communicate with students and parents. Nearly 84% of teenagers carry a smartphone. Along with social networking they also use mobile phones to explore colleges and courses. Reaching out to students through their medium of choice portrays the college’s alignment with the evolving culture. For example, Boston University launched a social media campaign #AdmissionTips that engages with students on Instagram.

Student engagement - pre admission

Their follow-up campaign narrates the stories of candidates who are enrolled and why other students should also consider the same.

Student Engagement Social media - Boston University

The point is – having a great narrative works effectively when the institution has a system in place to interact with all the prospective students who show interest in admission. For example, tools for enrollment management collect information from all possible sources and organize them for processing in a unified database.

2. Inquiry segmentation and prioritization

Speed-to-lead is an important factor in improving enrollments. For instance, contacting students within a minute of inquiry submission increases the likelihood of that prospect turning into an enrolled student. Addressing every inquiry in the order received is not an effective approach because there is a threat of losing a strong candidate due to late response. In such scenarios, inquiry segmentation and prioritization help. Based on initial interactions, an enrollment management platform marks the suitability of candidates and segments their profiles. Then, based on the candidates’ profiles and availability of the admission staff, the priority of follow-ups is decided.

Now, at this stage, prospective students might not always be reachable on the phone. In such cases, mature enrollment platforms trigger personalized emails to students and follow-up reminders to the admission teams/call centers.

5. Student to admission representative interactions

Once the candidate’s profile is found suitable, the admission reps from the college can carry further interactions. For example, students generally want a campus tour before making any decision.

Virtual campus tours, online counseling, virtual information sessions, live chats, etc. are popular alternatives to on-campus activities. For example, George Washington University has introduced virtual tours to appeal to candidates.

The George Washington University virtual campus tour

4. Self-serve application portals

Paperless applications are becoming the new normal. Many colleges have introduced self-serve application portals where students can submit details and required documents. There are two-fold advantages to using self-serve application portals. One, students do not need to visit the college to submit the form, and two, colleges need not invest in resources for student data entry. Mostly, such portals are a part of enrollment management systems.

5. Financial aid discussions, approval, and enrollment

Financial aid discussion is an important stage of admission. Ignoring this might lead to a drop in the student’s interest in the institution. For example, career education tuition costs $20000-50000 depending on the trade. Therefore, most of the students need financial support. There are three types of financial aid:

  1. Government-funded grants: These are gift-aid and students do not have to pay back.
  2. Scholarships: These are awarded to students with high grades and achievements.
  3. Private and government loans: General financial aid to be paid back after education and placement.

Enrollment platforms help in scheduling meetings between a college’s financial team and students and parents for guiding the prospects about what they can get and the process.

You can also identify where, why, and at which stage of the enrollment journey candidates are dropping off.

Many successful institutions like Asher College have deployed the Education CRM Platform to increase enrollments.

“The contact rate went up by 13% and scheduled campus appointments improved by 5%. Admission specific workflows helped the admissions team prioritize incoming inquiries, engage with more leads, and identify their passions in a more organized fashion.”

David Vice, CEO, Asher College
how to increase student enrollment in colleges

Classroom or post-admission student engagement strategies

Active interactions with students are important to nurture learning. Different students have different personas. For example, in a college, there is a set of students who are enthusiastic about learning. These students follow instructions, complete assignments, and participate in class discussions. At the same time, there is another set of students who are more involved in the cultural and extracurricular activities of the college. Also, students differ in their cognition levels. Therefore, teachers must be cautious and device tutoring methods that involve the entire class.

Colleges can engage with students through both online and offline activities. Though, in today’s time, student engagement strategies using technology are more viable.

Student engagement activities for effective learning

  1. Discussion forums: Every class has its own social network and community. Students are highly engaged in such communities. However, class-level communities are a mix of students with different interests and many students do not have a voice here. Colleges can build online social communities based on interests and courses where students can share ideas, discuss, and interact with each other. This is possible using learning or school management systems.
  2. Assignment reminders: A study conducted by the professors of the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh reveals that 86% of students agree that text messages have prompted them to complete unfinished tasks.
  3. Gamified learning experiences: Community learning and Leaderboards challenge students. This also reduces the chances of courses getting obsolete. Gamified learning is not limited to early education. It works equally well for college students.
  4. Feedback and immediate query resolution: Addressing the students’ concerns right in time can help in nurturing faith with the organization. Student support committees are a great way to keep in touch with students on a regular basis.
  5. Interacting with students on social media: Whenever a student shares a picture or an update on social media tagging the college, the administration can respond to the student on the same thread. This could be a small act of indulgence but can instil a positive emotion, gratitude, and connectedness to the college.
  6. Celebrating success: Praising students for their achievements is instant gratification and encourages students to learn and achieve more.

Directors cannot simply ignore the “student engagement” aspect of learning. If the students are not engaged with the curriculum and college culture, there is a threat of students dropping out of college.


The bottom line

The relationship between students and colleges is a two-way pact. While students invest their time and energy to learn the skills of a lifetime, colleges have a responsibility to ensure that students get the best knowledge in-line with their life goals.

Investing in the right technology can streamline both pre- and post-admission workflows. Enrollment Management Platforms equip colleges with an automated process for student admissions. These platforms are a one-stop solution to handle the lead generation, inquiry management, inquiry engagement, and application management – and as a result help you increase your lead-to-enrollment speed. Similarly, Student Information Systems can handle post-admission interactions.

The time is now to automate your admission process, reduce the workload of admission staff through self-serve and paperless application portals, accelerate enrollments, and digitize post-admission interactions with students.

Pro tip: Combining marketing automation with admissions that includes engagement journeys, email campaigns, one-to-one emailing and texting, bulk emailing and texting, landing page designs, collecting student information and documents through landing pages, and website widgets can further accelerate your enrollments.


FAQs

What is enrollment management?

Enrollment management covers the end-to-end process of student recruitment – starting from inquiry to final admission. It includes lead generation, inquiry engagement, inquiry management, and application management.

How to increase enrolments in vocational colleges?

Responding immediately to student queries is a crucial factor for increasing enrolments. Contacting students within a minute of inquiry submission increases the likelihood of that prospect turning into an enrolled student. The best way to streamline communications for a large volume of queries is to use enrolment management platforms designed specifically for the education sector.

How to use technology for student engagement?

Today’s students are digital natives. They are highly networked and most of the students contact alumni through social channels at least once before enrolling for a course. Using digital platforms like enrolment management systems and CRMs, college and trade school administrators can track a student’s interest in their institution and accordingly engage with them.

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